The Wisdom of “Bull Durham”

Top three quotes from a remarkably smart film

Posted Apr 18, 2016

As baseball season starts up again, I am reminded on one of my all-time favorite movies, namely Bull Durham, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins.  Written and directed by Ron Shelton and released back in 1988, it remains, in my opinion, one of the wisest scripts ever written with amazing quotes from start to finish. 

For those of you who haven’t seen it, see it.  The story revolves around a longtime minor league baseball catcher named Crash Davis (Costner) who is growing both smarter and more cynical with every year in the minors.  He gets traded to the team the Durham Bulls against his wishes for the main purpose of helping mature a young, brash but extremely talented pitcher named Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Robbins) who is primed to make it big.  Sarandon plays Annie Savoy, an English teacher who loves baseball and who makes her contribution to the team each year by having a relationship with one of the players in an effort to broaden their sexual and intellectual horizons.  Over Crash, Annie identifies Nuke as her love interest for the year, leading both Annie and Crash with the role of mentoring and educating the overconfident but often bewildered young pitcher. 

It is hard to pick the top three lines, but I’ll give it a try.  The scenes are all searchable on YouTube.

#3.  The key to success.  The scene: Annie is upset at Crash for supporting Nuke’s belief that his current winning streak is due to Nuke channeling is sexual energy into his pitching and away from her. 

Crash Davis: I never told him to stay out of your bed.
Annie Savoy: You most certainly did.
Crash Davis: I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak.
Annie Savoy: Oh fine.
Crash Davis: You know why? Because they don't—they don't happen very often.
Annie Savoy: Right.
Crash Davis: If you believe you're playing well because you're getting laid, or because you're not getting laid, or because you wear women's underwear, then you are! And you should know that!

Confidence can be a very fragile flower with success often aided by a healthy placebo effect.  We do well to respect that even if the attributed causes to one’s accomplishments seem odd.

#2.  Self-consciousness.  The scene: At the end of the movie, Annie does a voiceover narration of some of her final thoughts.  Among them is this.    

“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

Watching some of the presidential politics, you can see how true this is.  You watch these candidates butcher complex issues into ridiculous little soundbites.  “Can’t you hear yourself?” you scream.  And that is just it—they can’t.  But what would happen if on stage instead was someone thoughtful, careful, and measured?  They would be viciously attached for being boring, too intellectual, and “wishy washy.”  Maybe we just can’t have both.

#1.  Life’s critical skills.  The scene:  On a bus, travelling to the next away game, Crash becomes increasingly frustrated with Nuke’s antics, including playing guitar and loudly singing the wrong words to a song. 

Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How come you don't like me?
Crash Davis: Because you don't respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don't respect the game, and that's my problem. You got a gift.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I got a what?
Crash Davis: You got a gift. When you were a baby, the Gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You got a Hall-of-Fame arm, but you're pissing it away.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: I ain't pissing nothing away. I got a Porsche already; a 911 with a quadrophonic Blaupunkt.
Crash Davis: Christ, you don't need a quadrophonic Blaupunkt! What you need is a curveball! “

This quote sticks with me more than any of them.  We busy ourselves with unimportant tasks and surround ourselves with little mementos of our achievements.  In the process, however, it is so easy to lose sight of what really matters and what really stands in the way between us and our goals.  Take time and think—what is your curveball?

@copyright by David Rettew, MD

David Rettew is author of Child Temperament: New Thinking About the Boundary Between Traits and Illness and a child psychiatrist in the psychiatry and pediatrics departments at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.

Follow him at @PediPsych and like PediPsych on Facebook.