Posts Tagged ‘Carolina League’

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.

Rusty Staub: Bonus Baby

Sunday, January 29th, 2017

When Daniel Joseph Staub signed a major league contract, he fell under the “bonus baby” nomenclature.  Nicknamed “Rusty” by a nurse upon his birth on April 1, 1944, Staub became so known.  In a 1967 article for Sports Illustrated, Gary Ronberg cited Staub’s mother in revealing the story behind the dubbing:  “‘I wanted to name him Daniel so I could call him Danny for short,’ said Mrs. Staub, who is, of course, Irish.  ‘But one of the nurses nicknamed him Rusty for the red fuzz he had all over his head, and it stuck.'”

Staub, all of 17 years old, signed with the nascent Houston Colt .45s in 1961 as an amateur free agent while the team prepared for its 1962 début.  In his Houston Post column “Post Time,” Clark Nealon used the Post‘s February 26, 1962 edition to highlight Staub.  Quoting Brooklyn Dodgers icon Babe Herman, Nealon wrote, “He runs well, handles himself well, has good hands.  He needs some work in the field, but that’ll come.  I like the way he swings the bat.”

Playing with the Durham Bulls in ’62, Staub hit 23 home runs, compiled a .293 batting average, and won the Carolina League’s Most Valuable Player award.  In 1963, Staub elevated to Houston for his first major league season—he played in 150 games, batted .224, hit six home runs.  A stay with the Oklahoma City 89ers in 1964 provided seasoning for the red-haired bonus baby—Staub tore apart the Pacific Coast League with a .334 batting average after 60 games.

In the September 19, 1964 Sporting News article “Return of Rusty:  Staub Rides Hot Bat Back to .45s,” Bob Dellinger reasoned, “Staub, perhaps the No. 1 boy in Houston’s renowned youth movement was farmed to the Class AAA club in mid-July with a double-dip objective.  First, he could play every day and perhaps build up his confidence at the plate; second, he could gain valuable defensive training in the outfield.”

Further, Dellinger exposed Staub’s perception of the demotion to the minor leagues:  “Sometimes it seems like the world is coming to an end, but maybe it just starts over.  I believe I will be back—better prepared physically and mentally.”

Staub played in a little more than half of Houston’s games in 1964, garnering a .216 batting average.  His performance at the plate improved for the remainder of his Houston tenure—batting averages of .256, .280, .333, and .291.  Staub also played for the Expos, the Mets, the Tigers, and the Rangers in his major league career, which ended after the 1985 season.  His time in an Expos uniform began with the team’s inaugural season—1969—and lasted three years; he also played part of the 1979 season in Montreal.  Upon arrival, Staub enjoyed a newfound respect.  In his 2014 book Up, Up & Away:  The Kid, the Hawk, Rock, Vladi, Pedro, Le Grand Orange, Youppi!, the Crazy Business of Baseball & the Ill-fated but Unforgettable Montreal Expos, Jonah Keri explained, “They urged Staub to become the face of the team, and an ambassador to the community.  This was a challenge he happily embraced.

“Staub’s first step was to learn to speak French—some French anyway, somewhere between knowing what his own nickname meant and true fluency.  He’d go out to lunch with francophone friends and insist that they speak French the whole meal.”

Montreallians bestowed the nickname “Le Grand Orange” upon Staub.

A New Orleans native, Staub was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 12, 2016.

An Author’s Journey to the Baseball Hall of Fame

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

Cooperstown, New York has a quaintness that makes Mayberry, North Carolina look like a metropolis.

Last week, I visited Cooperstown for the second time this year. That is to say, the second time ever.

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