The Natural

The Natural is 1984 drama distributed by TriStar Pictures.  Some of its stars include Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, Glenn Close as Iris Gaines, Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher, Robert Duvall as Max Mercy, and Kim Basinger as Memo Paris.  The producers are Philip M. Breen (Judith), Robert F. Colesberry (Mississippi Burning), Mark Johnson (The Notebook), and Roger Towne (TV movie In the Company of Spies).  The director is Barry Levinson (Good Morning, Vietnam).

The story focuses on a young up-and-coming baseball player named Roy Hobbs.  He is on a train to Chicago where he will try out for the Cubs.  Along the way, the train stops at a carnival where Roy is challenged to strike out “The Whammer”, the best hitter in the majors, on just three pitches.  After he succeeds, a young mysterious woman named Harriet Byrd introduces herself to young Hobbs.  He takes an immediate liking to her before she excuses herself for the night.  Later on after the train arrives in Chicago, Roy is called upon by Harriet to come to her room where she shoots him in the stomach before jumping to her own death.  Sixteen years later, a fictional National League team known as the New York Knights signs a 35-year-old Hobbs.  Pop Fisher, manager and co-owner of the team, is upset that his partner went over his head and signed such an old rookie.  He refuses to play Hobbs or even let him practice with the team.  After a few games, Pop informs Roy that he is being sent down to the minors.  The aging outfielder refuses, saying that he was never even allowed to practice.  Pop, impressed by Roy’s relentlessness, allows him to participate in batting practice the next day.  During practice, Hobbs keeps hitting ball after ball into the stands.  After Bump Bailey shows his lack of effort in the field one game, Pop Fisher decides to pinch hit Roy for him.  He tells him to knock the stuffing out of the ball and Hobbs does exactly that, providing the game-winning hit.  Pop tells Bailey that if he doesn’t get his act together, he will be replaced by Roy.  The next game Bailey plays his heart out until he runs head first into the outfield wall and dies.  Hobbs is now the everyday right fielder for the New York Knights.  He immediately has an impact on the struggling team and it gets on a winning streak.  One of Fisher’s assistant coaches, Red Blow, tells Roy of Pop’s history with the team and how if he doesn’t win a pennant this season the Judge, who is the majority shareholder in the team, will buy Pop’s share of the team and he will be out of the organization.  If he does win, Pop buys the Judge’s share and he is out.  The Judge had signed Hobbs as part of a sabotage attempt to keep the team out of contention and, thus, take over the team.

In The Natural, we do see a darker side of baseball that was ever present at that time, especially during the Black Sox Scandal of 1919.  While today we have problems with players taking steroids, back then baseball had problems with gambling.  Many greedy individuals saw baseball only as a means to make money and power for themselves, not caring what it might do to the integrity of the game.  Characters like The Judge, Memo Paris, and Gus Sands are strong examples.  The Judge is out to seize total control of the team by signing a bunch of, what he believes, are untalented players to keep the Knights in the basement of the league.  Memo Paris and Gus Sands are out to make money at the team’s expense and are in league with The Judge.  But Roy Hobbs did not cooperate with them because he isn’t as greedy as they are.  At one time, The Judge offers Roy more money in the hopes that he will put in less effort and keep the team in last place.  Memo Paris, who had been seeing Bump Bailey before he was killed, is out to seduce and distract Roy from the game while she and Gus Sands continue to bet against him in every game.

If you believe in superstition, then you will find the following quite interesting.  Many professional athletes have always been superstitious.  There are two women in Roy Hobbs’ life, Memo Paris and Iris Gaines.  When Roy first starts seeing Memo, he goes on a long slump.  But after seeing his boyhood love interest Iris Gaines standing up for him at Wrigley Field, he is inspired to do well again and the slump is ended.  Thus, it could be said that Memo Paris is bad luck for Roy while Iris is good luck.

To wrap, if you are a huge fan of America’s Pastime baseball, then The Natural is your perfect movie!

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