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Bill Simmons’ depressing take on “Bull Durham”

Jul 28, 2014, 11:08 AM EDT

Bull Durham

Bill Simmons has tackled sports movies countless times since he’s been writing. And he often has interesting things to say about them. However, I continue to be baffled at his obsession with deciding whether movies are actually “sports movies” or if they’re something else. I mean, yes, it’s interesting to think about the topic — sometimes sports movies could be set elsewhere and tell the same story, sometimes not — but I’m not sure why he considers it such a fundamental, threshold consideration.

“Bull Durham” is his favorite target. He seems to like the movie (well, outside of Tim Robbins’ lack of athleticism, which drives him insane), but the genre of that film bothers him a whole heck of a lot. If you don’t believe me Google “Simmons” “Bull Durham” and “chick flick.” I bet he’s written about it a half dozen times. Maybe more.

None of which ever bothered me too much before — we all have our schticks and we all have dead horses we beat — but I was rather irked by the manner in which he tackled it in his most recent sports movie column this past Friday. Check this out, emphasis supplied by me:

Sure, this is an inventive movie that nailed so many minor league baseball nuances (the lingo, the rhythm, the fans, etc.) and wasn’t afraid to be candid and raunchy (a riskier move in 1988). But why does it really work? Because it caught Peak Costner and Peak Sarandon, two A-list stars at the top of their games. They’re great in the movie and they’re great together. You somehow never hold it against Sarandon that she’s a tramp who sleeps with one new player every season, or that she’s juggling Robbins and Costner and doing everything short of having a threesome with them. And you don’t mind that the last quarter of the movie degenerates into a flat-out love story worthy of the 10,275 times Lifetime has aired this thing.

I’m pretty used to sports bros denigrating or being uncomfortable with anything remotely related to romance, femininity or emotions, but now he’s reduced himself to slut-shaming. To marveling at how it took a near-Oscar-worthy performance for us to get over what he feels is the clear and rational response to a woman having somewhat non-traditional sexual values (i.e. to react so negatively that we would, naturally, hold it against her and consider her a whore). Somehow Sarandon’s character is a “tramp” whereas Nuke LaLoosh — who, like Annie has two on-screen sexual partners in the whole movie — isn’t a problem for him. Nor can I ever recall him talking about male promiscuity in a movie in a negative manner at all.

I have no idea why Simmons is so hung up on the parts of this movie he otherwise seems to enjoy, but it’s sad. It wore pretty immaturely on a single sports writer in his 20s. It wears far less on a sports writer who is in his mid-40s and is a father of a daughter.

  1. bluburt - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    I hear Simmons #*^!s like he writes…kinda all over the place…

    • Old Gator - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:20 PM

      That’s odd, because to me, he writes like someone who isn’t getting any in the first place – and takes out his resentment on those who do.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Jul 28, 2014 at 5:13 PM

        I’m with ya, OG. But it’s not just Simmons — a lot of those Grantlanders have diarrhea of the keyboard and constipation of the brain. I swear, I read great loopy paragraphs of masterbatory-wordisms and think…huh?

        Couple of the folks are great…Charles Pierce gets a point across without using 76 references to TV shows, and does it in less than 7000 words. I really miss Klosterman, as his participation has dropped over the years.

    • jeffa43 - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:56 PM

      “If there is one girl who knew you were pulling your hips to early…
      It would be Annie”

      Anyone that does not see that this is obviously one of the best baseball movies ever, never played baseball..

      Fits in line with Jack ass’s who never played ball, but get to vote for the Hall..

      Let describe Simmons thoughts here… Bull Durham is a bad baseball movie, and I did not vote for Bagwell.

      Some baseball writers should have been ditch diggers!!! Clear throat.. Bill

  2. duvisited - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:15 AM

    I have no idea why Simmons is so hung up on the parts of this movie he otherwise seems to enjoy

    I’m just spitballing Craig, but I think it’s because Simmons is a misogynistic jerk.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:22 AM

      Hmm. *puts it in file folder full of possible theories; folder currently has one theory*

    • AlmostForty - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:03 PM

      “I’m just spitballing Craig, but I think it’s because Simmons is a misogynistic jerk.”

      I think that’s really all there is to it.

    • Glenn - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:31 PM

      I have to think that if it was a movie about a woman’s sport’s league of 18-24 year olds and an older male character picked one girl out per year to have sex with and “life coach”, that character would pretty much be harshly criticized by everyone. If there is a double standard, it might be that reaction, not the other way around.

      • tved12 - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        Dude, you’re out of touch with reality. There are many movies made about “womanizing” men. You never hear this type of critique.

      • indaburg - Jul 28, 2014 at 6:28 PM

        How many movies are there with a male love interest old enough to be the female love interest’s father? Too many to count. Sometimes, he’s even old enough to be her grandfather. It’s a more subtle version of the same thing.

      • historiophiliac - Jul 28, 2014 at 6:35 PM

        It’s a trick question. Answer: they wouldn’t make such a movie. Can you think of another flick about a women’s sports league besides A League of their Own? And, in that one, the lead is conveniently married, although there are hints of attraction…but she’s a nice girl and inspires him to give up the drink and rediscover his love of baseball. Awwww. Because young girls sleeping with older men are not the stuff of movie heroines (I’m not saying she’s a gold-digger).

    • amaninwhite - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:45 PM

      I kind of got that sense as well when I still read his work.

  3. sdelmonte - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    I would be happy if Grantland stops covering things besides sports in the first place. We need more quality sports writing (and for the most part, Grantland is giving us that). I don’t think we need more coverage of movies, TV or celebrities.

    • dinofrank60 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

      Simmons thinks that his audience has similar tastes as he. That means you get plastered with pop culture, whether you like it or not.

      I agree with you because some the writing there is the best on ESPN, easily. It get lost sometimes in the culture references and the fawning, though.

      • sdelmonte - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:53 AM

        The good news is that we can just ignore the pop culture stuff.

    • dsaverno - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:56 PM

      I disagree. Andy Greenwald’s TV reviews and editorials are must-read. There is so much original content out there, finding a critic with similar tastes is an imperative for those of us that really don’t have much time to waste on poor shows (I probably keep up on 6-8 shows throughout the year)

    • clemente2 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:19 PM

      I think the pop culture, and sometimes deeper stuff, is some of the best writing on Grantland. Anything Charles Pierce writes is golden. (His was one of only two adult public responses to the Paterno/Sandusky affair I read.) Love much of Molly Lambert’s stuff. While many of the TV and movie reviewers are committed fans, almost none of them are unaware of the bias this brings to their work, and several make a point of keeping and examining that fandom. Steve Hayden on music is very good. The deep digs into drafts and roster management don’t appeal to me, but I learned alot about NBA strategy and tactics from several writers’ incredibly detailed analysis of playoff situations.

    • Kevin S. - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:10 PM

      Yeah, have to disagree there. Andy Greenwald has my go-to recaps for Game of Thrones, even though it’s a non-book reader recap and his commenters throw a hissy fit if you even mention a book. I don’t follow any of their other pop-culture writers religiously, but I’ve generally been happy with the content there. If you don’t like it, don’t click it.

  4. yahmule - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:22 AM

    I’ve never been able to get all the way through one of his articles. There doesn’t seem to be anything there beyond the oppressively banal pop culture references except a lot of prissy homerism.

    • senotonom205 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:09 PM

      Welcome to Bill Simmons for the past 10 years. It’s kind of the point of his writing.

    • Glenn - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:24 PM

      He used to be good. He used to actually write, too. His biggest flaw is believing in jinxes, lucky streaks,and other forms of magic.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      The best part about Simmons’ articles is, no matter the topic, the number of times he references himself in the story.

    • protectthishouse54 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      To be fair, he knows more about the NBA than any other writer. If you’re not into the NBA, I can see how he does nothing for you.

      • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:49 PM

        If you want to read about the NBA, and stay on, stick with Zack Lowe. His pieces are great, and funny occasionally, and are far more informative than using the same 5 pop culture references from the 80s.

  5. chip56 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    The fact is that at the time the movie came out – Sarandon’s character was a HUGE divergence from what was expected in female leads. I think what Simmons means is that given that fact it is even more impressive that it’s never at all an issue to the audience watching it.

    As to the comparison between her character and that of Tim Robbins. Well again it’s the timing of the film. Male leads who had dalliances with multiple women was completely commonplace – especially when that character was portraying a flashy, self-indulgent, young guy.

    • indaburg - Jul 28, 2014 at 6:43 PM

      She was a serial monogamist. Despite her stated rejection of Judeo-Christian morals, during the baseball season, she was monogamist. By today’s standards, she’s practically a nun.

      • chip56 - Jul 29, 2014 at 10:22 AM

        by today’s standards…

        By 1988 standards she was very much not a nun.

  6. nvl004 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:31 AM

    I see what you’re getting at Craig and half agree with you. But the tone of the article was very informal and meant to be fun i think. I think he was really just trying to get at the point that many men won’t care for a female character who is promiscuous, however we still like Sarandon’s role. So i think he’s trying to be complimentary but is off a tad. I dunno just how i took it when i read the article.

  7. yahmule - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    Bull Durham is unique in that it’s the one time Kevin Costner actually added tangible value to a movie instead sucking all the air out of the room like a hurricane of blandness.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:43 AM

      Rent “Fandango” sometime. He’s amazing in that.

      • sdbunting - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:01 PM

        So is Judd Nelson.


      • padraighansen - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:43 PM

        Fandango is underrated on many levels. Agree with the post on Judd Nelson as well. Both were flat-out money in that flick.

    • itroach - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      And Silverado

      • paulier55 - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:11 PM

        And The Postman.

        Wait…never mind.

      • Old Gator - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:23 PM

        He was so inert as Robin Hood that, in fact, he had no effect whatsoever on a film of which he occupied about 90% of the screen time. Fortunately, Alan Rickman was in it too, so if you didn’t check the credits at the end, you might have forgotten that Costner was in it at all.

      • Reflex - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:24 PM

        Mel Brooks did Robin Hood better…

      • Francisco (FC) - Jul 28, 2014 at 8:59 PM

        They even took a swipe at Costner in that film: “Because, unlike OTHER Robin Hoods, *I* can speak with an English Accent.”

      • Kevin S. - Jul 29, 2014 at 2:53 AM

        Hell, the subtitle was a swipe at Costner and his refusal to wear tights.

  8. bluburt - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    I’d love to get Simmon’s take on Pretty Woman…

    • Old Gator - Jul 28, 2014 at 9:11 PM

      I’d like to get his take on Theresa Russell’s Whore, a great, underrated film – especially the scene where her pimp takes her out to an expensive Italian restaurant for her birthday. She tries calamari for the first time in her life and snaps, “This tastes like a dick!”

  9. lukedunphysscienceproject - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    I continue to be amazed how scared and appalled misogynistic retards like Bill Simmons are by women who have the gall and audacity to not be ashamed of their sexuality. This is far from the first time he has shown his generally low opinion of women. He acts like he just spotted a Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster every time (GASP!) he gets an email from a female sports fan, as if they only exist in folklore.

    That aside, his writing is also maddeningly inconsistent. At the top of that column he states as his #1 rule in determining whether a movie is a sports movie or not as “Could the movie have worked if you turned the sports theme into a non-sports theme, or would that have ruined the movie?” Does he honestly think Bull Durham would have worked if you took the baseball out?

    • chip56 - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      To your second point first:

      I think if you replaced “minor league baseball players” with “hands on a southern cattle ranch” it probably would have had a similar vibe to it.

      To the first part:

      I don’t think Simmons personally cares about Sarandon’s character being sexual or promiscuous. It just wasn’t a trait that female leads at that time were portraying. In that regard it was fairly ground breaking and yet, at the same time, totally irrelevant to how the audience viewed her which speaks to how great the movie was.

      • lukedunphysscienceproject - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:18 PM

        At least 70% of that movie takes place in a baseball stadium (field, dugout, locker room) or a team bus. It is centered around the particularities of the minor league baseball culture. The tension surrounding Crash Davis being stranded there when he should be in AAA or around the fact that LaLoosh is treated differently from all of the other prospects and is obviously going to move up in the system quickly wouldn’t translate to “ranch hands”. You may have created a similar “vibe”, but no way is it the same movie.

        And as far as what Simmons does or doesn’t care about in terms of Sarandon’s sexuality; He brought it up, I didn’t. And it never occurs to him that maybe the reason it was irrelevant to the audience is because most people don’t consider a single woman who sleeps with one man a year to be a “tramp”. How do you think Simmons would describe a single man who has sex with one woman a year? A stud? Probably not. So yes, calling someone who is actually not that promiscuous at all a “tramp” is misogynistic.

      • chip56 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:48 PM

        Turn Crash Davis into a broken down cow hand trying to hang on while the rancher is bringing in newer, younger hands who can do the same work as Davis but faster and put them on a cattle drive or something…it’s very similar.

        As for “He brought it up, I didn’t. And it never occurs to him that maybe the reason it was irrelevant to the audience is because most people don’t consider a single woman who sleeps with one man a year to be a “tramp.” They don’t now. In 1988 (especially in the south) they did.

    • jarathen - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:58 AM

      Like, what if it was about a hotshot young blogger under the wing of an older blogger?

      • chip56 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:03 PM

        There’s no such thing as a hotshot blogger. It’s an oxymoron.

      • chip56 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:03 PM

        Like a “good Ruben Amaro signing”

      • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:21 PM

        No bloggers are having sex with anyone, ever, so none of this would be touched on in such a movie.

      • chip56 - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:46 PM

        And if bloggers were getting action you certainly wouldn’t want to see the act or its participants on the big screen.

    • [citation needed] fka COPO - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      That aside, his writing is also maddeningly inconsistent.

      Bill Simmons Rules for Being a True Fan (2/27/02):

      7. Be very careful when using the word “We” with your favorite team. Use it judiciously. Just remember, you don’t wear a uniform, you don’t play any minutes, and you’re not on the team. And yes, this was an extremely tough line for me to straddle during the Patriots’ Super Bowl run.

      12. After your team wins a championship, they immediately get a five-year grace period: You can’t complain about anything that happens with your team (trades, draft picks, salary-cap cuts, coaching moves) for five years. There are no exceptions. For instance, the Pats could finish 0-80 over the next five years and I wouldn’t say a peep. That’s just the way it is. You win the Super Bowl, you go on cruise control for five years. Everything else is gravy.

      Takes him about 5 months to criticize the Patriots after their ’07 SB victory.

      • lukedunphysscienceproject - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:41 PM

        I was surprised to see #7. Simmons uses the term “we” to describe the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics on a daily basis. I don’t think he even reads his own writing.

  10. rcali - Jul 28, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    “The world according to Mr. Simmons” I’ve moved on.

  11. senotonom205 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:07 PM

    I think it’s funny that people get so upset about Simmons writing about pop culture and sports. He has been doing this for years, it’s his shtick. This guy isn’t a journalist or anything, he is there for color.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      He’s probably the most wide-read sportswriter around and if you don’t think his views and general attitude about sports fandom and male culture in general has no currency, you have not been paying attention.

      • senotonom205 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:35 PM

        Absolutely, I completely agree. My issue is that some readers/commenters seem to try to hold him to this lofty journalistic standards. His point was always to write about sports the way him and his buddies would talk about sports. It blew up and now he has a voice, but it doesn’t mean he is a journalist. It’s a lot like Jon Stewart, he hates when people call his show a news show, because it’s not, it’s a comedy show. Even though poll after poll shows that many people trust The Daily Show for news over many other actual news programs.

      • yahmule - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:53 PM

        I don’t hold Simmons to a lofty journalistic standard. I just find him unreadable because he has nothing original to say and he seems like a whiney dick. But Craig’s point about Simmons popularity is well taken. After all, Rush Limbaugh is the most listened to talk radio host, so he obviously has his sausagey finger on the pulse of the country.

  12. jrob23 - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:23 PM

    Craig sinking to new lows defending fictional characters to appeal to his pc and liberal followers.

    • ahrmon - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      Relax, Rupert. No one’s coming to take your guns away Mr. Scardeycat.

    • doctorofsmuganomics - Jul 28, 2014 at 7:19 PM

      god you’re dumb.

  13. ahrmon - Jul 28, 2014 at 12:27 PM

    You could have stopped at “Bill Simmons’ Depressing Take”.

  14. thenaturalmevs - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:00 PM

    Susan Sarandon is gross. In her prime, in her now. Just disgusting to look at.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:05 PM

      1. What does that have to do with anything here?

      2. Have you not SEEN The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

      • nbjays - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:22 PM

        Dammit, Janet!

  15. rmccleary97 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:03 PM

    Bill Simmons is the modern day Andy Rooney. For a while he was interesting, and every so often he still writes something interesting, but by and large his best days are long behind him and never coming back. Way too often whatever he says leaves you thinking, “who freaking cares?” and he’s pretty much resorted to recycling old articles with slight tweaks to bring them up to date – but, because once upon a time he was good there’s this nostalgic aura around him even though most people will grudgingly admit when pressed, “yeah – truthfully he’s sucked for a while now.”

    • clemente2 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:25 PM

      No. He can do this, but it is not prevalent. His series of articles about the NBA playoffs, and especially Duncan and the Spurs, were all entertaining and up-to-date. And he had the good judgment to bring in all the people he has on the site.

  16. bisonaudit - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:10 PM

    This is just an all around dumb argument. No good ‘sports’ movie is actually about sports, it’s just a backdrop for whatever story you’re actually telling. It doesn’t matter if Hamlet is a live action drama set in Denmark or a cartoon musical set on the grasslands of Africa. It’s the same story.

  17. frank35sox - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:30 PM

    Rarely have I seen a writer who has so much commentary on the work of other writers, yet so little meaningful commentary themselves.

  18. genericcommenter - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Am I being moderated now because I said I didn’t like Steinbrenner?

  19. lawson1974 - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:39 PM

    Her character is a tramp. Simmons is just stating the obvious.

  20. happytwinsfan - Jul 28, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    I don’t mind movies which take artistic license with historical events in order to sell tickets, but movies, such as “JFK”, which are deliberately and grossly misleading in order to sell tickets by confirming the false beliefs of their target audience, cross the line for me. Because of that I can’t forgive Costner or take much interest in any of his other movies for portraying Jim Garrison as a crusading paragon of fearless virtue.

    On the other hand it occurs to me that I must be a hypocrite because I do still enjoy watching Tommy Lee Jones who was also in that movie. I suppose I’m like the fan gets more angry at the journeyman player who beats up his girl friend than the star who beats up his girl friend.

    • stoicpaisano - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:13 PM

      You’re not a bad lookin’ man Mr. Garrison…

  21. Marty McKee - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    Simmons wrote about something besides the Red Sox and the NBA??

  22. jimmymarlinsfan - Jul 28, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Bill simmons is one of the biggest hacks out there. He loves himself as much as Gator does and hates Miami as much as Gator and Craig do put together

  23. bleested - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    I’m wondering why Calcaterra obsesses over Simmons.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jul 28, 2014 at 5:11 PM

      “Obsesses” eh? Bill Simmons has been the subject of HBT articles three times in its 5+ year existence. One of the three times was approvingly. In that time HBT has published over 47,000 posts.

  24. mikhelb - Jul 28, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    While Simmons is telling the truth, do not allow him to watch “Pretty Woman”, please.

  25. padraighansen - Jul 28, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Bull Durham nails baseball. Period. My college roommate slept cuddling his bat because he believed in osmosis. We all lived that movie in real life playing small college ball, legion ball, etc. As for Simmons, he’s become Chris Berman: A bad caricature of his former self. Success has seduced him into thinking he cannot lose.

    • bisonaudit - Jul 28, 2014 at 5:54 PM

      Once you win 20 in the show you can let the fungus grow on your shower shoes.

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