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The continuing saga of Crash, Annie and Nuke

To help mark the 20th anniversary this week of the release of Bull Durham, Sports Illustrated senior writer Austin Murphy set out to discover what happened to the film's main characters, Crash Davis, Annie Savoy and Nuke LaLoosh.

Say it ain't so. Has it really been a score of seasons since we were introduced to "the greatest show on dirt?" Twenty years since that lubricious laugh riot of a loop through the Carolina League? That's a lot of water under the bridge -- a lot of fungus on our shower shoes. Whatever became of the characters in Bull Durham?

You've seen some of them, no doubt, without realizing you were seeing them. Take Jose, the chicken-bone wielding, Santeria-practicing first baseman. He made it to the show in 1990, and lasted 11 seasons. His sophomore slump in Milwaukee was compounded by the local PETA chapter, which made his life miserable when it was reported that he really did cut the head off a live rooster to take a curse off his glove.

And you've probably read about Larry Hockett, the assistant coach whose mincing, upright trot to the mound, followed by his powwow-ending oration ("Candlesticks always make a nice gift ... Okay, let's get two!") ranks among the most sublime moments in one of the best sports movies, ever. Larry crossed over to the dark side and became an agent. The week he got certified, he poached Nuke Laloosh from Scott Boras. (The rumor is that Arli$$, the "super agent" of HBO fame, was based, in part, on Hockett).

Not to worry, leftfielder and born-again Christian Jimmy is still married to Millie (who made a huge fuss over the candlesticks). While Jimmy never made it past double-A, he came to regard his release as a blessing because it freed him to follow his life's work: he's now the pastor a megachurch in Sugar Land, Texas. He and Millie have four daughters, the oldest of whom -- 17-year-old Chastity -- "has a bit of a wild streak," her father confided, with a slightly forced laugh, during a recent 700 Club appearance.

The Crash and Annie Show, likewise, had legs,despite their abiding disagreement over the merits of the novels of Susan Sontag (him: "Self-indulgent overrated crap" her: "Brilliant!"). Once they got together, they stayed together. Crash quit the game, leaving on his own terms. Annie "quit" boys. That is, she settled into a long-term relationship with Davis, whose robust appetites and broad interests -- in philosophy, baseball history, religions of the world, clawfoot bathtubs, votive candles and pedicures, among other things -- were an excellent match for her own.

In the movie's penultimate scene, Crash and Annie were sharing a porch swing when he mentions an "opening for a manager in Visalia," and she tells him what a great skipper he would be, "because you understand about non-linear thinking."

Davis was referring to the Class A Oaks of Visalia, Calif., in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Annie agreed to accompany him under one condition: that they make the trip in his slightly dinged up but ultra-cool Oldsmobile convertible. Theirs was a nonlinear journey. They took back roads wherever possible. As Crash later put it, in a reference to the motels they occupied and the use to which they put them, "We got our kicks on Route 66."

They stopped in Vegas on the way, and, in a display of spontaneity not seen since their urgent, Wheaties-spilling breakfast-table clench late in the movie, they were married the next day. They tied the knot in the Little White Wedding Chapel, where they chose the "Romantic's Package" over the "Lover's Package" in part because the former included ... a garter for the bride.

In Visalia, Davis inherited a youthful roster: a mix of post-adolescents barely out of high school and Latin American players of indeterminate age. Only once, at the end of a five-game losing streak in June, was he forced to herd them team into the shower, scatter bats all over the floor, then deliver a fiery oration during which -- and this was no coincidence -- he used the wordy "Lollygaggers," or some variant of it, half a dozen times. (The team responded, sweeping a weekend set against the Stockton Ports.) While Davis had several players who were a season or two from The Show, none had the talent of his old mentee, the formerly clueless Ebbie Calvin (Nuke) LaLoosh.

As a rookie, Nuke rapidly gained renown for both his body of work -- he piled up impressive numbers of wins, strikeouts, bases on balls and hit batsmen -- and his absurdly contorted, back-to-the-plate, eyes-to-the-heavens delivery. Crash's cliché lessons notwithstanding, Laloosh kept the beat writers scribbling with his frequent, unprompted soliloquies on his "parietal eye" and the state of his various shakras.

After winning 15 games that first season -- he came in second in balloting for NL Rookie of the Year -- Nuke was described by as "a cross between Mark (The Bird) Fidrych and Mitch (Wild Thing) Williams. While he did not speak to the ball, a la Fidrych, he could clearly be seen speaking to himself before his windup. Lip-reading fans determined that his preferred mantras were:

"Don't think, Meat."

"Just give 'em the gas."

"Fear and Ignorance."

"This underwear feels kinda sexy."

While he walked fewer batters than Wild Thing, his struggles with control were more spectacular and life-endangering. There was the night in Atlanta he uncorked a pitch that bounced a full seven feet in front of the plate, ricocheting over the glove of his catcher before lodging itself between the bars of the umpire's facemask. The ump was able to return to action after a restorative seven minutes on his back, during which time he was attended by paramedics. This was a month after LaLoosh had made SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays of the Day be throwing a ball through the protective netting behind home plate. The pitch still had enough mustard on it to leave a circular, indigo hematoma -- complete with stitch marks -- on the gluteus of an unsuspecting beer vendor.

His celebrity was such that he appeared as a special guest on Home Improvement (The quadraphonic Blaupunkt in Nuke's 911 Porsche is on the fritz; Tim helps him fix it). It was on the set of that show that Nuke met, and was smitten by the 23-year-old Pamela Anderson. They kept up a long-distance romance for nearly a year. Then, on a road trip to L.A., the same night he went eight innings in a four-hit shutout of the Dodgers, Nuke introduced the Canadian bombshell to the members of Motley Crue, whom he'd already befriended.

Within a month, she'd dumped him for Tommy Lee. He still sounded bereft and woebegone nearly a decade later, recalling their courtship for the Biography Channel:

"I helped build her confidence. I told her how much I respected her work, and how much more convincing she would be playing a lifeguard than, say, Carmen Elektra or Yasmine Bleeth."

The following June, LaLoosh appeared in a photograph in Sports Illustrated bearing the caption, "I See London ..." The image revealed a hole in his pants -- he'd just brushed himself off after a hard slide into second -- exposing to public view the clasp of a black lace garter. The following week, as "GarterGate" reached a full boil, he explained to beat writers that, ever since his days in Durham, he'd made periodic use of the garter, whenever he needed to get himself out of a funk. (He thought it unnecessary to repeat what Annie had told him: "They're gonna hug your waist so snugly and kinda dangle off your thighs and buns in such a wonderful way it'll help you see things differently.")

What he did say failed to buy him much slack: "Well, Robert Redford has his lucky bat in that movie The Natural. I've got ... these."

While the tabloids had great fun with it, evincing deep shock ( "Ace Disgraced!"; "Nuke's Secret = Victoria's Secret!"; "What -- No Thong?") his teammates and peers around the league seemed less put out. It turned out that the use of frilly underthings to jolt players out of slumps, or, in LaLoosh's case, to "keep my brain off-center, which is where it should be for pitchers and artists," was not completely unheard of in Major League locker rooms.

Following the kerfuffle from a distance, and with considerable amusement, was the woman responsible for it. After two years in Visalia, Crash been named roving hitting instructor for the Los Angeles Dodgers. (He drew raves for the work he did with a fellow catcher, a rough diamond with the club's Class A affiliate in Bakersfield -- a kid by the name of Piazza). Between his keen baseball mind, natural leadership and knack for getting through to younger players ("Don't think too much. It can only hurt the ball club"; "When you get in a fight with a drunk, don't hit him with your pitching hand") his name arose more and more frequently as a managerial candidate.

Annie, meanwhile, had gone back to school -- sort of -- taking online courses at the World University in Ojai and dragging her husband to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur for seminars on tantric sex.

Where the players' wives in Durham had viewed Annie her as something of a threat, the Dodgers' wives used words like "enlightening" "progressive" and "intriguing" to describe her. They listened with unfeigned interest to her discussions of the "shakra connections" and the need, when an athlete is stuck in the wrong side of his brain, to "breathe through his eyelids, like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands." When Annie spoke to them of the superb results she'd witnessed, first hand, when a man "re-channeled" his lovemaking, and/or experimented with women's underwear, she had their full attention.

The word got around, and before long, Annie was being handsomely paid to give her talks to Players' Wives Associations all over the country. But then, a few years back, a medical condition temporarily curtailed her travel.

She was pregnant. After multiple consultations, she and Crash had been told that it wasn't in the cards for them. They'd accepted that on moved on, which magnified their joy when the child was born. It was a boy. They named him Thurman.

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