The Church of ‘Bull Durham’

Really enjoyed reading Ron Shelton’s The Church of Baseball: The Making of Bull Durham, which I followed up with a rewatch of Bull Durham. He has such a wry, matter-of-fact style and perspective on his careers, most notably minor-league baseball player and movie writer-director.

Some quotes…

On being an athlete with intellectual curiosities:

Around this time it was becoming clear that I was living in two different worlds—the intellectual (or at least academic) world and the sports world—but it made no sense to me that they were distinct. They were dependent, connected, they fed off each other. At least I thought so.

On sports movies:

I’d played enough sports by then that I felt sports films got it all wrong. Their attempts to be inspirational felt cloying and false. When you actually play the game, there is little that is inspirational going on. It’s a competition; it’s physical; it’s a chance to test yourself.

A fascinating anecdote about how a test screening of Bull Durham went great in the room but not in the test scores:

The more highly educated the crowd, the more severely critical will be its analysis. Even—maybe especially—when the movie-watching experience is good. It’s a mistake to hand a pen and paper to professionals with multiple degrees and ask them to critique their experience. There seems to be a built-in expectation that the brain should overrule the heart, that the left side of the brain must dictate what the right side of the brain just processed—even when it contradicts that experience. The note cards were legible, neatly written, and expressed their critique in absurd detail compared to those of more working-class crowds, which tend to be of the thumbs-up, thumbs-down variety. In the heartland of emerging Silicon Valley—high-tech, the venture-capital center of the nation, with Stanford and all its tentacles of research—the audience had to deny its experience. What I thought of was: All I want is your reaction, not your fucking self-conscious notes.

On his feelings about baseball:

My interest in baseball isn’t analytical, romantic, or even patriotic. I like the game—it’s nuanced and difficult and physical—but it has an appealing vulgarity, an earthiness, and I’ve never quite understood the excessive lyrical prose that grows out of it. I’ve never understood the sentimentality it seems to inspire.

On the legacy of Bull Durham:

Perhaps Bull Durham has resonated all these years because it is about loving something more than it loves you back. It’s about reckoning. It’s about loss. It’s about men at work, trying to survive in the remote outposts of their chosen profession. It’s also about the women they fall for, and who fall for them. It cannot be dismissed that it’s also about the joy of playing a game for a living. It’s about team and connections and risk and reward. It’s about hitting the mascot with a fastball just because you want to, it’s about running and jumping and sliding around in the mud, it’s about interminable bus rides with a bunch of guys who are as lost as you are, and feeling lucky you’re on that bus. It’s romantic, and it’s supposed to be funny, and despite what most fans of the movie say, it is also about baseball.