How A Series Of Rejections By Hollywood’s Biggest Stars Made ‘Bull Durham’ The Perfect Baseball Movie

If you haven’t been reading them, my UPROXXian colleague Joel Stice’s fascinating fact pieces about some of our all-time favorite movies have become the must-read material of anyone who likes to interrupt conversations at cocktail parties and impress random strangers with random movie trivia. Seriously, you should take a long lunch tomorrow or skip whatever stupid class you scheduled for mornings and read them all. Knowledge is power, y’all.

But as I resume my journey through the vault of history’s greatest (and worst) sports films, I hit a little snag. Obviously, at some point I have to address the king of sports movies, Kevin Costner, and his incredible body of work. Granted, some of his sports films are better than others, but there’s no denying that before he went batsh*t with Water World and The Postman, the guy couldn’t go wrong with a sports script. In fact, with the release of the trailer of this year’s Draft Day, which stars Costner as a fictional GM of the Cleveland Browns torn on what to do with the No. 1 draft pick, it appears that the king is returning to the well to remind us what he’s best at.

By my count, Costner has nine sports-related films under his belt, and I know that the actual number is seven, but I’m still counting his uncredited ringside cameo in Play It to the Bone (because I love that stupid movie) and Stacy’s Knights, which is about playing cards and – say it with me – at least it’s competitive. Costner’s sports movie career started in 1982 with the baseball film Chasing Dreams, and I’ve never met anyone who has seen it. And even though he’d star in Stacy’s Knights and American Flyers before we’d ever hear the name “Crash” Davis, I’d bet that most people would assume that Costner’s first sports film was the 1988 baseball classic Bull Durham.

While it wouldn’t be fair to his starring roles in The Untouchables and No Way Out, or his riveting portrayal of “Frat Boy #1” in Night Shift, I’d be fine if everyone just assumed that Bull Durham was Costner’s first movie in general, because I love to exaggerate things for the sake of showing how much I like something. Simply put, Bull Durham is the perfect sports movie and the answer to the question: “Why does Hollywood keep making baseball movies?” Baseball, unlike other sports, is a very easy backdrop for telling the most basic stories, and at the heart of every baseball movie is almost always the most human stories of love or redemption. Also, baseball is way easier to use than football because it requires less people and, more importantly, less thought.

(Think about it – most baseball movies only focus on several players, while the rest of the imaginary team’s players stand in the background. Football requires constant movement from a number of players, which is why it’s easier to make a goofball comedy about football like Necessary Roughness or The Replacements than it is to make a drama like Any Given Sunday. Also, football deals with time limits while baseball deals with outs. Basically, baseball is just plain easier to write from the perspective of logic. However, golf has also been proven to be easy, as we’ve seen in Tin Cup, but it’s still way more boring than baseball. But I digress.)

But DID YOU KNOW – *dramatic music plays* – Kevin Costner wasn’t supposed to play “Crash” Davis, the minor league legend with the fictional home run record? If the studio and writer/director Ron Shelton had their ways and things had fallen into place early on, the Bull Durham as we know it would have never happened. Costner would have never slipped on the No. 8 uniform (the same number that Shelton wore in his own minor league career) and he would have never spewed out such ridiculous-yet-poignant words of baseball wisdom to help his young phenom pitcher have his shot at the Big Show.

The “Crash” Davis That Could Have Been

In 2012, Sports Illustrated rounded up everyone who was responsible for the making of this great movie for its “Where are they now?” issue, and Shelton and Costner retold the story of how the latter was cast as the minor league lifer just trying to hold on. Shelton claimed that he wanted Costner from the start for his natural athleticism, but because he was still mostly unknown in Hollywood, they needed real star power to shop this movie to studios. Only Costner wouldn’t let it go, and he insisted that Shelton give him a tryout, from one former baseball player to another. Shelton was sold.

The problem was that studios wanted guys like Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. Tom Berenger was initially considered, as were Don Johnson, Jeff Bridges and Nick Nolte, who wasn’t interested in the film because he just didn’t care for baseball. Hey, at least the guy’s honest. Interestingly, Kurt Russell, who also played minor league baseball, helped Shelton develop the film and was also originally considered for the role, but ultimately it came down to Costner being the first guy to say, “I’ll take it.”

It also helped that Orion was the studio that took a chance on Bull Durham and had just finished working with Costner on No Way Out. So if you don’t believe in networking and reputation, let this little 1980s movie casting tale fix that.

The Annie Savoy That Could Have Been

According to Shelton and almost every story about the casting of Bull Durham, Kay Lenz was Shelton’s first and only choice to play the role of Annie, the beautiful groupie who prayed at the church of baseball. Unfortunately for Lenz, the studio wanted an actress with a bigger name. The studio wanted Kim Basinger (who could blame them) and Shelton wanted Ellen Barkin (ditto). Additionally, scripts reportedly went out to actresses including Mary Steenburgen, Debra Winger, Glenn Close, Carrie Fisher, Pamela Stephenson, Melanie Griffith, and Kelly McGillis. *exhales*

Shelton claimed that some of the actresses didn’t even bother reading the scripts, while others were already attached to other projects (McGillis was already working on The Accused, and Close was signed on for Dangerous Liaisons, but I would have argued that her role as Iris Gaines in 1984’s The Natural would have conflicted with the image of Annie… you know, if they’d have listened to 8-year old me.) Additionally, Michelle Pfeiffer was considered, but she was too young to pull it off. (So why not have her play Millie, dang it?)

As Sarandon put it, she was the “bottom of the barrel” for the studio after all of the other actresses either passed or flat out rejected the script. But sometimes the sports movie gods work in mysterious ways.

The Reason We Hate Hollywood Sometimes

According to IMDB, Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd were considered for the roles of Crash and Annie, but they couldn’t do it because of Moonlighting. I don’t know if this was true or not, but it’s so easy to picture an 80s movie studio exec sitting behind his desk and pile of cocaine, barely reading over the script before pushing it aside and indifferently mumbling, “What about the Moonlighting kids? People like them. Give them a baseball and call it Bull Diddler or whatever.”

As much as I love Bruce Willis and his career of ridiculous action movies, I can’t even picture him throwing a baseball. Seriously, this is what my brain does when I think about it:

The “Nuke” LaLoosh That Could Have Been

The casting of the young, cocky pitcher Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh wasn’t nearly as eventful as the other main characters, but it comes with the best story of the bunch. Not a lot of actors were actually considered for this role, with Charlie Sheen being the main guy because of his baseball background, but he signed on for Orion’s other film, Eight Men Out. David Duchovny was also possibly considered, but the studio was actually set on Anthony Michael Hall, who was 19-years old and coming off his two-year stint on Saturday Night Live, following his heyday of John Hughes hits.

Shelton told SI that his meeting with Hall was less than memorable, as the actor showed up late and hadn’t read the script. When they met again the next day, Hall had still only read half the script and Shelton walked out on their meeting. Meanwhile, Shelton had given Tim Robbins an audition that consisted of a game of catch, and Shelton knew he’d found his Nuke. So when the studio pressed for Hall, Shelton threatened to walk. He won, and his cast was set.

Interestingly enough, Hall would go on to star in the football comedy Johnny Be Good for Orion in 1988, and it grossed $17 million at the box office. Bull Durham? $50 million.

Even more interesting is the fact that if any of these strange casting rumors had come true, not only would we not have had the same wonderful Bull Durham that is still considered the best baseball movie ever made by 100% of the person writing this fluffy, nostalgic walk down memory lane, but Robbins and Sarandon may have never met and fallen in love. Funny how these things work out.

(Tips of the glove to Sports Illustrated and IMDB, cattle GIF via)