Bull Durham Plot Summary (Spoilers):
Bull Durham begins with a montage of baseball scenes and a monologue by Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon. Annie professes her faith in the “church of baseball,” comparing it to sex and saying there’s never been a ballplayer who slept with her that didn’t have the best year of his career. She concludes by saying that she’s tried all the major religions, but the only one that truly feeds the soul, is the church of baseball. Amen.
The scene transitions to the ballpark, where Skip Riggins, the manager of the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team, is looking for Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins. LaLoosh is scheduled to make his professional debut as the starting pitcher for the Bulls, but is nowhere to be found.
Skip finds Ebby in the locker room, having sex with Millie. Skip threatens to ban Millie from the ballpark if he catches her in the locker room again, but she says her daddy will take back the scoreboard he donated if he does. Skip orders Ebby to get out on the field, but Ebby wants to run some potential nicknames by him first. Skip gives Ebby 3 minutes to get out on the field, which Ebby decides to use for another quickie with Millie.
Ebby finally makes his way out to the mound and Millie joins Annie in the stands. Annie tells Millie to stay out of the clubhouse, or she’s going to get everyone in trouble. Millie claims she got lured, but Annie shoots that down, saying “women don’t get lured.” Ebby launches his first pitch into the press box, but Annie is impressed with his velocity, which Millie clocks at 95 m.p.h. on the radar gun.
When Ebby beans the batter in the back with his next pitch, Annie writes a note for Ebby, telling him that he’s not bending his back on his follow through. She then asks Millie how Ebby was and Millie responds, “he fucks like he pitches, sort of all over the place.” Ebby continues to struggle with his control, but shows some improvement after reading Annie’s note. After the game, his coaches note that he set new league records by walking 18, striking out 18, hitting the PA announcer and the bull mascot, twice.
A catcher by the name of Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, enters Skip’s office. Crash demands to know why he’s back in A ball. Skip explains that the big club has a lot of money invested in LaLoosh, who coach Larry Hockett describes as having a “million dollar arm and a five cent head,” and they want Crash, who has been in the minor leagues a long time, to mature him. Crash is angry that his AAA contract was bought out so that he could, “hold the flavor of the month’s dick in the bus leagues,” but Skip points out that at least Crash would have the chance to play every day and to keep getting paid for it, instead of working at Sears. Crash initially declares, “I quit,” but quickly changes his mind.
Annie is having drinks at a bar with Max Patkin a.k.a. “the clown prince of baseball.” Crash buys them a drink and then joins them at their table. They notice Ebby dancing with a bunch of girls. He approaches the table and thanks Annie for her note. Ebby asks Annie to dance with him and Crash tells him, “she’s dancing with me,” even though he had just told Annie he didn’t dance. Ebby challenges Crash to a fight and they head out to the parking lot.
Crash challenges Ebby to hit him in the chest with a baseball. Ebby initially refuses, but Crash goads him into it, calling him “Meat” and saying he heard he couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a boat. Ebby throws at Crash and misses, breaking a window instead. Ebby charges at Crash, who hits him square in the nose, and then tells him he’s his new catcher and Ebby just got lesson #1. “Don’t think. You can only hurt the ball club.”
Ebby and Crash return to the bar. After teasing them about fighting because they are rechanneling their latent homosexuality, Annie invites them both to her house. Annie tells them that she hooks up with one guy a season and they are the two most promising prospects of the season so far. Crash asks Annie why she gets to choose and she says that nobody really chooses, it’s all just a matter of quantum-physics and timing. Ebby just wants to know if someone’s gonna get laid, but Crash gets up to leave, saying after 12 years in the minors, “I don’t try out.” He also doesn’t believe in quantum-physics when it comes to matters of the heart. Annie asks him what he does believe in and he rattles off a long list of things, that begins with the soul, the cock and the pussy, includes outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter and concludes with long, slow, deep, soft, wet, kisses that last three days. Annie is impressed and tries to stop him from leaving, but Crash says he’s not interested in a woman who is interested in, “that boy.”
Ebby stays and tries to jump straight to sexy times, but Annie tells him to slow down and suggests that when he knows how to make love, he’ll know how to pitch. She lets him strip down to his undies, after admonishing him to take his shoes and socks off first, and then ties him to the bed and reads him some Walt Whitman.
Ebby shows up in the locker room the next day looking like hell and telling everyone to call him “Nuke,” because Annie says that’s his new nickname. Larry asks him if Annie is as good as everyone says and Nuke tells him that they didn’t fuck, she just read poetry to him all night, which is more tiring the fucking. Crash lectures Nuke for having fungus on his shower shoes, saying, “think classy and you’ll be classy.”
After Crash strikes out at the plate, Annie sends him a note saying he’s pulling his hips out too early and offering to meet him at the batting cage to discuss it. Crash sends a note back, which reads “Let’s fuck sometime.,” but which Millie tells Annie says “I want to make love to you.”
At the batting cages, Crash asks Annie if they are going to happen, but Annie tells him that she’s committed to Nuke for the season. Crash asks her what she sees in Nuke and she tells him that young men are uncomplicated and it’s her job to give him life’s wisdom and help him get to the major leagues. Crash notes that ironically, that is also his job. Annie tells Crash she looked up his records and at 227 career home runs, he’s just 20 shy of the minor league record of 247. Crash calls this a “dubious honor,” and doesn’t want her telling anyone about it. He propositions Annie one more time, but she turns him down again. He angrily responds that Annie is afraid to meet someone like him, because it might be real, so she sabotages it with some bullshit about mentoring a young boy she can boss around.
Annie calls Nuke “Crash” during sex and tries to cover for herself, asking Nuke whether he’d rather she have sex with Crash, using Nuke’s name, or have sex with Nuke using Crash’s. Nuke decides that’s a good point.
Crash continues his efforts to prepare Nuke for the Big Leagues. He advises him to quit trying to strike everyone out, to relax and have some fun and to quit holding the ball so hard. However, Nuke resists taking Crash’s advice and tries to shake him off when he calls for the curve instead of the fastball. When Nuke insists on bringing the heat, Crash tells the batter what is coming, resulting in a home run off the bull sign. When Nuke tells Crash it was like the batter knew he was going to throw the fastball, Crash tells him that he did know, because Crash told him.
After the Bulls lose 14-2, in spite of Crash’s first homer of the season, Skip tells Crash that he just doesn’t know what to do with the players. Crash tells him to “scare ’em.” Skip orders all the players into the shower and then screams at them for a while, calling them lollygaggers and telling them the game is simple, “You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball.” He then reminds them they have a 12 day road trip coming up and the bus leaves at 6 a.m.
Before Nuke gets on the bus for their road trip, Annie gives him some garters to wear, saying they’ll help his pitching and remind him of her. Crash has another confrontation with Nuke on the bus. Tired of listening to Nuke sing hilariously wrong words to the song Try a Little Tenderness. Crash snatches Nuke’s out of tune guitar away and corrects his lyrics. Nuke asks Crash why he doesn’t like him and Crash tells him it’s because he has no respect for himself or for the game and that he’s pissing away his hall of fame arm. He tells Nuke that he needs a curve ball, because everyone can hit a fastball in The Show. When Nuke asks him how he knows, Crash tells him that he’s been in The Show. His team mates are intrigued and Crash goes on to say he was once in The Show for the best 21 days of his life. Crash waxes poetic about how wonderful life in The Show is, before saying that Nuke could be one of those guys, if he gave a fuck. They come close to exchanging blows again, but when Larry shows up to break things up, Nuke says he was just going to ask Crash to show him how to throw a breaking ball.
With the exception of Crash, the Bulls have miserable start to their road trip. One of the players remarks that they could really use a rain out and night off to end their losing streak. Crash bets them $100 that he can get them a rain out for tomorrow. That night, Crash sneaks onto the field, through a hole in the fence, and turns the sprinkler system on, flooding the field. He and several other players run around the field, sliding in the wet dirt.
When they get back home, Nuke tells Annie how horrible the road trip was and she decides he needs a good game of catch. Annie tells Nuke that he needs to learn to breath through his eyelids, like the lava lizards of the Galápagos Islands and get the chakras between his feet and his testicles aligned. She also convinces him to rechannel his sexual energy into his pitching, instead of having sex with her, and to throw whatever pitches Crash calls.
At that night’s game, Nuke tries out Annie’s advice, including the garters, and he pitches his best game of the season. Nuke has a 2-hit shutout going through 8, when he gets on Crash’s bad side again, by shaking off the signs. Crash once again tells the hitter what pitch Nuke is going to throw, resulting in a solo homer. In spite of that hiccup the Bulls go on to win the game.
Nuke attributes his victory to rechanneling his sexual energy, so he vows not to have sex again until he loses. Inspired by Nuke and Crash’s success, the Bulls go on an extended winning streak through the months of June and July and move into a first place tie in their division. Annie is thrilled with the Bull’s success, but frustrated by Nuke’s continued refusal to have sex with her.
Enthused by his newfound success, Nuke begs Crash to teach him something new, so Crash decides to school him on his clichés for media interviews. Nuke tells Crash that Annie is getting pretty mad about him not having sex with her and he’s thinking about giving in. Crash tells him that if he has sex, he might start losing again and to never fuck with a winning streak.
Annie attempts to seduce Nuke, but he resists her. She tries to stop him from leaving by telling him that there’s no relationship between sex and baseball and suggesting he ask Crash. Nuke tells her that he already asked Crash and Crash told him that if he gave in to Annie, he’d start losing again.
Annie goes to Crash’s apartment and berates him for interfering in her private life, by telling Nuke not to have sex with her. Crash makes fun of Annie and the two argue. Crash tells Annie that Nuke’s chastity wasn’t his idea and that he never told Crash not have sex with her, he just told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak, because they don’t happen very often. He adds that if you think you’re winning because you’re having sex or not having sex or wearing women’s underwear, then you are and Annie should know that. Annie tells Crash that she wants him, but when he rejects her, she accuses him of being scared.
Nuke’s father comes to see him pitch, which makes him nervous and throws off his game. Crash gets himself ejected after calling the home plate umpire a cocksucker, during an argument over what Crash thinks was a missed call. The whole team goes into a funk and Nuke’s winning streak comes to an end.
Nuke shows up at Annie’s with his father and the news that they lost the game. In spite of having his father in the other room, Nuke tries to talk Annie into a quickie, but they are interrupted by a phone call. The call is for Nuke. Skip tells Nuke that he has been called up to the Majors. Nuke celebrates briefly with Annie and his father and then rushes off to find Crash. Before Nuke can get out the door, Annie stops him and tells him that their relationship is over. Annie assures Nuke that he is ready for the Big Leagues and the two say their goodbyes.
Nuke tracks down Crash at a local pool hall and tells him that he’s going to The Show. Nuke is surprised and disappointed when Crash doesn’t seem happy for him. Crash laments that the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is just one extra hit a week, but Nuke still doesn’t understand why Crash is upset and makes a smart-ass comment on his way out the door. Crash throws a pool ball at Nuke’s back, but misses, breaking a mirror. Crash calls Nuke a “fuck” and tells him it’s because he has talent, while Crash only has brains. Nuke assures Crash that he’s a great catcher. Crash continues to harass Nuke, until Nuke turns around and slugs him. Crash verifies that Nuke hit him with his left hand and not his right, because you don’t hit a drunk with your pitching hand.
The next day, Crash apologizes to Nuke. He tells him that Big League hitters are going to light him up for a while, but not to worry about it and to play the game with fear and arrogance. Nuke thanks Crash and Crash wishes him luck and they part.
Jimmy, a straight-laced Christian ball-player, marries Millie at the ballpark and the team celebrates in the locker room. During the celebration, Skip calls Crash into his office. He tells Crash that now that Nuke is gone, the organization wants to call up a young catcher and Crash has been released from his contract. Skip tells Crash that he told the club that Crash would make a fine minor league manager some day and there might be an opening in Vidalia next year.
Crash goes to Annie’s house and tells her that he was released. She tells him she knows and then the two have sex. A lot of sex and bonding and bondage happens between the two of them, but eventually Annie wakes up to a note from Crash, informing her that he has headed to Ashville, because he heard there might be an opening for a catcher there. Annie is disappointed, but tells herself you can’t blame a ballplayer for trying to finish out the season.
Crash goes on to break the minor league record for career home runs and Nuke does well in the Majors, because as Annie says, “the world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.” Crash returns to Annie and tells her that he decided to hang up his spikes after hitting his record-breaking homer. Annie tells him that she quit too, boys that is, not baseball. Crash tells her about the potential manager job in Vidalia and asks if she thinks he could make it to The Show as a manager and she tells him she thinks he’d be great. She prattles on about all the reasons why Crash would make such a good manager. Crash tells her that he wants to hear all her theories, but there’s plenty of time for that and for now, he just wants to be. Annie agrees that she can do that too.
The film ends with Annie quoting Walt Whitman, “I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us,” and then dancing with Crash in her living room.
Bull Durham Commentary (Spoilers):
Bull Durham is not just one of my favorite sports movies, but one of my favorite movies period. I guess it’s mostly because I love baseball and the movie and it’s characters celebrate the game of baseball.
The romance part of the movie isn’t that interesting to me and I actually find both Annie and Crash and their bullshit a bit annoying at times. However, the mentoring triangle between them and Nuke is entertaining, funny and even touching at times.
Crash’s story of the guy who really understands how the game works, but just doesn’t have the physical talent to stick in the Majors is probably the most compelling thing about the film. Nuke takes his physical gifts for granted and with Crash and Annie’s help, moves on to what will probably be a very lucrative Big League career, something most professional ball players can only dream about. Meanwhile, the guy that helped him get there gets unceremoniously cut from the team, as soon as they don’t need him anymore.
It’s easy to be blinded by the multi-million dollar contracts the stars of the game make and only see the glamour of professional sports. What you seldom see are the guys like Crash who grind it out for years in the bus leagues. I’m not sure if it’s more heartbreaking for the guys who never get a taste of the Big Leagues or the guys like Crash who get the call, but aren’t able to hack it.
In spite of never fully realizing his dreams, it is clear that Crash loves the game of baseball and it frustrates him that Nuke, who has vastly more talent, doesn’t share that same love.
The movie’s treatment of Annie is interesting. On the one hand, most of the men in the film seem to have a rather misogynistic view of her. They basically seem to view her as a slut and a good-luck charm and don’t give her much credit for whatever wisdom she is able to impart to the players she “mentors.” This isn’t really surprising, as female fans of pro sports are often not taken very seriously by men.
However, the movie also presents Annie as being a powerful woman, who refuses to conform to mainstream ideas about proper sexual behavior for women and also has a pretty good understanding of the game and how to mentor a young player, aside from having sex with him. It’s not quite clear whether the people who wrote the film view Annie this way or whether it’s only Annie who sees herself in this light, but it’s an interesting contrast to how she is viewed by her male counterparts.
Crash himself, at times, has a rather condescending attitude towards Annie, but it seems to mostly be rooted in his anger at being rejected by her in favor of Nuke. In the end, in spite of their arguments, it is clear that Annie and Crash share more than a sexual attraction and it seems possible that their relationship might last more than a baseball season.