Thursday, June 16, 2011

"The Best Baseball Movie Ever"

The general consensus is that Bull Durham (1988) is the best baseball movie ever. I agree. It’s the best, because it’s the most real. The players are human and profane, and every moment feels almost documentarily truthful, and probably is to some substantial degree, because Bull Durham’s writer/director, Ron Shelton, played some minor league baseball, the minor leagues being the movie’s setting, specifically Durham, North Carolina.

(I have a rivaling favorite baseball movie that, by contrast, is unrealistic to a fault, but nevertheless conveys the irrepressible spirit of baseball that I know, feel and love. It’s called It Happens Every Spring (1949), and it’s about a baseball-loving college chemistry professor (Ray Milland) who accidentally develops a formula that repels wood.

When the pitcher (Milland) throws a baseball treated with this concoction, the ball hops abruptly over the bat, making the batters continually swing and miss. Yes, it’s a fantasy. There is no such concoction. Also, Ray Milland can’t pitch. But the movie makes me smile in my soul every time I watch it.

How often do they show it? It happens every spring.

There’s a lesson here. A movie doesn’t necessarily have to be real to connect. It just has to hit its intended conceptual target. Like a perfectly thrown strike.)

I looked on YouTube for my favorite scene from Bull Durham, but I couldn’t find it. So I’ll tell you about it instead. The team’s taking a long bus ride to a road game and, to pass the time, the know-nothing young, “phenom” pitcher (Tim Robbins) starts singing, “Try A Little Tenderness”, but he totally botches the lyrics.

“She may get woolly, women do get woolly…”

The arrogant kid’s ignorance irritates the “never made it” minor league veteran catcher (Kevin Kostner), who angrily informs him that the correct lyrics are,

“She may get weary.”

Women don’t get “woolly.” They get weary.

What do I love about this scene that I can’t find on YouTube? Everything. It’s extremely funny, while simultaneously demonstrating a fundamental truth. (People often inadvertently get lyrics wrong, and if they gave it a moment’s thought, they would realize that what they’re singing doesn’t make any sense.)

The scene also demonstrates the inevitable adversarial tussle between youth and oldth. Its inclusion in the movie reminds me of a major difference between feature films and half-hour comedies. In movies, there is always time to go “off story” for a tangential, albeit revelatory, interlude.

I also love that the writer thought of it. The right song, and the exact absurdly wrong word – woolly.” Who knows? Maybe something like this actually happened. You can easily imagine that it could have. Which may be the best good thing about the scene.

My second favorite Bull Durham scene involves the tortured acknowledgement by the Kevin Kostner character near the end of the movie of how very close he came to becoming a Major League ballplayer. One more hit a week – that’s all it would have taken – and he’d have made it to “The Show.”

I couldn’t find that scene either.

There a lot of other on-the-money scenes I could pick, but they all have language I’m not crazy about including on this blog.

Leaving me two available choices. (The numerous options themselves show how remarkable this movie is.) One scene – again on a long bus ride – offers the Kevin Kostner character lyrically regaling his entranced minor league teammates with a description of the idyllic conditions he experienced during his all too brief promotion to the Major Leagues.

“You know, you never handle your own luggage in ‘The Show’? Somebody else carries your bags? You get white balls for batting practice. And the ball parks are like cathedrals.”

You can check that one out for yourselves. I’m going with something else.

I like this scene because it’s funny, but also, it has one of my favorite lines in it. The cocky pitcher insists on throwing his fastball, so as to “announce my presence with authority.” What you have there is a pitcher simultaneously doing his own play-by-play.

Bull Durham is worth watching in its entirely. It’s way more than just a baseball movie. It’s also a multi-faceted love story – man-woman, man-man, and man-personal dream.

Enjoy this scene. Steep yourself its specialness, like the magical baseball in It Happens Ever Spring.

Which I also recommend.


GRayR said...

Good stuff today. Bull Durham has always been one of my favorites.

I always liked the quote on what to say to sports writers.

"We gotta play 'em one day at a time."
"I'm just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub."
"I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing, things will work out."

Never got to use that. I did use "Badges, I don't need no badges, I ain't got no stinking badges" on a gate guard at GE years ago. Turned out I did need a badge, and the guard was not amused.

Crash Davis said...

Agreed, Bull Durham is a terrific movie for all the reasons you stated, plus, there's some terrific music. I've seen it so many times, I thought I had all the lines memorized, but turns out, I've forgotten some. It Happens Every Spring was also pretty entertaining but nowhere near the 'baseball' movie of BD. Another very entertaining baseball flick: A League of their Own. It's very entertaining and Tom Hanks was sensational.

Crash Redux said...

PS: forgot to mention in my earlier post, in Ken Levine's book, "Where the Hell Am I?", he mentions running across a cab driver in Chicago who claims to have learned to speak English by watching Major Dad.

Zaraya said...

Mr. Pomerantz; is BD the sort of movie you would write, a drama full of comedy? There are lots of movies like BD ones that treat their subjects honestly if not entirely truthfully, "Breaking Away" comes to mind.

I must confess that I think this is KC's best movie role and performance. He seems perfectly suited for it.