Sunday, June 15, 2008

Being a baseball nerd can ruin a good baseball movie

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Bull Durham, it's time to share the one quibble has outlasted all the quotable quotes that every sports geek has committed to memory.

Crash Davis was a switch-hitter. Switch-hitting catchers are few and far between. The handful who do exist more often than not have long, productive major-league careers -- Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, even Gregg Zaun with the Jays.

It seems unlikely that a switch-hitting catcher who could call a good game behind the plate and had enough pop in his bat to hit 248 home runs in the minor leagues would have only spent 21 days in The Show -- "where the women all have long legs and brains."

Perhaps Kevin Costner wanted to show off his athletic ability. Perhaps there were all sorts of complicated film-production issues. Maybe Crash was a lefty hitter, but they had some problems with the lighting -- the movie was shot in the fall -- and he had to turn around and bat righty so they could get the shot.

There. It feels better to be unburdened of the one beef with the top four sports movies of the last 31 years (the top four will be explained after the jump).

This is a movie, after all, I would show someone to explain myself -- or maybe just Davis/Costner's one-more-dying-quail speech.
You know what the difference Is between hitting .250 and hitting .300? I got it figured out. Twenty-five hits a year in 500 at bats is 50 points. OK? There's six months in a season, that's about 25 weeks -- you get one extra flare a week -- just one -- a gork, a ground ball with eyes, a dying quail ... just one more dying quail a week ... and you're in Yankee Stadium!
It was a true thrill to chat about the movie a while back at The Zip with Can-Am League commissioner Miles Wolff, who as you know, owned the Durham Bulls at the time. It was impromptu and informal, but Mr. Wolff, who's a great storyteller, related how Thom Mount, the Durham native who produced the movie, promised him as early as 1980 that one day he would make a baseball movie and shoot it in Durham, which elicited the classic. One bit of trivia is that the production crew, working on a $9-million budget, actually painted the ballpark's outfield walls green. The Bulls organization had painted the interior orange in effort to brighten up an older ballpark.

Apparently, Orion Pictures had also banked on Eight Men Out, which came out in September 1988, being a bigger box-office success. In hindsight, that seems confusing. Period dramas are a hard sell much of the time and this wasn't targeted at female moviegoers, notwithstanding that John Cusack had a lead role.

Joe Posnanski, incidentally, has a great post up about what he didn't know about the Black Sox Scandal, even though he's working on his second baseball book.

Anyways, about the top four ... well, you can group the best by sport in order to weasel out of having to say who's No. 1. For the record, it's Bull Durham for best baseball movie, North Dallas Forty for football, Slap Shot for hockey and the original Fever Pitch for soccer. As for basketball, well, ask yourself why it is that you'd never watch Hoosiers except around NCAA Tournament time.

Point being, as Crash Davis would say, having to have a No. 1 is boring. Besides that, it's fascist. Having a top four, that's more democratic.

'Bull Durham' turns 20 (Duke Chronicle, June 12)


Duane Rollins said...

I really enjoyed the original the original Fever Pitch. I never watched the bastardization of an American remake. The Red Sox? Please.

But, (and please forgive this cliche) the book,Fever Pitch is BY FAR the better choice for the true sports geek. For one the love story aspect of it is a very minor subplot, rather than the main focus. It's a book about what it means to love a sports team. You don't even have to like or understand soccer to like and understand the book.

sager said...

I got the book before I got either movie (yes, I own copies of both, but in my defence, Ione Skye has a supporting role in the Barrymore/Fallon remake ... I-on-e Skye!

I had to laugh like hell when people say they don't get the soccer references ... it was about how someone associated with the sport and the team... there's the part in the Brit version of the movie where there's this montage of great Arsenal moments... the beauty of it is you can picture yourself relating to your favourite team, so when Paul Ashworth is rememembering the '78 Cup final, I'm thinking about the 1985 American League championship series.