7 Reasons Bull Durham Is The Greatest Baseball Movie Ever
1. Women. Unusually for baseball films, the central character is a woman. This shouldn’t be unusual – some of the most passionate and knowledgeable sport fans I know are women – but it is. The use of a female narrator and the fact that the baseball isn’t the only story in the movie – the journey that Susan Sarandon’s character goes on isn’t really about baseball at all – gives it a totally different perspective to other baseball films, making it far more rounded and realistic. It’s about baseball, but it’s also a romantic comedy. Would my wife sit through The Pride of the Yankees or Eight Men Out with me? No. Would I watch Sleepless In Seattle or You’ve Got Mail with her? No. Would we watch Bull Durham together? Well… no – but only because she’s out shopping at the moment.
2. Realism. Despite not being entirely about baseball, Bull Durham has some of the most realistic and interesting scenes of match-play in films. This shouldn’t be a surprise, since the director spent five years playing in the Minor Leagues. The tight, close-up shots of Davies batting and Laloosh pitching – with their thoughts providing the voiceover – are far more intimate than anything usually seen during matches in baseball movies. The rest of the off-field baseball activity is also imbued with a down-to-earth realism. We learn that you should never punch a man with your pitching hand, and that you’ll never make it to the Major Leagues with fungus on your shower shoes – which is obviously where I went wrong.
3. Tim Robbins. Tim Robbins is in Bull Durham. Tim Robbins is funny looking. Tim Robbins is weird. Tim Robbins is distracting. Tim Robbins ruins most of the films he is in for those reasons. To withstand the casting of Tim Robbins, a film has to be very, very good. High Fidelity, for example, managed to overcome a hugely distracting appearance by him. In Bull Durham he is still quite distracting (and weird), but he’s good. It’s a measured performance in which the growth of his character is completely convincing and very well performed. If your film is good enough to withstand the presence of Tim Robbins, it’s a very good film. If your film can withstand – and be enhanced – by his presence, it must be a great film. He’s still weird though. And funny looking.
4. Sex. You don’t often find sex in baseball films. This is a shame. I like sex; I like baseball (and we don’t have much of either in England). Baseball movies are full of men being men, involved in manly pursuits like sport or drinking beer or more sport. In Bull Durham though, with strong female characters and a female narrator, there is room for more than just baseball. This is great, as the film’s other preoccupation is sex. Not gratuitous, graphic sex, mark you – it’s quite understated. It’s just that the film has sex, romance and mortality as central themes in addition to the baseball, making it far more rounded and interesting that the usual baseball movie fare. I could have done without seeing Tim Robbins in a suspender belt though. That’s something that should be hidden away on the internet.
5. Comedy. Bull Durham is well written, performed and works brilliantly as a whimsical drama based around small-town Minor League baseball. It would stand alone as a good, solid drama. But it doesn’t stop there. This charming film is also full of some wonderfully observed and pithy lines. When worldly Crash Davis discovers the inexperienced Nuke LaLoosh wearing the aforementioned suspender belt in the locker room he calmly walks up to him, adjusts it and tells him, “The rose goes on the front, big guy”.
6. Making poetry interesting. I hate Walt Whitman. Some of my hatred for Mr Whitman stems from three years of being forced to endure his wearisome prose at University. I found him dull in the first place, and my opinion was not helped by having him read to me in lectures or having to read him myself at home. Bull Durham shows us how to study Walt Whitman: tied up in Susan Sarandon’s bed*. I’d have happily spent three years doing that.
7. Kevin Costner. I’ve never really understood the enormous appeal Kevin Costner had in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I always found him a bit dull. In Bull Durham he plays Crash Davis, an experienced and underrated Minor League catcher coming to the end of his career. He seems to be playing Don Johnson playing Sonny Crockett playing Crash Davis, but it works very well. When he’s not playing ‘ball he’s all moody introspection and Bourbon-swilling charm. Sadly, he does not live on a boat with an alligator.
*Susan Sarandon has not replaced Jennifer Aniston in the affections of this website. We imagine them in complementary roles.