Bull Durham is a 1988 American romantic comedy about baseball. It is based upon the minor league experiences of writer/director Ron Shelton and depicts the players and fans of the Durham Bulls, a minor league baseball team in Durham, North Carolina. Kevin Costner stars as "Crash" Davis, a veteran catcher brought in to teach rookie pitcher Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) about the game in preparation for reaching the Major Leagues. Baseball groupie Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) romances Nuke but finds herself increasingly attracted to Crash. Also featured are Robert Wuhl and Max Patkin. Baseball movies were not considered a viable commercial prospect at the time of this film's production, and every studio passed except for Orion Pictures, who gave Shelton a USD $9 million budget, an eight-week shooting schedule, and creative freedom. Even so, many cast members accepted salaries lower than their usual due to their enthusiasm for the material. He cast Kevin Costner because of the actor's natural athletic ability. During filming, Costner was able to hit two home runs while the cameras were rolling. Bull Durham was a commercial success, grossing over $50 million in North America, well above its estimated budget, and was a critical success as well. Sports Illustrated ranked it the #1 Greatest Sports Movie of all time. The Moving Arts Film Journal ranked it #3 on its list of the 25 Greatest Sports Movies of All-Time. In addition, the film is ranked #55 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies." It is also ranked #97 on the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Laughs" list, and #1 on Rotten Tomatoes' list of the 53 best reviewed sports movies of all time.
Costner stars as "Crash" Davis, a veteran of 12 years in the minor leagues who is unwillingly sent down to the single-A (advanced) Bulls for a specific purpose: to educate hotshot rookie pitcher Ebby LaLoosh (Robbins, playing a character loosely based on Steve Dalkowski) about being a major-league talent, and to control Ebby's haphazard pitching. Crash immediately begins calling Ebby by the degrading nickname of "Meat", and they get off to a rocky start. Thrown into the mix is Annie (Sarandon), a lifelong spiritual seeker who latched onto the "Church of Baseball" and has, every year, chosen one player on the Bulls to be her lover and student. Annie flirts with Crash and Ebby, but Crash walks out, saying he's too much a veteran to "try out" for anything. Before he leaves, Crash further sparks Annie's interest with a memorable speech in which he lists the things he "believes in". Despite some animosity between them, Annie and Crash work, in their own ways, to shape Ebby into a big-league pitcher. Annie plays mild bondage games, reads poetry to him, and gets him to think in different ways (and gives him the nickname "Nuke"). Crash forces Nuke to learn "not to think", by letting the catcher make the pitching calls (memorably at two points telling the batters what pitch is coming after Nuke rejects his calls), and lectures him about the pressure in facing major league hitters that can hit his "heat" (fastballs). Crash also talks about the pleasure of life in "The Show" (major league baseball), which he briefly lived for "the 21 greatest days of my life" and to which he has tried for years to return. Meanwhile, as Nuke matures, the relationship between Annie and Crash grows, until it becomes obvious that the two of them are a more appropriate match, except for the fact that Annie and Nuke are currently a couple. After a rough start, Nuke becomes a dominant pitcher by mid-season. By the end of the movie, Nuke is called up to the majors and the Bulls, now having no use for his mentor, release Crash. This incites jealous anger in Crash, who is frustrated by Nuke's failure to recognize all the talent he was blessed with. Nuke leaves for the big leagues, ending his relationship with Annie, and Crash overcomes his jealousy to leave Nuke with some final words of advice. Crash is released by the Bulls and joins another team, the Asheville Tourists, and breaks the minor league record for career home runs. We see Nuke one last time, being interviewed by the press as a major leaguer, reciting the clichéd answers that Crash had taught him earlier. Crash then retires as a player and returns to Durham, where Annie tells him she's ready to give up her annual affairs with "boys". Crash tells her that he is thinking about becoming a manager for a minor league team in Visalia. Both characters end one phase of their lives and begin another, the film ending with Annie and Crash dancing in her candle-lit living room.