Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) in Bull Durham (1988): As slapstick and silly as Major League is, Bull Durham is serious. Yes, it’s still a comedy, skillfully written and acted, and it has given us perhaps the most widely loved MLB film character ever. He is the aging minor-league veteran Crash Davis, who scrapes into the running here because, as he says, he “was in The Show for 21 days once – the 21 greatest days of my life.”
Thirty-two years after it came out, Bull Durham still gets a 97% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, and this is in large part because of Kevin Costner as Davis.
He is the veteran, savvy catcher sent down in the minors, despite his skill, to tutor a fairly dim, but talented, young pitcher named Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins.
Along the way, Davis demonstrates quite dramatically that LaLoosh has little control over his pitches, especially when angry, that the youngster needs advice about the fungus on his shower shoes, and that he can figure out how to make LaLoosh into an asset for his organization.
And he wins the heart, eventually, of the quite politically incorrect Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon). Savoy is, with apologies here for shocking language, a “loose woman,” an adjunct college instructor at a community college, and one who has an interesting hobby.
She gives a fabulous, if slightly sentimental, voice-over speech at the beginning of the film about “the church of baseball.” She is such a dedicated worshipper, in fact, that she takes as a lover each season a talented player on the local team, the Bulls.
(Would this plotting even survive a story pitch to a producer today?)
Anyway, Savoy’s interaction with Crash is maybe even better than Nuke’s. In the end, after Davis is bouncing from team-to-team in pursuit of the all-time minor league home run record (which is ignored when he sets it), she gives her heart to the truly committed older player with aspirations of managing.
Throughout, Costner as Davis is written as whip-smart, and at the end, convincingly sentimental. Some people talk about the tear-jerk scene involving Costner and his father having a catch near the end of Field of Dreams.
That scene, for that purpose, pales in comparison to Costner and Sarandon sitting and quietly talking about baseball and more on Annie Savoy’s porch at the end of Bull Durham. This scene alone puts them among the best ever MLB film characters.