Bull Durham, Kevin Costner, ...
Credit: Everett Collection

There’s a story in The Right Stuff where author Tom Wolfe explains why all airline pilots sound like they’re from West Virginia. Turns out a generation of pilots so idolized test pilot Chuck Yeager that they consciously or subconsciously copied everything about him, including his backwoods drawl, and then passed it on to the flyboys they subsequently trained. Well, it’s sort of the same thing with baseball players and Kevin Costner. Walk into any Major League clubhouse or high school dugout, and the lingo, the chatter — and the profanity — can be traced back to one man: Crash Davis. Costner’s fading minor-league catcher was handsome, clever, and worldly, and every kid with dreams of The Show couldn’t help but idolize him and, ultimately, sound like him. More than 20 years after Bull Durham, every ballplayer knows that strikeouts are fascist, and everyone knows without question the one taboo word you can’t say to an umpire. Costner simply was Crash Davis, and though he went on to star in bigger, more successful films, it’s the role that made him a Hall of Famer.

For true Costner fans, then, 2012 is shaping up to be an banner year after more than a decade of misfires and understated performances. (Despite winning supporting roles in Thirteen Days and The Upside of Anger, Costner hasn’t starred in a No. 1 opening film since 1999’s Message in a Bottle.) Not only has he been cast as Superman’s Earthly father, Jonathan Kent, in Zack Snyder’s reboot, but Quentin Tarantino has tabbed him to play one of the slave-driving villains in Django Unchained. According to Deadline, Costner will play Ace Woody, the wicked plantation underboss who trains slaves to fight to the death. Costner has played bad before, in 2007’s Mr. Brooks, but it’s exciting to imagine his roguish charm in Tarantino’s twisted tale of antebellum Southern slavery and prostitution.

Costner’s two high-profile roles couldn’t be more different, and I’ll admit to being drawn more to his dark side at this point in his career. After three decades in the business, he’s liberated now to play the roles that Crash Davis and Ray Kinsella wouldn’t allow him to. His character, Ace, is bound to be hated. But in a delicious way, I’m sure, that both shocks us and reminds us how much we loved Kevin Costner in the first place.

Is 2012 shaping up to be the Year of Costner? Might his role in Django Unchained actually be one to earn him his second acting Oscar nomination? Is Crash Davis the greatest Costner character, or are you partial to John Dunbar, or Eliot Ness, or Robin Hood?

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