Posts Tagged ‘Bull Durham’

Crash, Nuke, Annie, and the Bulls of Durham

Saturday, February 4th, 2017

“I believe in the Church of Baseball.”  So begins Bull Durham, a 1988 cinematic voyage exploring the charm of the minor leagues.

Written and directed by former minor league ballplayer Ron Shelton, Bull Durham expresses a journeyman’s wisdom and weariness honed by 12 years of striving to get to the majors.  Crash Davis played in “the show” for 21 days, but his career has mostly consisted of toiling around the minors as a catcher.  His odyssey to small towns and small ballparks brings him to the Durham Bulls of the Class A Carolina League for an assignment—tutor rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh on the finer points of pitching and life.

Played by Kevin Costner, Crash tosses condescension towards the hurler at every opportunity, but his frustration rises to volcanic proportions when LaLoosh defines success as a Porsche with a state-of-the-art stere0:  “Christ, you don’t need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt!  What you need is a curveball!  In the show, everyone can hit heat.”

LaLoosh taunts with sarcasm by questioning whether Crash has ever played in the major leagues.  Crash responds in the affirmative and to the wonder of his fellow Bulls:  “Yeah, I was in the show.  I was in the show for 21 days once, the 21 greatest days of my life.  You know, you never handle your luggage in the show.  Somebody else carries your bags.  It was great.  You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains.”

Los Angeles Times film critic Sheila Benson wrote, “On paper, Crash is the jock that women dream about, the sensitive, quirky, knowledgeable man’s man who will debate you the merits of Susan Sontag at the drop of a batting average and who knows his way around a garter belt as surely as he knows his way from first base to home.”

An early scene uses Costner’s narration to describe the inner workings of a batter’s mind during an at bat.  When Crash steps out of the batter’s box, the dialogue between him and the Bulls’ batboy shows that Bull Durham is not a conventional Hollywood movie; the batboy says, “Get a hit, Crash” and the veteran catcher responds, “Shut up.”

Annie Savoy complicates Crash’s mission to educate LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins.  Possessing a keen eye for the intricacies of baseball, Annie’s summer ritual is to “hook up with one guy a season.”  Initially, she narrows the pool to Crash and LaLoosh, who receives the nickname “Nuke” from the older, wiser, and sensual Bulls fan.  Crash abandons Annie’s romantic paradigm, arguing that his veteran status absolves him of trying out.

Shelton’s Crash-Annie-Nuke love triangle prompted Chicago Tribune film critic Dave Kehr to write, “With Crash functioning as Calvin’s surrogate father on the field and Annie as his domineering mother-goddess off it, Shelton creates a startlingly new variation on the traditional romantic triangle.  The predestined couple starts off with a child; they have to raise him and send him off before they can begin their own love story.”

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert praised Susan Sarandon’s portrayal of Annie.  “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,” wrote Ebert.  “Annie could have been portrayed as a lot of things—as a tramp, maybe, or a pathetic case study—but Sarandon portrays her as a woman who, quite simply, loves baseball and baseball players and wants to do her thing for the home team.”

Meeting on set triggered a romance between Sarandon and Robbins—though never married, their partnership ended in 2009.

One of the signature scenes of Bull Durham is the gathering of Crash, Nuke, and other players on the pitching mound during a game.  When Bulls coach Larry Hockett, played by Robert Wuhl, heads to the mound, he finds out the amalgam of problems causing the distraction.  Crash explains, “Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man is here.  We need a live rooster, is it a live rooster?  We need a live rooster to take the curse off José’s glove, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.  Is that about right?  We’re dealing with a lot of shit.”

Larry answers, “Well, uh, candlesticks always make a nice gift.  Maybe you can find out where she’s registered, maybe a place setting or a silverware pattern.  Okay, let’s get two!”

Wuhl ad-libbed the line, based on a recent experience—he and his wife tried to find a wedding gift for a friend.  The studio wanted to cut the scene because it did not move the plot, but focus groups before the movie’s premiere highlighted the scene as one of their favorites.

Besides film immortality, Wuhl received another benefit.  In a 2013 interview on Sirius XM’s Raw Dog Comedy, Wuhl explained, “Plus, for me, I never have to worry about any time I’m invited to a wedding, what I’m gonna get somebody for a present.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 18, 2016.

People Will Come

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Yankee Stadium owns the patent on ballpark magnificence, Ebbets Field maintains an aura of magic decades after its destruction, and Wrigley Field possesses a charm honed throughout decades of unrealized hope between 1908 and 2016.

An Iowa farm ranks among those and other vaunted cathedrals of the National Pastime.  Field of Dreams—based on W. P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel Shoeless Joe—premiered in 1989, the same year that Harry met Sally, Bill and Ted had an excellent adventure, and Ariel found love with Prince Eric.

When farmer Ray Kinsella hears voices, a bolt of inspiration strikes him with the force of a Babe Ruth home run.  Ray, despite imminent bankruptcy, turns his farm into a baseball field, captures a literary icon of the 1960s, and hosts ghosts of baseball past on his land—Shoeless Joe Jackson and his peers cannot venture beyond the friendly confines of the diamond, however.  Ray’s wife and daughter support the endeavor.

Though factually incorrect, Field of Dreams also highlights the career of Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who played one inning in the major leagues.

A year removed from his performance in Bull Durham, Kevin Costner plays Ray, a character infused with passion to follow a journey mapped by his instinct.  In Shoeless Joe, J. D. Salinger is the writer accompanying Ray on his quest, so chosen by W. P. Kinsella because of a connection to the reclusive Salinger—characters named Richard Kinsella and Ray Kinsella appear in the novel The Catcher in the Rye and the short story A Young Girl in 1941 With No Waist at All, respectively.

Field of Dreams replaces Salinger with a fictional character because of “moxie and cowardice,” according to Kinsella.  In a 2014 article for MLB. com celebrating the 25th anniversary of the film, Kinsella explained, “The cowardice involved was that studio executives were afraid Salinger would launch a nuisance lawsuit just as the movie was being released, and it would cost them time and a lot of publicity money to get rid of it.  The moxie appeared  when the executive pointed out that on a good opening weekend, the movie would be seen by 10 times the number of people who had read the book.  The change would be noticed by only the literate few, people who are not valued by movie executives.”

Played by James Earl Jones, Terence Mann offers a monologue nudging Ray towards keeping the field, an action defying the financial oblivion against his family:  “People will come, Ray.  The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.  Oh, people will come, Ray.  People will definitely come.”

Field of Dreams ends with a scene that ignites vesuvius nostalgia.  After a game, Shoeless Joe points Ray to his father.  As a rebellious teenager inspired by a Terence Mann book, Ray had refused to have a catch with the senior Kinsella.  Now, the circle closes with an exchange between father and son.

“Hey, dad?”  You wanna have a catch?”

“I’d like that.”

A panning shot of Ray and his father playing catch at dusk reveals cars packing the road to the field.

Life imitates art—Field of Dreams Movie Site stands as a tourist destination for baseball fans fulfilling the destiny predicted by Terence Mann.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 17, 2016.

Bay City Blues

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Five years before Ron Shelton turned his script for Bull Durham into his directorial dbut, NBC aired Bay City Blues, which introduced millions of people to the pleasures, idiosyncrasies, and slightly desperate aura surrounding the minor leagues.  NBC’s prime time lineup began the 1983-84 television season with several shows that looked promising, but quickly fell to cancellation, e.g., BooneMr. SmithManimal.  As well, Bay City Blues struck out.

NBC brought Bay City Blues to prime time in the wake of an abundance of critical acclaim surrounding its groundbreaking police drama Hill Street Blues and medical drama St. Elsewhereboth produced by MTM Enterprises.  Television critic Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “‘Bay City Blues’ applies the ‘Hill Street’ formulaan ensemble cast of eccentric characters bouncing their troubles off a firm but sensitive and understanding father figureto a new set of engaging circumstances.”

Bay City Blues revolved around the Bay City Bluebirds, a Double-A team in northern California.  Steven Bochco and Jeffrey Lewis created the show; Hill Street Blues was another Bochco co-creation, hence the parallel described by Rosenberg and other critics.  With the minor leagues serving as a limbo of dreams from which the Bluebirds seek a reprieve, Bay City Blues showcased future stars:  Sharon Stone’s legs launched a thousand sexual fantasies in Basic Instinct; Ken Olin represented the angst of baby boomers in thirtysomething; Michele Green transitioned from mousy to mighty as an attorney in L.A. Law; Mykelti Williamson befriended Tom Hanks as Bubba and Forrest respectively, in Forrest Gump; and Michael Nouri built an outstanding career as a character actor.

In New York magazine, John Leonard wrote, “When Bay City roots for its Bluebirds, it is rooting for youth and heroism, the lucky break, a last chance, grace under pressure, justice, and nostalgia.  Baseball, at least for the man-child in this promised land, is so American Dreamy because it’s so helplessly nostalgic.  Before we die, we want to steal second base.  This game, in theory, could go on forever.”

Fantasies of a better life comprise a cornerstone of the minor leagues portrayed in popular culture.  Cecil “Stud” Cantrell mourns the lost opportunity to compete with Stan Musial for a spot on the Cardinals when he suffered in injuries in World War II preventing him from going further than the Tampico Stogies in the novel Long Gone and the eponymous tv-movie.  Crash Davis embodies grace at home plate while he mentors a deeply talented but crucially ignorant pitcher pitcher in Bull Durham.  Hal Hinson of the Washington Post wrote, “What [Bull Durham] has is flavor, reality, a sense that the game is played by actual people, boys mostly, and not heroes.”  Pastime explored a similar mentor-mentee paradigm.

Built in the San Fernando Valley for Bay City Blues, Bluebird Field also appeared in the 1985 movie Brewster’s Millions.  In 1989, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tore down the field, which also served Mission College and Village Christian High School.

NBC dropped Bay City Blues from its prime time lineup after four episodes aired.

A version of this article appeared on wwwthesportspost.com on November 15, 2015.

Don’t Let Your Kids Grow Up To Be Baseball Pitchers

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Baseball pitchers in fiction seem to have a black cloud hovering over them.

Once an ace relief pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, Sam “Mayday” Malone is a recovering alcoholic on Cheers.  Sam owns the eponymous Cheers, a bar where he is revered for his exploits on the baseball diamond and his womanizing success that would make Casanova green with envy.

From time to time, Sam falls off the wagon.  Occasionally, he reveals that his one-night stands, hookups, and flings are pale attempts to fill his inner loneliness.  Booze, most likely serves the same purpose.

Kenny Powers is Sam Malone without a conscience.  He makes John Rocker look like a poster boy for unity on Eastbound & Down.  Powers uses steroids to improve his performance and cocaine to relax.  After getting kicked out of baseball, Powers determines to make his way back to the big leagues by starting in the minors.  But his laser-focused approach on himself without regard to family and friends redefines selfishness.

Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh has a right arm like a cannon in Bull Durham, but his immaturity, cockiness, and lack of baseball knowledge may prevent him from handling the pressure of being a major league pitcher.  Enter Crash Davis, a veteran minor league catcher with a roster of credits including numerous minor league teams, unparalleled baseball wisdom, and 21 days in the majors.  Crash sands off Nuke’s rough edges, a responsibility handed to him the parent ball club.  But the job is neither easy nor fun.  His dreams of a major league career have evaporated, more painful because Nuke doesn’t appreciate his opportunity.

Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn of the Cleveland Indians has a right arm that could put him in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  He’s also an ex-felon prone to lack of control over his fastball—hence, the “Wild Thing” nickname.  Prescription glasses solve Vaughn’s wildness problem.

Bruce Springsteen’s unnamed pitcher in Glory Days cannot do anything but live in the past.  Once upon a time, he could throw a blazing fastball.  But now, all he does is talk about the glory days of his high school baseball career.

No commentary about pitchers with problems would be complete without Charlie Brown of Peanuts.  He idolizes Joe Shlabotnik, a player with a .004 batting average.  He pitches on a baseball team with a knack for losing.  And, perhaps from the stress, he has a rash on the back of his head that looks like the stitching on a baseball.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on May 15, 2013.