Bull Durham (1988) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"It's all about sex and sport. What else is there?"

The official Bull Durham tag line

When I was 14 years old I had the strange privilege of watching Steve Dalkowski, reputedly the fastest pitcher who ever lived. By that time, after seven hard years in pro ball, about a million adult beverages, and a severe elbow injury that spring, his fastball had diminished to "mere" Nolan Ryan levels, but he was still something to see. He had gone to Spring training with the Orioles that year, and was unhittable. He had made the big club, and he even got his picture on a 1963 baseball card, but his spring injury got him sent down to Rochester, and he never made it back up. Sorry to say, Dalkowski didn't do anything extraordinary when I watched him, but he did plenty throughout his career.

Dalkowski was a small guy, maybe 5'8', 160, with a gift like nobody ever had before or since. His skinny left arm could propel a fastball about 105 mph when he was young. Maybe faster. Unfortunately, he had two major weaknesses to keep him from the majors:

1. Heavy drinking.

2. Severe control problems.

On August 31, 1957, Dalkowski struck out 24 batters in a minor league game - and lost! He also issued 18 walks in that game, hit four very unlucky guys, threw six wild pitches, and allowed 9 runs. He finished that year with an average of 18 strikeouts per game, but actually walked more than he struck out.

Dalkowski became a legend because of the stories told and repeated by those who saw him pitch. Former Yankees manager Bob Lemon said the best Dalkowski exploit he saw was when Steve hit a guy in the back - and the guy was standing in line to buy a hot dog! Dalkowski also hit an announcer up in the booth once, and finished one season with 262 strikeouts and 262 walks.

Do those stories and stats sound familiar? Then you've seen Bull Durham, in which a minor league pitcher named Nuke la Loosh did the very same things. Former minor leaguer Ron Shelton wrote the screenplay for Bull Durham, and he had crossed paths in the minors with Dalkowski, although they never actually played together. The actual Steve D. was no ladies' man like Nuke, but many other aspects of Nuke la Loosh were based on Dalkowski, right down to the exact stats from his 1960 season at Stockton! For more about this fireballing legend, his strange baseball career, and his sad post-baseball decline, go to my comments on White Men Can't Jump.  

Because it was written by a guy who was actually there in the minors, Bull Durham is a very incisive film about the dreams and the frustrations of life in minor league baseball. It's also very funny because that guy also happens to have a great sense of humor. And, by God, that guy is literate and thoughtful as well. To that mix add Susan Sarandon, who may have been one of the five sexiest women ever to walk on the planet. Hell, she still looks sexy now, and she used to party with Hannibal! One of the sexiest women, in her prime, takes off her clothes in the best baseball comedy ever made. Sex and sport - what else is there?

The top theatrical baseball movies, by IMDb ratings. Comedies highlighted

1 Pride of the Yankees, The (1942) 7.7
2 Field of Dreams (1989) 7.6
3 Eight Men Out (1988) 7.4
4 Natural, The (1984) 7.3
5 Bull Durham (1988) 7.2
6 Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) 7.2

Rated slightly higher than Bull Durham is a musical comedy, Damn Yankees!

Rated higher than any of those films are two which were made for television:

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins

  • second commentary track from Ron Shelton

  • Making of documentary including all new interviews with cast

  • "Sports Wrap" featurette

  • Widescreen anamorphic format. 1.85


Tim Robbins showed his butt in a sex scene. In the special features, he also shows his butt while pitching in his jock strap

Susan Sarandon shows her breasts while housekeeping and exposes a brief nipple in a sex scene.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three and a half stars. Ebert 3.5/4, filmcritic.com 4/5

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it  7.2/10, which is too low. The peoplr who scored it below six should have their voting credentials revoked.
  • Voting with dollars: a solid hit at $51 million
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B because it crosses genre lines. It is one of the few sports movies that is fun to watch even if you don't like sports movies, and it's a romantic comedy that's fun to watch even if you hate romantic comedies.

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