Allow this author a moment to brag before admitting a tragic flaw. I am a great baseball fan. I have attended countless minor league games, been to nine major league stadiums despite living in faraway Arkansas, read both editions of The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, spent months on the Golden Hall project, and use my birthday as an annual excuse to guilt my friends and family into playing a decidedly amateur game of the national pastime.
And I owe this fandom to my grandfather and father, the latter of whom especially taught me love of the game. Yet these preceding generations failed me in one critical aspect. After 34 years on this Earth, I had never seen Bull Durham or The Sandlot.
The Baseball Classic
While on self-quarantine after international travel, I resolved to rectify at least half of this moral failing. With little surprise, I can report that I thoroughly loved Bull Durham. This movie captures baseball and the minors better than any other. The little touches that other movies might have neglected but make a film grounded in reality are abundantly present.
Pieces that create this realism include Crash Davis throwing to third after a strikeout and the actual names of the Carolina League clubs (a delightful mix of characteristically minor league unique monikers and twists on those of the parent teams). Apart from an overly done sequence of wild pitches, the movie depicts seemingly (and actual) real players in real situations. The relatively slight changes in LaLoosh’s windup and mound visits about baseball and bull are fine examples.
Annie’s plot is, yes, about love and sex. However, she speaks more deeply to baseball as religion. Her role is akin to the Vestal virgins of antiquity. Through her sexuality and knowledge of the mysteries, the lay player can hope to pass through the gateway of the gods and into baseball immortality. From Annie’s opening dialogue to her years-long devotion, it is clear that baseball is “a religion full of magic, cosmic truth, and the fundamental ontological riddles of our time.” Even in the face of temptation that threatens violation of her religion’s sacred tenet of a single lover per season, her belief is unshakable.
Four Out of Four Baseballs
Ultimate truth aside, I am a person who values comedy above all else, and Bull Durham has humor in spades. My favorite moment is a near throwaway one. Toward the end, Crash is giving one last lecture. LaLoosh, pretending he misheard Crash and, just out of his eyesight, makes the slightest smirk. It is subtle, but Robbins plays it exactly how people joke in that way in real life, not exaggerated for effect or playing too cool. It is this attention to reality that makes Bull Durham perhaps the greatest baseball movie.
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