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An Insider Look At The Movie Bull Durham

It strikes a nostalgic chord with many:  The movie Bull Durham is an all-time fan favorite, owing to a memorable cast and a classic story about America’s pastime. 

Director Ron Shelton and actor Kevin Costner brought their considerable skills and talents to the 1988 film; additionally, the twosome has several other sports classics to their names, including White Men Can’t Jump, Field of Dreams, and Tin Cup.

Shelton’s experience as a minor leaguer in the Baltimore Orioles system allowed him to bring personal experience and expertise to the Bull Durham movie set. When you add in Costner’s performance, considered one of the most believable portrayals ever of a baseball player, it comes as no surprise that the movie is nothing short of beloved.

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Hitting All the Right (And Real) Notes

Up until the age of 25, Shelton pursued his passion of becoming a major league baseball player. But the call of Hollywood eventually won out over the world of called balls and strikes, and Shelton looked to become a filmmaker; not surprisingly, he wrote about what he knew best: baseball.

Shelton’s attention to baseball detail left no stone unturned – even the name of the film’s protagonist, Crash Davis, came from an actual Carolina League record book. Shelton mistakenly assumed the real Crash Davis had passed away, but he was pleasantly surprised when the real Davis showed up on the movie set. Assured that the character got the girl in the end, Davis gave the director his blessing to continue using his name.

Another real-life inspired moment in the movie depicts players firing up the sprinklers to force a rainout. At one time, members of the Amarillo Giants and the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs gave the sprinkler trick a try, but the General Manager of the Giants wasn’t so easily deterred from starting the game. He hired a helicopter to serve as a super-sized hand dryer, albeit a super expensive one. The result? Nearly 1,000 fans were able to enjoy the scheduled game.

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Crash Davis

One of Kevin Costner’s most iconic roles, Crash Davis afforded him the opportunity to display both his acting skills and athletic ability. Contenders for the role included  Harrison Ford, Kurt Russell (who had minor league baseball experience), and Mel Gibson. Costner won the part after displaying his skills at the batting cages.

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Annie Savoy

At the time of casting, some of the movie’s key decision makers felt that then 41-year-old Susan Sarandon was too “mature” (read:  old) for the part. Unfortunately, producer Thom Mount suggested Sarandon impress Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy with an in-person visit. According to Sarandon, “As a rule, most studio executives’ strong suit isn’t imagination. So when you’re trying to get a part, it helps for them to be able to envision you in the part. 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.”

Sadly, such was the making of movies and the awarding of women’s roles before the Me Too movement.

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Nuke Laloosh

For Laloosh, the studio pushed hard for Anthony Michael Hall who was experiencing a great deal of Hollywood hype in the ‘80s. Surprisingly, he showed up late for his audition and clearly hadn’t fully read the script through. Shelton was not impressed, and Tim Robbins subsequently snagged the part after turning down Eight Men Out.

The relationship between Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh was also based on one of Shelton’s baseball experiences and his relationship with a former manager, Joe Altobelli. In his later playing years, Altobelli was tasked with harnessing and mentoring young talent such as the character Laloosh.