Crash course: 'Bull Durham' director fetes Hessman

Mike Hessman has broken Buzz Arlett's record for all-time Minor League home runs with No. 433, which he hit in the seventh inning of Triple-A Toledo's 10-8 loss to Lehigh Valley on Monday night. The 37-year-old corner infielder and designated hitter is rightly being feted by people at all levels of baseball for this achievement, an undeniable testament to his talent, his perseverance and his passion for the game.

He's also being celebrated by one of the most indelible fictional baseball people of all time.

Crash Davis, the unforgettable protagonist of the iconic 1988 baseball movie "Bull Durham," was more or less a Minor League lifer who was aiming for that same homer record. Writer-director and former Minor Leaguer Ron Shelton didn't get the numbers right -- he had Crash, played by Kevin Costner, at 227 big flies, 20 shy of the record -- but it didn't matter. He nailed the archetype.

Crash was an ironclad presence on the diamond, a clubhouse sage and an eccentric prone to flowery romantic monologues. Hessman, who has been called a "real-life Crash Davis" in just about every article written about him over the past five years, is at least the first two of those three things.

That's why Davis, or at least the man whose lyrical brain birthed Davis, is celebrating along with Hessman.

"I'm thrilled for him," Shelton told "Crash would be, too, because they're the same type of guy. I always admired the professionalism of guys like Crash Davis, like Mike Hessman. … They shut up, they do the job and only in my movie do they end up with the girl.

"The professionalism and skill to be a Double- or Triple-A player for a long time is pretty profound. I am glad it's being acknowledged. We need more people like Mike Hessman in the world."

The similarities between Hessman and Davis are easy to spot. Both played in the Majors, with Hessman hitting 14 homers and driving in 33 runs in 223 at-bats in 109 games over five seasons (2003, '04, '07, '08, '10).

Crash only got three weeks of big league time, but it paid off with a great few lines in the movie: "I was in the Majors for 21 days once, the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in The Show. Somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service and the women all have long legs and brains."

By most accounts, Hessman is not as loquacious or dramatic as Davis. He is quiet, lets his play on the field and work off of it do the speaking for him and has mentored mostly by example. Then again, there's no way hotshot reliever "Nuke" LaLoosh, played by Tim Robbins, could have prospered without Crash's tutelage, even if a lot of their scenes were played for laughs.

So while Shelton admits that he knows very little about Hessman other than the homer mark, the fact that the guy's got 19 seasons in pro ball tells him everything.

"Well, it just isn't fair always," Shelton said. "You can say some of these guys don't quite have the talent to make it in the Majors, but finding the right fit is really what it's all about. There are tons of guys in the Minors who could have had productive careers in the big leagues if they got the chance. I really believe that. I saw it.

"And with Crash or with Hessman, whatever anger or frustration these guys have about their inherent lack of fairness in life, they quickly philosophically put it in the rearview mirror and do the job at hand, whether that's hitting it off the wall or mentoring the guy coming up like Nuke LaLoosh. They have a job, and they do it. They're just consummate professionals."

That's why it's important to recognize Hessman -- and important to recognize Arlett, too. Arlett played for Philadelphia in the Majors in 1931, retired from baseball in 1936 and opened a restaurant and bar in Minneapolis. His son, Michael, is 78 years old and never saw his father play, but he was aware of the record. He has now been made aware of it again.

"I don't have a problem with it [being broken]," Arlett said. "It's nice to know that [the record is in the news]. That's a long time ago, and there are few people around that remember. There are very few people left that saw him play."

And that's the point, according to Shelton. These accomplishments largely go unnoticed in the mainstream of sports fans, but they speak to something pure and unassailable. And the mere fact that his movie and characters are immediately brought to mind by Hessman's heroics touches him on a very personal level.

"It's so cool for me," Shelton said. "It makes me feel good, and mostly because there's a level of professionalism and skill that so many athletes and, frankly, people in other professions have, and it's not acknowledged nearly enough."

Shelton concluded by saying that he's sure Crash Davis would want to celebrate with Hessman.

"Crash would buy him a beer," Shelton said. "Between them, they'd know every bar in every non-big city in America."

Doug Miller is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.