The Church of Baseball: “Bull Durham” explored two favorite national pastimes, baseball & sex

By on June 26, 2017

Bull Durham was partly-based upon writer/director Ron Shelton’s own experiences playing Triple-A minor league baseball. You can watch excerpts from his debut film — which also features a lot of semi-raunchy slightly NSFW scenes which are primarily about American’s other favorite pastime, sex — in this episode of Night Flight Goes to the Movies, which originally aired on June 17, 1988. It’s streaming on Night Flight Plus.

Today, Bull Durham is considered something of a classic, an 80s love triangle set during the dogs days of summer among the players and fans of the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team based in Durham, North Carolina.

BULLDURHAM45

Baseball films had not historically fared very well at the box office up to that point in time, and Shelton had a helluva time convincing any major film studio to give him the opportunity to direct a film based on a screenplay he’d written himself.

Shelton — who had always wanted to play pro baseball while growing up in Santa Barbara, California, and graduating from Westmont College — almost got his wish, spending five seasons in the Baltimore Oriole’s minor league system in Rochester, New York, playing second base alongside future major leaguers Don Baylor and Bobby Grich.

He just couldn’t see himself playing in the minors forever, though, and ultimately quit in 1972. He got married, had a couple of daughters, and earned his MFA from the University of Arizona, eventually moving to Los Angeles, where he painted along with doing several odd jobs to support his family.

BULLDURHAM24

Eventually, Shelton began wanting to write about his experieces as a minor leaguer, and since he had been a longtime movie fan ever since watching Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch in 1969, it seemed like a natural fit for him to want to write a screenplay based on his own experiences, which included a lot of odd conversations on the pitcher’s mound or, in his words, “absurd arguments with umpires.”

Shelton didn’t really like the baseball movies he’d seen up to that point, which mainly repeated all the usual cliché’s and half-truths and tired old bromides that everyone had come to expect from most movies about baseball.

Instead, he decided he wanted to try to tell a different kind of story, one more accurate to what it was really like to play on a minor league team, a movie where the movie didn’t win with a team hitting a game-winning home run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs.

BULLDURHAM2

Bull Durham‘s witty storyline, which is rife with lots of real-life baseball truisms, chiefly follows the intertwined stories of three characters.

One is a veteran but washed-up minor league catcher named “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner), who is hired by the Durham Bulls to mentor their young new pitcher Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins), who apparently has both ego and discipline issues. We’re told that Nuke possesses a “million-dollar arm and a five-cent head.”

There’s also a third major character here, our actual protagonist, the sexy and philosophically-minded Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a part time English lit teacher at a local Durham community college who becomes a Bulls players groupie each summer.

BULLDURHAM11

She’s got her own mentorship ritual, which involves fucking one young rookie player, spreading her knowledge of not just baseball but also teaching about how to treat a woman sexually and how the two are intertwined for valuable life lessons.

She does this every season, and this season she has selected LaLoosh (choosing for him a new nickname since she doesn’t like the current one he’s brought to the team, which was “Meat”). She hopes to bring him luck on the mound, so to speak.

Annie not only offers the lucky guy batting advice and reads him poetry too, but once the season is over, so is their chance of a committed relationship as each go their own separate way, and so this is a limited offer for someone like LaLoosh.

BULLDURHAM42

Naturally, because both Crash and Nuke are attracted to Annie, opportunities arise for hilarious and sexy love triangle complications with profane-laced conversations about both baseball and sex (including a scene where Annie reads some of Walt Whitman’s poetry to a tied-to-the-bed Nuke).

The screenplay wasn’t the first time Shelton had written a script that was based on what really happens in minor league baseball. He’d written a previous screenplay titled The Player To Be Named Later, which was also based on the relationship between a pitcher and catcher playing for the same team.

BULLDURHAM7

For Bull Durham, Shelton decided that their story should be told from a woman’s point-of-view.

He has claimed to have written Bull Durham after returning from driving around North Carolina on a road trip, completing it in about twelve weeks time.

Shelton also decided that since he’d had so much fun playing the minor leagues, that he wanted to make sure his movie was funny, and it really is, with some of its humor coming from amusing little comedic bits thrown in here and there, like the time Crash tells Nuke to deliberately throw a pitch at the Durham Bulls mascot (a man in a huge bull-headed costume).

That’s not even the real pay-off in the scene, though, which comes immediately afterwards — and it’s usually left out of clip shows about baseball movies, too — when Crash warns the batter that Nuke is so out-of-control that no one really knows who’ll be bonked next, leading to the scared shitless batter at the plate striking out.

Pretty much every studio passed on Shelton’s baseball project, though, but it did lead to him getting an agent and a job as a script doctor, rewriting the screenplay for Under Fire (1983), for director Roger Spottiswode.

He and Spottiswode also worked together on The Best of Times (1986), before Shelton decided to rework his baseball script again, this time adding in more about Annie’s character, which he has said came about because he hated “how women had been portrayed in sports movies, and from my love and respect for women.”

BULLDURHAM31

Ron Shelton

The newly-reworked screenplay was turned down by every studio again, sometimes twice, until he met with Orion Pictures, who, at the time, were already making a different baseball movie, John Sayles’ Eight Men Out.)

They didn’t want to let this one slip through their fingers, though, and gave him a budget reported to have been somewhere between $7.5 to $9 million dollars (sources vary on the actual final budget).

Many cast members had to accept salaries lower than their actual going rate at the time, and Shelton was given just eight weeks for his shooting schedule, which is considerably lower than most Hollywood films, although he was given more creative freedom than usually given first-time directors.

BULLDURHAM8

While Bull Durham is still sometimes getting called out on strikes for being too much of a “chick flick,” mainly because the storyline concerns a sexy, comedic love triangle, the movie also manages to capture the reality of minor league baseball, including the chartered bus rides to the next sleepy little town on the schedule, the sweltering days of summer, and lots of knuckle-headed ball players you’d likely encounter along the way if you were playing in the minor leagues of America’s greatest pastime (one of ‘em).

Two of the actual minor league players who can be seen in the movie — Butch Davis and Kelly Heath — actually made it to the majors. They were trained by Grady Little, credited here as “baseball trainer” in the film’s credits, who was actually the real manager of the Durham Bulls at the time, although he is also known for crushing the hearts of Red Sox fans during the 2003 American League Championship series too (look it up).

BULLDURHAM15

A lot of movie fans tend to forget that the film’s strong sexuality, nudity and “pervasive language” actually earned it a hard “R” rating, and although there were a lot of scenes that pushed the envelope with very mature sexual content, the film could have easily earned itself an X rating had Shelton been able to film some of what he’d wanted to film.

Imagine that for a sec, an X-rated summer baseball movie! Play ball!

As it is, Bull Durham features quite a bit of foreplay, a little bit of sweaty sex, and lots of scenes of the characters basking in sexually-gratified afterglow: you’re likely to see some bathtub fucking, some dancing to the Dominoes’ “Sixty Minute Man,” and even some erotic flirtations on a kitchen table while sharing a bowl of Wheaties, which everyone knows is the breakfast of sexual champions.

BULLDURHAM25

The film — which also casually equates baseball with spirituality and religion, too, having its own incumbent rituals and and scenes of worshipping at altars, even hints of faith in the non-traditional religions, lke voodoo and witchcraft — has some of the best dialogue you’re likely to hear in any 1980s-era movie.

There are all kinds of little bits of twisted cinematic ephemera and oddball references to real-life historic events, like mentions of whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of JFK, or whether the novels of Susan Sontag are “self-indulgent, overrated crap” (much of the dialogue, in fact, would not have seemed too out-of-place in an 80s-era Woody Allen movie).

BULLDURHAM20

Of course, some of the best examples of Shelton’s writing are the oft-repeated monologue voiceover by Annie Savoy, which Shelton puts at the beginning of the film, making this Annie’s story as much as anyone’s.

Here, Annie Savoy compares baseball to sex and religion, rejecting the latter in favor of metaphysics:

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance.

But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring, which makes it like sex. There’s never been a ballplayer slept with me who didn’t have the best year of his career.”

BULLDURHAM35

“Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate. Besides, I’d never sleep with a player hitting under .250, not unless he had a lot of RBIs and was a great glove man up the middle. You see, there’s a certain amount of life wisdom I give these boys. I can expand their minds.

Sometimes when I got a ballplayer alone, I’ll just read Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to him, and the guys are so sweet, they always stay and listen. ‘Course, a guy’ll listen to anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I make them feel confident, and they make me feel safe, and pretty.

‘Course, what I give them lasts a lifetime; what they give me lasts 142 games. Sometimes it seems like a bad trade. But bad trades are part of baseball – now who can forget Frank Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God’s sake? It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”

BULLDURHAM22

Crash responds by saying, “I don’t believe in quantum physics when it comes to matters of the heart.”

When asked what he does believe in, he stops at the door, speaking with both aloofness and passion as he spells out his own belief-system for Annie (and Nuke, also present):

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

BULLDURHAM44

What many audiences didn’t know at the time originally was that a lot of the film’s dialogue was actually ad-libbed by members of the cast, including Robert Wuhl — who plays the motormouth pitching coach Larry Hockett — who joins a pitcher’s mound meeting in progress and offers a suggestion about buying candlesticks for a wedding present.

Wuhl has said was based on a real-life conversation he’d had with his own wife, a week before the film started shooting, after she told him “Candlesticks always make a nice gift. Or find out where they’re registered and perhaps a nice place setting.”

BULLDURHAM18

Wuhl remembered their conversation when he was asked to ad-lib something for the mound meeting, but we’ve also read that the scene is actually based on something frequently said by a minor league catcher named Chris Coste, who played for ten years in the minors.

Although it may also be an apocryphal story which Wuhl may have read about or heard somewhere, he apparently would come out to the pitcher’s mound and tell his former Phillies teammate, pitcher Clay Condrey, “I hear candlesticks make a good wedding gift” as a way of keeping things loose during the game that Condrey was pitching.

Shelton likely would not have been able to have made the movie without the help of Thom Mount, who co-produced the film.

BULLDURHAM26

Mount had by this time created his production company after spending years working in the Hollywood studio system, but his real love was minor league baseball, once saying that he thought that “Minor league ball is one of the last authentic bastions of small-town American life.”

Since Mount was also a part owner in the real-life Carolina Leagues team, Durham Bulls, based in the Durham-Raleigh area in North Carolina, he was able to give Shelton access to the team’s Durham Athletic Park, and El Toro Stadium, which added Americana-rich authenticity as well as the kind of small-town sense of community that just doesn’t exist in the major urban areas of the country.

Although it’s never mentioned during the film which major league team the Bulls are affiliated with, at the time of filming the real-life team were a Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves (in 2013, they would switch affiliations to become the farm team for the Tampa Bay Rays).

BULLDURHAM3

While there were a few shots of Crash Davis playing at Asheville’s McCormick Field, and the scene in the film where Nuke is being interviewed was reportedly shot at Arlington Stadium, home field for the major league Texas Rangers, most of the film’s baseball park scenes were shot at El Toro Stadium.

BULLDURHAM28

By the way, Robbins is seen wearing a t-shirt for the ska-punk band Fishbone in the scene; the band, one of Robbins’ favorites, was also featured in the movie Tapeheads (1988), released later that same year, which we told you about in this exclusive behind-the-scenes post about that movie.

Robbins’s Nuke actually wears several rock band t-shirts during the film, including shirts for Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden.

BULLDURHAM17

El Toro stadium itself was professional-looking enough — the scoreboard clock seen in the film had originally been the same scoreboard at Brooklyn’s long-gone Ebbets Field — but it still had that smalltown charm that the film needed, and the stadium itself is almost like a character in the film.

BULLDURHAM14

One of the most memorable things in the film, however, was the giant billboard depicting a huge bull who spews smoke from its horns whenever it is hit by a home run baseball — the team offers a “free steak” to the hitter — but it turns out it was actually created for the film.

The billboard was so popular with the Durham Bulls’ fans, though, that the real-life baseball team kept it, even after moving to a larger stadium.

For the film, the bull billboard had to be moved from right field to left field because the Bulls had to redo the right field fencing (also, in reality, at the old Durham Athletic Park, the bull was actually in foul territory).

BULLDURHAM5

Another memorable true-life part of the film was the inclusion of the much-beloved “Clown Prince of Baseball,” Max Patkin, who had been in the clowning business since 1946.

The rubber-necked Patkin — who had even once been made a uniformed “coach” by the Cleveland Indians’ Bill Veeck — was given a full-fledged featured role in Bull Durham, including a post-game dance with Susan Sarandon at a Durham tavern.

BULLDURHAM23

Those scenes were filmed at Mitch’s Tavern, a real bar located on Hillsborough Street, across from North Carolina State University (the bar to this day maintains a lot of the fixtures and mementos from the filming, keeping its appearance the same as it was in 1988 for tourists and fans of the movie).

Originally, Shelton’s film also had a scene which was shot in a black whorehouse and an alley out behind it, where Crash ends up fighting with a 60-year old black hooker, but a few weeks after the production wrapped, Shelton decided to re-shoot the scene in the pool hall tavern instead.

BULLDURHAM27

Patkin’s movie character, by the way, was originally supposed to have died in a car crash, and his ashes were going to be sprinkled on the pitcher’s mount, but that idea was smartly ditched (you can still see a scene in the film where Sarandon’s Annie shows up at a game wearing a black veil, which is because she has just come from Patkin’s funeral).

The real Max Patkin died on October 30, 1999.

BULLDURHAM30

The film is populated with actual Durham Bulls baseball fans and spectators who played along with the fact that they were appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, something that probably wouldn’t be as open to doing today, given today’s dislike of all things Hollywood (except for movies based on comic book heroes, apparently).

Bull Durham might have been a very different film had the original actors that Shelton auditioned been cast in the film’s key central roles.

Kurt Russell was just one of the many actors who had been involved in the project early on, and, in fact, he’d helped Shelton developed the character of Crash Davis and was supposed to have played him onscreen before Kevin Costner was cast in the part (he would later write “fan letters” to both Costner and Shelton, telling them how much he loved the film).

Nick Nolte, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jeff Bridges, Don Johnson and Tom Berenger were all considered for the role of Crash, but each of them either turned down the offer or weren’t chosen for one reason or another. Nolte, who was one of the biggest box office stars at the time, wasn’t much of a baseball fan to begin with as it turned out.

Apparently, Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis were also considered but both declined due to their commitment to the TV series “Moonlighting” were also considered to play the parts of Annie and Crash. That casting would have made for a much different, and sillier, movie.

BULLDURHAM10

Crash Davis — who we’re told once spent twenty-one days in the “bigs” (i.e. the big leagues) — is probably the film’s most pivotal role, of course, a veteran ball player who knows how to handle the media, in addtion to mentoring inexperienced young pitchers.

The role eventually went to Kevin Costner, who was coming off a couple of hit movies at the time, including Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables and Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out (both released in 1987).

Mount had wanted to work with Costner on a TV mini-series but the network had rejected the actor because he wasn’t yet a star.

BULLDURHAM12

When Mount met Shelton, and read his screenplay, the producer immediately thought that Costner — who at the time was considering doing either Eight Men Out (1988) or Everybody’s All-American (1988) at the time — but Mount thought he was perfect for the role, and pushed hard to make it happen.

When Costner read Shelton’s screenplay, he was impressed by the level of detail about that world, heretofore which hadn’t been seen onscreen.

Shelton, meanwhile, turned out to be a big fan of Costner’s, and had loved his work in both Fandango (1985) and Silverado (1985).

BULLDURHAM36

Costner — who had played some high school baseball, and apparently auditioned for Shelton at a batting cage in the San Fernando Valley, northeast of Los Angeles — turned out to have been a pretty good choice for a minor league ballplayer who still had skills on the diamond.

He was able to lend credibility to his role since the switch-hitter could actually hit from both sides of the plate with power as needed in the script. During filming, Costner was actually able to hit two home runs while the cameras were rolling.

There apparently was a real “Crash” Davis, by the way, and Ron Shelton had found his name listed among minor league players (he also played for the American Legion league).

BULLDURHAM41

Shelton is said to have approached the former player, who asked if the character played by Kevin Costner gets the girl in the end? Shelton told him he does (spoiler alert!), and Davis gave the director permission to use his name.

Former semi-pro ball player Pete Bock — who spent three years as a pro umpire in the Appalachian, South Atlanta and Carolina leagues before spending several years as general manager of the Durham Bulls — was credited as the film’s baseball advisor.

BULLDURHAM26

Bock is reported to have said about Costner’s actual skill level, “I’d sign Costner tomorrow if he quit acting. Kevin can hit from both sides of the plate with power. You believe the guy in closeups.”

Bock — who was hired as a consultant on the film — actually ran a tryout camp to recruit an estimated forty to fifty players for Shelton’s film, conducting twice-a-day workouts and practice games with Robbins pitching and Costner catching.

He also hired several minor league umpires who appear in the film and made sure the small-part actors and extras all looked convincing, wearing their uniforms properly and standing correctly in the field.

Costner — who wears #8 on his baseball jersey, which was the last number that director Shelton had worn when he played minor league baseball in Rochester — was in reality just three years older than Robbins at the time of filming (33 and 30, respectively).

BULLDURHAM16

Susan Sarandon — who became involved in a real-life long-term relationship with Robbins during the film’s production, a relationship that lasted for more than twenty years — was actually 42 at the time of filming, making her the oldest of the film’s three stars by more than nine years.

Her role was always meant to be played an older actress, according to Shelton’s script, but Orion weren’t too sure about Susan Sarandon — they thought her career was likely over by that point — and they didn’t even want to pay for Sarandon’s flight to L.A. (she was living in
Italy at the time).

Sarandon, after reading the script, paid for her own plane ticket, but she still had to go out of her way to convice Mike Medavoy, the co-founder of the studio that released the film, who, according to Mount, “thought Susan was too old and not funny.”

BULLDURHAM13

Mount arranged a meeting between Medavoy and Sarandon and instructed the actress to go out and buy “a tight, tight dress that shows as much cleavage as humanly possible.”

That’s exactly what Sarandon apparently did, wearing an off-the-shoulder red-and-white-striped form-fitting dress to the meeting which apparently did the trick.

It also helped that Costner apparently used his recent box office status to fight to have Sarandon cast as Annie, as their believable chemistry together is quite good.

BULLDURHAM40

Glenn Close, who was forty years old at the time, had also auditioned for the role of Annie but was forced to turn the role down due to her commitment to the film Dangerous Liaisons (1988).

Among the slightly younger actresses who auditioned were Michelle Pfeiffer and Melanie Griffith, both 29 at the time, but they were ultimately passed over. Griffith was also busy filming the 1988 film Working Girl at the time and likely wouldn’t have been able to do both films.

Kay Lenz, who was 34, was apparently one of Shelton’s first choices to play Annie, but apparently Orion didn’t feel she was bankable enough.

BULLDURHAM39

Other actresses who apparently auditioned for the role of Annie Savoy, but were also passed over for one reason or another, included Pamela Stephenson (she was 38 at the time), Isabella Rossellini (35), Kim Basinger (34), Kate Capshaw (34), Mary Steenburgen (34), Ellen Barkin (33), Debra Winger (32), Geena Davis (31), Carrie Fisher (31), and Kelly McGillis (30).

Her character name “Annie,” by the way, is an actual term used in the minor leagues to describe a baseball “groupie” who fucks the players.

BULLDURHAM32

The role of Nuke was actually based on real-life minor leaguer Steve Dalkowski, who Shelton had actually played with back in his own minor league days.

Dalkowski, who was something of a legend for his fastball — he had a nine-year career in the minors, striking out an astounding 12.6 batters per nine innings on average — never actually played in the “show,” which is the affection term used by minor league teams and management for the major leagues. He also walked 12.3 batter per nine innings, which may be one reason why he never made it to the bigs.

Shelton — according to what he’s said on the Commentary track on the movie’s DVD release — has said that he based the name for Robbins’ character, the clueless Ebbie Calvin “Nuke” LaRoosh, on the real name of a waiter (whose nickname was actually “Nook” not “Nuke”) who had served him once in a restaurant.

Executives at Orion Pictures had wanted Anthony Michael Hall to play Nuke, but when Shelton and producer Mark Burg met with Hall in New York, Hall not only showed up a half-hour late, he revealed that he hadn’t even bothered to read Shelton’s script.

BULLDURHAM34

They decided to meet again the next day, but when that meeting came around, Hall told Shelton he’d only read half of the script, and hearing that, Shelton got up and walked out of their meeting, and he later threatened to quit the film if he was forced to work with Hall, and so Orion backed off.

David Duchovney and Charlie Sheen also auditioned for the part. Sheen had to drop out of the running, though, as he was quickly signed to do another baseball movie, John Sayles’ Eight Men Out, which became this film’s major baseball film competition in 1988 even though it was distributed by the same parent film company, Orion.

The role eventually went to Robbins, a real baseball fan, and although Orion balked at first — they’d likely seen him in the 1986 flop Howard the Duck and didn’t want a repeat performance — but Shelton threatened to quit the project if he wasn’t cast in the role of Nuke. Orion remaned skeptical, just as they had remained skeptical about Sarandon too.

BULLDURHAM43

Some of the minor roles in the film are memorably played by actors you’ve no doubt seen in other films, including Trey Wilson, who played Durham manager Joe Riggins.

He’d just achieved some success the year before Bull Durham‘s theatrical release as Nathan Arizona in the Coen Brothers’ 1987 film Raising Arizona.

Sadly, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage only days from his 41st birthday, seven months after this film’s release.

BULLDURHAM21

Bull Durham was the first major film role for actress Jenny Robertson, who plays Annie’s sexy friend Millie, and she has one of the best lines in the movie.

When asked by Annie was sex with Nuke is like she says, “Well, he fucks like he pitches: sorta all over the place.”

BULLDURHAM29

Another actress, a virtual unknown at the time named Paula Abdul, didn’t get the same opportunity to shine, however.

The former Laker Girl — who by then had had a few small movie parts under her belt, and apparently she wanted more — had been flown out from L.A. to Durham after she’d been hired as a choreographer to teach flashy dance moves to Tim Robbins for a scene taking place in that bar we mentioned.

BULLDURHAM38

Approaching Shelton on-set, she claimed that she’d been told by a producer that if she came all the way to North Carolina to teach Robbins his dance moves that she’d be given a speaking part, which wasn’t true.

Shelton apologized and said that it hadn’t been cleared by him, and after that apparently Abdul marched off-set, screaming at the director for not being hired for her acting talents.

Shelton didn’t get the greenlight to put Bull Durham into production until late in the year, and since the movie was being filmed on location in North Carolina during October and November of 1987, the production staff had to repeatedly paint the baseball field green, to make it look like it had during the summer months.

BULLDURHAM6

In addition, many of the game scenes were shot at night to hide the fact that the leaves on the trees were already turning brown. It was already so cold at night that you can see the players’ breath in some of the film’s scenes.

One of the reasons that so many of the extras on the film seem to be wearing Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon t-shirts is that the filmmakers went to nearby Chapel Hill and recruited concertgoers who had come straight from a Pink Floyd concert, which is why so many of them also look more than a little stoned.

Execs at Orion remained worried about the film’s casting and apparently, after watching dailies, Medavoy called Shelton on the set and ordered him to replace Robbins. Shelton again threatened to quit if Robbins was fired.

BULLDURHAM4

On the second day of dailies, one of the film’s producers confided to Sarandon that she didn’t look very good in her close-ups. Shelton exploded and went after the man, telling him, “You ever talk to my actors again, I’ll kick your fucking ass!”

Bull Durham debuted on June 15, 1988 and grossed $5 million in 1,238 theaters on its opening weekend. It went on to gross a total of $50.8 million in North America alone, well above its estimated $9 million budget.

Bull Durham received mostly positive critical notices, from writers like the Chicago Tribune’s Roger Ebert, who wrote, I don’t know who else they could have hired to play Annie Savoy, the Sarandon character who pledges her heart and her body to one player a season, but I doubt if the character would have worked without Sarandon’s wonderful performance.”

Vincent Canby’s review in The New York Times, said that, “As a director, [Shelton] demonstrates the sort of expert comic timing and control that allow him to get in and out of situations so quickly that they’re over before one has time
to question them. Part of the fun in watching
Bull Durham is in the awareness that a clearly seen vision is being realized. This is one first rate debut.”

BULLDURHAM19

Shelton — who went on to become a big-time movie director, directing Costner again in Tin Cup, as well as directing White Men Can’t Jump — was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards (losing to Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow for Rain Man).

Most of the critical raves and awards for his screenplay came instead from the critics themselves, including the National Society of Film Critics, the L.A. Film Critics Association, the 1988 New York Film Critics Circle Awards and others, all of whom awarded Shelton their highest honors for his original screenplay.

In 2003, Sports Illustrated called Bull Durham the greatest sports movie ever made, and it was ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Sports” in June 2008.

Night Flight Goes to the Movies — which originally aired on June 17, 1988 — also featured our profiles of other then-current movies, like Red Heat, Big Business, Like Father, Like Son, and Barbara Streisand’s Nuts. You can watch any time you want, it’s streaming over on Night Flight Plus.

BULLDURHAM1

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.