“I see great things in baseball. It’s our game — the American game. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism. Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set. Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.” — Walt Whitman
“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan.. 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.” — Annie Savoy
This post originally ran five years ago, on the eve of the 2009 All-Star Game. It was pretty popular at the time, but the links had gone dead. With this year’s All-Star Game set to be played on July 15, I thought it’d be a nice opportunity to revisit the post, update it a little, and add some bonus features to make it “fresh” for those of you read it back then. Oh yeah, the music is live again, too.
At the time, I suggested to Kelly Stitzel that she feature Bull Durham for an installment of her wonderful Soundtrack Saturday column. I was shocked — shocked, I tell ya! — to find out she’d never seen writer-director Ron Shelton’s 1988 summer hit, one of the best sports movies of all time, if not the best movie about baseball. It’s also one of the finest romantic comedies of the past 25 years (I’m sure that Kelly has seen it by now, right Kelly?). Kelly offered me the opportunity to compile the complete soundtrack to one of my favorite films.
First-time director Shelton drew from his own experiences as a minor-league ball player for Bull Durham‘s screenplay, and he was blessed with a stellar cast that brought his richly drawn characters to life. It’s a movie full of smart dialogue, and character-based comedy that celebrates the lunacy, hijinks, and joys of America’s two favorite pastimes — baseball and sex.
Susan Sarandon, radiant as ever, flew on her own dime from Italy to audition and win the role of Annie Savoy, a part-time teacher in Durham, North Carolina. Annie dedicates each summer of her life to tutoring one player on the Durham Bulls, the local minor-league team, that she believes has the best potential to get a call up to the majors. However, Annie isn’t interested in improving the player’s understanding of literature, and she isn’t a coach, although she knows as much about baseball as any manager. No, she’s more of a spiritual and sexual adviser. As she says, “You know how to make love, then you’ll know how to pitch.” Annie reads Walt Whitman to her lover-players, and plays Edith Piaf records in the hopes of making them well-rounded human beings and therefore better ball players. At the top of the film she chooses as her new student Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, the Bulls’ latest gifted pitcher, a kid with a million-dollar arm, but a five-cent head on his shoulders.
The role of Nuke went to Tim Robbins in a breakthrough performance. Shelton had to fight to get Robbins cast in the part; up to that point the actor’s most visible role had been in the infamous flop, Howard the Duck. Besides being a part of that box office disaster, Robbins’ other jobs were mostly blink-and-you-missed-him bit parts (raise your hand if you recall him in Top Gun). In addition to his lack of experience as a leading man, executives at Orion Pictures felt that a woman as classy as Sarandon would never fall for a regular looking guy like Robbins. Luckily, Shelton prevailed and the two actors worked wonderfully on the set. Moreover, they fell in love, started a family, and were together for 23 years. Shows you how smart movie execs can be.