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Southbound on I85, Headed for Durham, NC, and the Church of Baseball

By Bob Ruegsegger

For tourists traveling south on Interstate 85 headed for Durham, a query at the North Carolina
Welcome Center regarding the James Manning House might not immediately receive a well-informed,
conversant response from members of the visitor center staff.

Even at the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau at 212 W. Main Street in downtown
Durham it’s entirely possible that a query regarding the James Manning House might not ring a bell
while an inquiry about the Bull Durham House will invariably invite a knowing response.

The James Manning House on Mangum Street in the Old North Durham neighborhood was built
circa 1880 in the Queen Anne style, one of a number of popular Victorian architectural styles that
developed in America from 1880 to 1910. The Queen Anne style featured multi-faceted rooflines,
asymmetrical exteriors, abundant decorative trim, wraparound porches, turrets and towers, and multi-
colored palettes to accent the distinctive architectural facets.

The Manning House Durham NCC
The Manning House is better known as the Bull Durham House in Downtown Durham. The Queen Anne style dwelling served as the home of Annie Savoy as portrayed by Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham.

Before the Manning House underwent a multi-year renovation in the mid-1990’s, the quaint old
Queen Anne dwelling was featured in the 1988 movie Bull Durham as Annie Savoy’s residence.
Although a signboard at 911 Mangum Street in Durham identifies the beautifully restored dwelling as
the Manning House, it is far better known locally as the Bull Durham House – especially to baseball fans
and movie connoisseurs.

Bull Durham has been touted – by some – as the greatest baseball movie of all time. As the
home of Susan Sarandon’s character, Annie Savoy, the eclectic Queen Anne style house has perhaps
achieved more recognition – and commanded more value – as the Bull Durham house than it ever
enjoyed as the home of James Smith Manning who later served as a justice on the Supreme Court of
North Carolina and the Attorney General of North Carolina.

When the Manning House sold for $1,058,500 in July of 2020, the asking price likely had more to
do with its place in cinema history and connection with film stars Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon and
the characters they portrayed in Bull Durham than its real market value.

Although Bull Durham is now regarded as one of the best sports movies of all time and Sports
Illustrated in 2003 ranked the movie as the “Greatest Sports Movie,” the film is actually a romantic
comedy with minor league baseball as a backdrop.

Durham Athletic Park
The Durham Athletic Park was the home of the Durham Bulls during the filming of the Bull Durham movie in 1988.

The Durham Athletic Park along with Annie Savoy’s home were integral sites in the setting where
most of the romantic elements of the comedy transpired. The Durham Bulls minor league International
League Triple-A affiliate was a vehicle to entertain an audience by distinguishing this romantic comedy
from hundreds of others.

Film maker Ron Shelton’s five years of minor league baseball experience allowed him to create
an intelligent and perceptive view of the lives of minor league ballplayers – with plenty of humorous
highlights. Shelton’s book The Church of Baseball offers an interesting inside account of the making of
the film Bull Durham.

The movie Bull Durham
From the movie Bull Durham

The three main characters, Crash Davis, Annie Savoy, and Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, constitute an
unusual romantic triangle as their personal relationships tied to the game of baseball evolve throughout
the film. Crash Davis, a career minor league catcher with a 21 day stint in the major leagues, has come to
the Bulls to mentor pitcher Ebby Calvin LaLoosh, a young phenom, who has a shot at making it in Major
League Baseball – with the right coaching. Crash knows his days as a player are numbered. Helping
LaLoosh to succeed may be Crash’s way to stay in baseball as a coach or manager when his playing days
are over.

Conflict develops between Crash Davis and the young pitcher because from Crash’s perspective
LaLoosh fails to appreciate how exceptionally talented – gifted – he is. Crash’s responsibility is to turn
the talented young rookie into a professional ballplayer. LaLoosh initially fails to grasp how Crash’s years
of experience in baseball might help him in his quest to make his way to the big show.

Annie Savoy teaches English part time at a local community college. She regards her passion for
baseball as her religion. She believes in the church of baseball. At the beginning of baseball season,
Annie checks out the young ballplayers and selects one to mentor in her own ways through sex,
philosophy, and metaphysics. Annie is a cougar with a mission – to help young ballplayers develop and
succeed in finding their routes to the major leagues.

Disagreements – conflicts – between Crash and Annie stem from their common cause, using the
right method to instruct their young charge in the art of baseball. While Crash’s approach to teaching
LaLoosh is derived from practical experience, Annie’s preferred teaching style tends to be theoretical
and holistic.

When LaLoosh is called up to the big leagues, the primary reason for their conflict has been
eliminated. They discover that they are both in love with each other and have refused to admit it.
As with all romantic comedies, Bull Durham has a happy ending. All three characters develop
and evolve in their own ways. Ebby “Nuke” LaLoosh gets called up to the major leagues – the Show –
with the assistance and support of Crash and Annie. Crash has accepted that his playing days are over.
As a means of staying in baseball, and possibly making the major leagues as a manager, Crash is
considering an offer to gain minor league managing experience by accepting a position at Vidalia. Annie
Savoy confides to Crash that she’s going to give up her work with the boys – young players.

The final scene of the film depicts Crash and Annie dancing in her candle-lit living room in her
residence on Mangum Street in the Old North Durham neighborhood. It’s a happy ending in a highly
entertaining film.

While the film Bull Durham is presumably fiction for the most part, the movie sites – Durham
Athletic Park and Annie Savoy’s home in the Old North Durham neighborhood – help put interested area
visitors in touch with local cinema history.

Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy
Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy in Bull Durham.

Although Crash Davis, the character, was based loosely on Lawrence “Crash” Davis, his
nonfictional counterpart who actually played ball for the Durham Bulls, Annie Savoy and Ebby LaLoosh
are very likely composite characters created by Ron Shelton and derived from a variety of colorful folks
he met as a young ballplayer during his stint in the minor leagues.

To see the Bull Durham Athletic Park and the Manning House offers baseball – and film – fans a
satisfying, tangible look at life as it might have been around Bull Durham Park in Downtown Durham
before the turn of the century.

“Thirty-five years later, it’s incredible how the cult favorite continues to both entertain and raise
awareness of Durham,” noted Susan Amey CEO of Discover Durham. “While we don’t have numbers on
how much visitation the historic ballpark draws each year, it was invaluable in catapulting Durham into
the national consciousness, spurring widespread popularity for the team that continues to play at the
newer Durham Bulls Athletic Park.”

Durham is a fabulous place to visit for a day or a week.

For more information:

 Museum  of  Durham History 

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