The Behind The Scenes Stories Of "Bull Durham"
May 18, 2022
The debate for the greatest baseball movie of all time features a strong field. Kevin Costner and Director Ron Shelton make a strong case with their 1988 classic “Bull Durham.” Coincidentally, the pair own a deep bench of sports classics to their names like “Field Of Dreams,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” and “Tin Cup.”
However, “Bull Durham’s” authenticity rises to another level thanks to Shelton’s experience as a minor leaguer in the Baltimore Orioles system. Throw in Costner as perhaps the most believable Hollywood baseball player ever and you have got the makings of an all-timer. Here’s the behind-the-scenes on “Bull Durham.”
Hollywood writers famously spend months researching, hoping to glean a deep understanding of the inner workings of their subject. While that’s laudable, it pales in comparison to spending your entire life up to the age of 25 pursuing a singular passion. That’s what Shelton did before giving up on his dreams as a Big Leaguer to become a filmmaker. Naturally, he wrote about what he knew best which led to a movie iconic filmmaker Billy Wilder called, “A great f-ckin’ picture.”
Even our protagonist’s name, Crash Davis, came from a real old Carolina League record book. Shelton assumed the player had long passed but apparently, the very much alive Davis ended up showing up on set! He gave the director his blessing once he was assured his character got the girl.
Stranger Than Fiction
The sensei-student relationship between Crash Davis and Nuke Laloosh? That came directly from a former manager of Shelton’s, Joe Altobelli. Apparently, in his twilight years as a player, Altobelli was given the task of harnessing a young talent, not unlike Laloosh, Steve Dalkowski. Dalkowski never fulfilled his prodigious talent like Nuke but perhaps, it just takes the power of Kevin Costner.
More specifically, the part in the movie where players fire up the sprinklers to force a rainout actually happened. In a story that sounds too ridiculous for the movies, members of the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs and the Amarillo Giants tried their hand with the sprinkler trick. But they couldn’t possibly have imagined how badly the General Manager of the Giants wanted to play that game. In order to foil the players, he hired a helicopter to serve as an obscenely expensive hand-dryer. That raises some questions about the budgets of 1970s minor league teams but almost 1,000 fans enjoyed their promised game.
A Casting Who’s On First?
Of course, today it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, or Costner in the title roles but they were far from the first choices. Costner beat out Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, and Kurt Russell (who actually played minor league baseball) as Crash Davis. He sealed the deal by showing off his skills to Shelton at the batting cages.
For Laloosh, the studio pushed hard for Anthony Michael Hall. The ‘80s represented a high point for Hall and perhaps feeling himself a little too much, the actor showed up late having not fully read the script twice. According to producer Mark Burg, “I thought Ron was going to shoot him.” And in a classic film swap, Tim Robbins got the part after turning down “Eight Men Out”, while Charlie Sheen missed out on playing Nuke and ended up in “Eight Men Out.”
The same powers that be who wanted Hall also felt that a then 41-year-old Susan Sarandon was too old for the part. In a tale unfortunately as old as Hollywood, producer Thom Mount suggested Sarandon wow Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy in person. As the Oscar-winning actress remembered”:
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."