Before Ron Shelton became a filmmaker, he was a minor league second baseman with the Baltimore Orioles' farm team who spent his idle afternoons at the movies. He quit baseball at the age of 25, before making it to the bigs, then eventually wrote a film about minor league baseball that Sports Illustrated ranked as the greatest sports movie ever made. But its fan base goes far beyond sports aficionados: a few months after the film's release, legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder told Shelton that Bull Durham was a “great f-ckin’ picture, kid!” Read on for more about how this great f-ckin' picture came to be.
1. IT’S THE ONE BASEBALL MOVIE KURT RUSSELL REGRETS NOT GETTING.
According to the actor and former independent baseball leaguer, he agreed to play Crash Davis, but when he returned from a trip out of town, Kevin Costner won the part. Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford were also considered for the role. Costner won the part by going so far as to insist on hitting the batting cages with Shelton to show how much he wanted the role.
2. ANTHONY MICHAEL HALL BLEW HIS CHANCE AT PLAYING NUKE LALOOSH.
Orion Pictures wanted Hall to play the newbie pitcher, and the young actor acted like he knew that he was the studio’s choice by showing up 30 minutes late to a meeting with Shelton and producer Mark Burg. When he did arrive, Hall admitted that he hadn't read the script. “I thought Ron was going to shoot him,” Burg recalled to Entertainment Weekly. When they met again the next day, Hall had only read half the script. Shelton was so annoyed that he walked out of the room.
3. CHARLIE SHEEN WAS CONSIDERED FOR NUKE, TOO.
But Sheen was already committed to another baseball movie, Eight Men Out. Robbins also had an offer to be in that film, but after he passed the audition with Shelton by proving that he could throw a baseball, he chose to play Nuke instead.
4. THE STUDIO THOUGHT SUSAN SARANDON WAS TOO OLD AND NOT FUNNY ENOUGH TO PLAY ANNIE.
So producer Thom Mount had Sarandon (who was 41 during production) go to Orion Pictures co-founder Mike Medavoy’s office in a tight dress and lean over his desk for half an hour. "As a rule, most studio executives' strong suit isn't imagination," Sarandon recalled to Sports Illustrated in 2012. "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."
5. THE CRASH DAVIS/NUKE LALOOSH RELATIONSHIP IS BASED ON REALITY.
The veteran player acting as sage to an inexperienced yet talented pitcher came from Shelton’s former manager Joe Altobelli. Altobelli once told Shelton about his time as an aging player when his team ordered him to help the legendarily wild—and extremely talented—pitcher Steve Dalkowski grow up and turn into the major league talent he was capable of becoming. Sadly, unlike Crash Davis, Altobelli couldn’t save Dalkowski, who suffered from alcoholism.
6. THE "RAIN OUT" INCIDENT IS REAL, TOO.
In the movie, some drunken Durham Bull players decided that they didn’t want to play their next game, so they turned the sprinklers on to force a rain out. Ron Shelton was a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs in 1970 when some of his teammates—and members of the opposing team, the Amarillo Giants—really didn’t feel like playing the final game of the season, so they turned on the sprinkler system in the middle of the night. But the general manager of the Giants really wanted the game played, so he hired a helicopter to dry the infield and had the game played in front of 963 grateful fans.
7. CRASH DAVIS WAS NAMED AFTER A REAL BASEBALL PLAYER WHO WAS THOUGHT TO BE DEAD.
The name was found in an old Carolina League record book, and Shelton assumed he was dead. When that very-much-breathing Davis accepted an invitation to the set, he agreed to let them use his name in the movie as soon as he was told that Crash gets the girl in the end.
8. PAULA ABDUL STORMED OFF THE SET.
She incorrectly believed that in exchange for choreographing Tim Robbins’ bar dance moves, she would get a line or two in the movie. When told that no such deal was agreed upon, Abdul “marched off screaming," according to Shelton.
9. IT WASN’T SHOT DURING BASEBALL WEATHER.
Shot in North Carolina in October and November 1987, the grass was touched up with green paint. Most of the baseball scenes were shot at night to obscure the browning leaves.
10. YES, TIM ROBBINS AND SUSAN SARANDON MET ON THE SET.
Shelton is godfather to Jack Henry, their first child.
11. THE WEDDING SCENE WAS FULL OF PINK FLOYD FANS.
Needing extras and strapped for cash, producers convinced Pink Floyd fans to come straight from the band's Chapel Hill concert to the Durham Athletic Field for an after-party.
12. COSTNER IS ONLY THREE YEARS OLDER THAN TIM ROBBINS.
When Robbins celebrated his 29th birthday on October 16th during production, the actor playing the veteran catcher was 32.
13. TREY WILSON PASSED AWAY MONTHS AFTER THE FILM CAME OUT.
The actor who played Bulls manager Joe Riggins died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 40 years old.
14. THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME SCHEDULED, THEN CANCELED, AN ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION.
Hall of Fame president and former Reagan White House staffer Dale Petroskey canceled a planned 15th anniversary celebration of the film in 2003 out of fear that Robbins and Sarandon would share their views against the Iraq war.
15. THERE WAS TALK OF A SEQUEL.
In the first few years after Bull Durham’s release, Shelton considered where the characters would be, specifically whether Annie would follow Crash to his managing job in Visalia. But now that the actors are over 25 years older, it’s apparently no longer under consideration.