It takes a special kind of baseball fan to write about the minor leagues. In “Bull Durham,” Writer/director Ron Shelton, who spent five years in the Baltimore Orioles farm system, has put together the snappiest, funniest, and most poignant love letter to baseball ever written, though its ultimate moral deals with matters of the heart.
Based in the Carolina leagues, veteran catcher Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) is signed by the Durham Bulls to act as mentor for pitching prospect Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), who has “a million dollar arm and a five cent head.” Crash has his work cut out for him. Nuke is a flamethrower, but has almost no accuracy (one box score shows 18 strikeouts and 18 walks). Outside a bar, Crash dares Nuke to hit him in the chest with a pitch. Nuke shatters a window ten feet away.
To make matters worse, Nuke has a new girlfriend, Durham Bulls groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). Annie picks one player per year to be her boy toy, with the hopes of making them better players and more well rounded individuals. (She reads Walt Whitman to Nuke while he’s tied to her bed. A flustered Nuke asks, “Hey, are we gonna fuck or what?”) This bothers Crash for two reasons. He thinks she’s distracting Nuke, but more importantly Crash knows that he is a much better match for Annie than Nuke is. Let the games begin.
The Bulls actually start winning games, but that is barely a plot point, which goes to show how different Bull Durham is from other baseball movies. Its characters play baseball, it takes place around baseball, but in the end the movie is about self-respect and following your heart. Surrounding that moral are invaluable tips about fighting (never lead with your pitching hand), shaking off your catcher (he’ll tell the batter what you’re about to throw), and what those meetings on the pitcher’s mound are really about (wedding gift ideas). Costner has never been better, and Sarandon was the pitch perfect choice for the well read-yet-naïve Annie. “Bull Durham” is for people who love baseball, but it’s mainly for people who love love.(5 / 5)