Kurt Russell helped Ron Shelton develop the script and was originally penciled in to play Crash, the part that went to Kevin Costner. After the film was made, Russell was so impressed, he actually wrote fan letters to Costner and Shelton.
When the bat boy tells Crash Davis "Get a hit, Crash", Kevin Costner ad-libbed the response of "Shut up." Since the kid actor playing the bat boy obviously didn't know this response was coming, he started crying.
The movie was filmed on location in North Carolina in October and November, 1987, which is why the grass had to be touched up with green paint. It is also why the breath of the actors can be seen in many of the night scenes.
In their confrontation outside the bar, Crash tells Nuke, "I hear you couldn't hit water if you fell out of a fucking boat." Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said this in 1984, in reference to weak-hitting San Diego Padres infielder Kurt Bevacqua.
The costume designer did a little research and learned that the last baseball jersey number director Ron Shelton ever wore as a minor league player was number 8. So she gave Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) that number.
The bar scene takes place in Mitch's Tavern on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, North Carolina, across the street from NC State University. Today, in Mitch's there are a few mementos from the movie: framed film still of Crash Davis and Annie Savoy (autographed by Susan Sarandon and Kevin Costner) and the glass door which Nuke Laloosh breaks is framed. The furniture, fixtures, and layout of the tavern largely remain the same as they were in 1988.
Although Kevin Costner plays the 'older' more experienced ball player, in real life he's only three years older than Tim Robbins (33 and 30 respectively during filming), and Susan Sarandon was actually in her early forties (42). Additionally, Costner is about three and a half inches shorter than the very tall Robbins (almost 6'5").
The "rainout" scene was based on actual event. In the late 1960s, Ron Shelton played minor-league ball in the Texas League. Shelton's team was in Amarillo, Texas for a season-ending series. The night before the final game, Shelton, some teammates and some Amarillo players were out partying and decided to go to the stadium and turn on the sprinkler system, thereby flooding the field and ensuring a "rainout". However, the Amarillo team owner rented a helicopter, dried the field, and the game was played.
According to director Ron Shelton in the DVD Commentary, he came up with the name Ebbie Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) after being served in a restaurant by a waiter named Ebbie Calvin "Nook" LaRoosh. Shelton thought it was a stand out name and changed the spelling of the nickname and last name.
When Ron Shelton pitched the film, he had a hard time convincing a studio to give him the opportunity to direct. Baseball movies were not considered a viable commercial prospect at the time and every studio passed except for Orion Pictures who gave him a $9 million budget (with many cast members accepting lower than usual salaries because of the material), an eight-week shooting schedule and creative freedom.
For years, Ron Shelton has contemplated making a sequel and remarked, "I couldn't figure out in the few years right after it came out, what do you do? Nuke's in the big leagues, Crash is managing in Visalia. Is Annie going to go to Visalia? I've been to Visalia. That will test a relationship ... It was not a simple fable to continue with - not that we don't talk about continuing it, now that everyone's in their 60s".
In 2003, a 15th anniversary celebration of the film at the National Baseball Hall of Fame was cancelled by Hall of Fame president Dale Petroskey. Petroskey, who was on the White House staff during the Reagan administration, told Tim Robbins that the actor's public opposition to the US-led war in Iraq helped to "undermine the U.S. position, which could put our troops in even more danger." Kevin Costner, a self-described libertarian, defended Robbins and Susan Sarandon, saying, "I think Tim and Susan's courage is the type of courage that makes our democracy work. Pulling back this invite is against the whole principle about what we fight for and profess to be about."
Ron Shelton cast Kevin Costner because of the actor's natural athleticism. He was a former high school baseball player and was able to hit two home runs while the cameras were rolling and, according to Shelton, insisted "on throwing runners out even when they (the cameras) weren't rolling".
Ron Shelton reportedly based the character of Nuke LaLoosh on a minor league teammate from his playing days named Steve Dalkowski. Dalkowski is something of a legend among baseball fans and is widely regarded as the fastest throwing pitcher ever. Unlike the character in the film, Dalkowski never made the major leagues.
In the scene where the Bulls have returned from the long road trip, Annie is seen at the game wearing a black veil and appearing as if she had just come from a funeral. This is because the previous scene, where Annie attends Max Patkin's funeral, was deleted in post-production. Ron Shelton had written a scene where Max was killed in a car crash during the season.
The "big club" is referenced several times during the movie, though it is never made completely clear what major league team the Bulls are affiliated with. At the time of the filming, the Durham Bulls were a Carolina League Single A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves. As of 2013, the Durham Bulls are the Triple A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.
When Nuke says, "Annie, I know you're in there, I can hear that crazy Mexican music," the song on the phonograph is 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien'. It is a famous recording by 'Edith Piaf', who is singing in French.
During a conversation between Crash and Nuke on the team bus, a newspaper's sports page is shown briefly with a headline reading "Hard-hittin' Whiten". At the time the movie was filmed in 1987, Mark Whiten was a top prospect for the Toronto Blue Jays in the South Atlantic League and made that league's All-Star Game. Whiten said he missed his brief moment of fame when he first saw the movie in the theatre, but caught it when he rented it later. Whiten went on to have a fairly ordinary 11-year career in the majors highlighted by one 1993 game in which he tied two major league records with four homers and 12 RBI.
Near the end of the movie, Annie quotes some poetry in a voiceover and then says "That was Thomas Gray. Or William Cullen Bryant, I forget which." It was indeed Thomas Gray and it was taken from "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard".
Producer Thom Mount (who is part owner of the real Durham Bulls) hired Pete Bock, a former semi-pro baseball player, as a consultant on the film. Bock recruited more than a dozen minor-league players, ran a tryout camp to recruit an additional 40 to 50 players from lesser ranks, hired several minor-league umpires and conducted two-a-day workouts and practice games with Tim Robbins pitching and Kevin Costner catching. Bock made sure the actors looked and acted like ballplayers and that the real players acted convincingly in front of the cameras. He said, "the director would say, 'This is the shot we want. What we need is the left fielder throwing a one-hopper to the plate. Then we need a good collision at the plate.' I would select the players I know could do the job, and then we would go out and get it done".
According to Ron Shelton, "I wrote a very early script about minor league baseball; the only thing it had in common with Bull Durham was that it was about a pitcher and a catcher." That script was titled, The Player To Be Named Later; a single anecdote from that script made it into Bull Durham. For this film, Shelton "decided to see if a woman could tell the story" and "dictated that opening monologue on a little micro-recorder while I was driving around North Carolina." After Shelton returned to Los Angeles from his road trip, he wrote the script in "about twelve weeks."
Originally, after Annie and Crash have their argument in Crash's apartment, there was a scene in which Annie and Crash go to a bar and have a heart-to-heart talk. In the talk, Crash asks Annie why she loves baseball so much. She explains that several years before, her estranged father passed away and that the funeral took place in Florida. She was so distraught after the funeral that she wandered off and ended up at the New York Yankees spring training facility where she met legendary Yankees catcher, Thurman Munson (thus explaining her shrine to Munson seen in the film). From then on, she developed a deep-rooted love of the game. According to Ron Shelton in the DVD commentary, he cut that scene out when it was received poorly during a test screening. After the scene was removed, a second test screening was done and the movie received a high score.
When Nuke is giving his interview at the big league stadium after being called up to the majors, he's wearing a t-shirt for the ska-punk band Fishbone. Tim Robbins in real life is a huge fan of the band. Fishbone would also feature in the movie Tapeheads (1988), released later that same year, starring Robbins and John Cusack, who is also a big fan of Fishbone.
The field where the Durham Bulls played in the movie still has the original bull on the outfield fence. But they had to move the bull from right field to left field because they had to redo the right field fencing.
The team's manager tells Crash that the team in Visalia is looking for a manager. Kevin Costner went to school for a year at Mt. Whitney HS in Visalia, California, which had - and still has - a single-A team.
In one scene, 'Nuke' LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) gives up a home run that strikes the bull, supposedly rewarding the opposing hitter with a free steak. In reality, at the old Durham Athletic Park, the bull was in foul territory.
Early in the film Kevin Costner's character states that he thinks Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. A few years later he would star in JFK (1991), whose protagonist believes Oswald did not act alone and was possibly a fall guy for the Kennedy assassination.
Nick Nolte, one of the biggest male stars at the time, turned down the lead because he had just finished several movies back-to-back, and, most importantly, because he isn't a fan of baseball. Nolte famously played a footballer in North Dallas Forty (1979), a movie he co-wrote.
In one memorable scene, the Tim Robbins character sings a song incorrectly, using the word "wooly". Four years after the movie's release, the Durham Bulls named a new mascot. Since the Depression, the mascot had been a bull, but in 1992, they created the character "Wool E. Bull", which sounds like "wooly" but has "E" for "education".
According to the audio commentary for Ant-Man (2015), the director, Peyton Reed, drove a van as a production assistant for the production of Bull Durham (1988). He says he has a picture of Susan Sarandon autographing his forehead.
When Crash Davis first arrives to the Durham Bulls, he mentions Larry Hockett pitching for El Paso when Crash was batting for Shreveport in the Texas League five years prior. In 1983, there were Texas League teams in the mentioned cities, the El Paso Diablos and Shreveport Captains. Both teams still exist in the Texas League under new names. The Diablos became the Springfield Cardinals, and the Captains became the Frisco Roughriders.
Mel Gibson, Michael Keaton, Richard Gere, Alec Baldwin, Dennis Quaid, Tommy Lee Jones, Ron Perlman, Bill Paxton, Stephen Lang, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Christopher Lambert were considered to play Crash Davis.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
There really was a ballplayer named "Crash" Davis. Ron Shelton found his name in a baseball listing as a minor leaguer and American Legion player. Realizing that he would have to have the permission of the real Davis to use his name (and thus avoid a lawsuit). When Shelton approached Davis, he was asked "Do I (Meaning Kevin Costner) get the girl in the end?" Shelton told him he does and Davis signed off his permission.