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Player Poll: 'Bull Durham' still wins

Most Minor Leaguers favor classic Costner baseball films
October 4, 2012

This season, we surveyed hundreds of Minor Leaguers on a variety of questions, from favorite players and post-game snacks to video games and dream teammates. Check back as we reveal what prospects really think.

"Who's this? Who are you?"

"I'm the player to be named later."

Funny how decades later, Minor Leaguers can relate so well to a movie that still defines not only life in the Minors, but the careers and moments of the players who find themselves in small ballparks around the USA, fighting for a chance and a future.

We surveyed 382 Minor Leaguers, asking them, "What's your favorite baseball movie?"

Sure enough, the iconic 1988 film, Bull Durham, starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, was the No. 1 choice. Costner clearly has made an impact on the baseball movie genre -- his 1999 film, For Love of the Game, finished third, and the beloved Field of Dreams also made the top 10.

Bull Durham -- for those baseball fans who somehow haven't seen it -- follows two Minor Leaguers on separate paths while playing for the Durham Bulls. Costner's character, Crash Davis, the fictional career home run king in the Minors, has become the poster boy for veteran Minor Leaguers not quite good enough to stick in the Majors, and Robbins plays Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh, a cocky, big-money prospect pitcher.

They both, predictably, become entangled with Sarandon throughout the summer in Durham, a year in the Minors that depicts the bus rides, slumps, bar fights and a behind-the-curtain look into what's discussed during mound visits.

The film's director, Ron Shelton, played in the Minors for five seasons.

"The highest I got was the Rochester Red Wings, in Triple-A," Shelton told Sports Illustrated in July. "I was a .251 hitter, and the most I made was about $900 a month. I had a couple of good years, and I probably could have kept grinding it, maybe gotten a shot somewhere. But I didn't want to become Crash Davis.

"I wanted Bull Durham to be about the players who were grinding it out trying to make a living in this game," he added. "I knew so many guys like Crash Davis. They didn't look like Kevin Costner, but they were consummate pros and really talented."

Costner, who filmed Field of Dreams a year later, said he was initially intimidated about becoming a Minor Leaguer for the role.

"I was nervous at first because Ron made sure that the guys we were playing against were real Double-A and Triple-A players," Costner told SI. "I don't want to say that I was intimidated, but the first time I had to take batting practice, I was doing everything I could to not have to bat. This was in a giant Minor League park, and no one had hit one out. And when I finally stepped in, guys started paying attention: 'Let's see the Hollywood sissy hit!' The first pitch I fouled off, and I was relieved. I remember stepping out of the box and thinking, 'What are you so nervous about? You have the job.' The next pitch I hit over the fence -- about 365 feet. Playing a catcher in that movie, I tore both muscles in my quads. Afterward, when I went back to the house I was living in, I had to go up the stairs on my knees."

"From the players perspective, I can understand why they chose Bull Durham as their favorite baseball movie," said Durham Bulls general manager Mike Birling. "It is really the only baseball movie which truly looks at the grind players go through on a daily basis. They can relate better to this movie more so than other baseball movies."

Sports Illustrated ranked it the "Greatest Sports Movie" of all time.

The film itself has been a huge boost for the Durham organization -- the Bulls' name is perhaps the most recognizable in the Minors, and the iconic bull signage in their ballpark is as well known as the movie-era jersey and cap logo that remains in use today.

"The film has obviously had an impact on the history of the Durham Bulls," said Birling. "That impact has changed over the years but will always be a part of us. Over time, it really doesn't have much impact on our sales except from a retail standpoint. From a brand recognition standpoint, it still and will always set us apart from most Minor League Baseball teams. While we don't actively, on a season-by-season basis, use the movie much in our promotional schedule, we do celebrate the anniversaries of a movie that literally changed the landscape of Minor League Baseball."

Shelton said the well-known bull sign in Durham's ballpark, first seen in the movie itself, was inspired by a sign he saw in Brooklyn.

"We painted the grass green twice, and it still looks yellow on film," he told SI. "There aren't that many extras in the stands. It's a small park. The biggest crowd we had was only a couple hundred. We built the bull sign -- it was in the script. Ebbets Field had a sign where if you hit it you won a suit. So I wrote, 'Hit the bull, win a steak.' It became such an icon that when they built a new stadium in Durham they built the same sign there."

In 2008, Costner and his band, Modern West, performed at Durham's ballpark as the Bulls celebrated the 20th anniversary of the film.

One note of interest from our poll is that one of the most iconic quotes to come out of a baseball film -- "There's no crying in baseball!" -- is from a movie, A League of their Owm, which did not receive any votes.

Here's the full breakdown:

Why's he calling me meat?
What's your favorite baseball movie?
Movie Votes Percent
Bull Durham 81 21%
Sandlot 58 15%
For Love of the Game 52 14%
Major League 37 10%
Moneyball 14 4%
Rookie of the Year 14 4%
61* 13 3%
Field of Dreams 12 3%
The Rookie 11 3%
The Natural 11 3%
Little Big League 9 2%
Summer Catch 7 2%
Sugar 6 2%
Angels in the Outfield 6 2%
Hardball 4 1%
Mr. 3000 3 1%
Bad News Bears 3 1%
Fever Pitch 2 1%
Others receiving one vote: Baseketball, Major League II, Major League III, The Perfect Game, Pelotero, The Babe, Mr. Baseball, Benchwarmers

Danny Wild is an editor for