Nine things you didn't know about 'Bull Durham' -- the greatest sports comedy ever made

bull-durham

Image Credit: Everett Collection

Like The Shawshank Redemption and Tommy Boy, Bull Durham is one of those movies that always seems to be on TV. It doesn’t matter whether it’s two in the afternoon or two in the morning, somewhere in the outer reaches of cable, Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon can be found bickering about baseball and who’s taking whom to bed. In my opinion, it’s probably the best sports comedy ever made, right up there with Caddyshack, and the original Bad News Bears. Still, as many hours as I’ve spent in the company of Crash Davis, Nuke LaLoosh, and Annie Savoy, I was surprised how much I didn’t know about the film until I spoke with the cast and crew for an oral history about the making of Bull Durham, which can be found at our Sports Illustrated sister site.

As a taste of what you’ll get, here are nine things you probably didn’t know about Ron Shelton’s 1988 baseball classic.

1. Three Strikes: Costner, Robbins, and Sarandon weren’t anybody’s first choice for the movie. For Costner’s aging minor-league catcher character Crash Davis, other actors who were considered included Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell, and Mel Gibson. Costner said yes first. For Robbins’ dim-bulb pitching phenom Nuke LaLoosh, the first choice was Charlie Sheen. But he’d just signed on to be in another baseball movie, Eight Men Out. As for Sarandon’s baseball groupie Annie Savoy, both Kim Basinger and Ellen Barkin passed first.

2. A Bad Meal With The Breakfast Club: In addition to wanting Sheen to play Nuke LaLoosh, the studio (Orion) was also keen on Breakfast Club star Anthony Michael Hall. But when director Ron Shelton and producer Mark Burg went to New York to meet with the actor, he not only showed up a half hour late, but hadn’t even read the script. “I thought Ron was going to shoot him,” says Burg. When Hall came back the following day, he said that he’d only read half of the script. When he heard that, Shelton had had enough. He got up and walked out.

3. Dress For Success: The head of Orion, Mike Medavoy, apparently thought that Sarandon was too old for the part of Annie — and not funny enough either. So producer Thom Mount told the actress to buy a tight, tight dress that showed a lot of cleavage and then go into Medavoy’s office and lean over his desk for 30 minutes. Says Sarandon, “As a rule, most studio executives’ strong suit isn’t imagination… I definitely didn’t go in there in a T-shirt and jeans. I remember I had on an off-the-shoulder red-and-white-striped dress. It was very form-fitting. It was understood what I had to do.”

4. Paula Abdul Was Almost in the Movie…Straight Up!: A young choreographer named Paula Abdul was flown down to the Durham, North Carolina, set to teach Robbins some flashy moves for a scene where he dances at a bar. When she was done, she approached the director, Ron Shelton, and asked him what part he had for her in the film — she claimed she had been told by one of the producers that if she taught Robbins some moves, she be rewarded with a speaking part. Shelton apologized, but informed her there was no part. “She marched off screaming,” says Shelton.

5. Crash Course: The name Crash Davis was actually based on a real baseball player from the 1940s. Shelton spotted the name in an old Carolina League record book, liked it, and used it. Then on the first day of filming he got a call from the real Crash Davis, who was still very much alive. Shelton invited him to the set, hoping that he could get the old timer’s okay to use the name in the film. Davis had one question about the Crash character for Shelton before he agreed to it. “Do I get the girl?” Shelton replied, “Yes! In fact, I’ll introduce you to the girl.” Sarandon charmed the heck out of him.

6. Why Do Those Extras Look Baked?: When the filmmakers needed to fill the stadium stands with extras, they had a novel idea — they went to a Pink Floyd concert in nearby Chapel Hill and asked the band to invite the audience out to the ballpark afterwards. That may be why so many of them look a little hazy…and why there are so many Dark Side of the Moon T-shirts in the background.

7. When Susan Met Tim…: Everybody know that Bull Durham is the movie where Robbins and Sarandon met and began a relationship that would last for the next 20 years. Well, not everybody. In fact, just about everyone on the set says they had no idea. — except producer Burg. “It was obvious. You’d be sitting in the bar of the hotel, where almost everyone was staying except Susan. And Tim would be drinking with us and then say he was turning in and walk out to the parking lot and get in his rental car and head to Susan’s house.” But both Robbins and Sarandon insist that the relationship didn’t begin until after the film wrapped. Says Sarandon: “I mean, there was an attraction during the movie, and I could see something was changing from friendship to something else, but we both decided we would wait until we cleared up things in our lives.”

8. Candlesticks Make a Good Present: The funniest scene in the movie was based on a real life. “The candlesticks scene on the mound — I came up with that,” says Robert Wuhl, who played the team’s pitching coach. Apparently, a week before the film started shooting, Wuhl’s friend was getting married and he asked his wife what he should get as a gift. Her reply: Candlesticks always make a nice gift. Or find out where they’re registered and perhaps a nice place setting. Wuhl ad-libbed that line during a hilarious meeting on the pitcher’s mound in the film. The rest is history. And Wuhl says that ever since then, he’s never had to think hard about what to get someone as a gift.

9: Where Are They Now?: So whatever happened to Crash and Annie and Nuke? Robbins has a theory. “Well, I’d like to think that Crash and Annie ended up having a pretty good marriage and that they’re still together. And Nuke? I always thought that Nuke maybe had a flash in the majors and then blew out his arm and is now signing autographs at trade shows. But maybe you shouldn’t print that. That’s the kind of idea that leads to sequels.”

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