Baseball in the Movies – “The Natural” (Mike Pusateri - You Can't Be Serious)

Our second Guest post comes from frequent commenter Mike Pusateri — aka YouCannotBeSerious. He has some fun Monday morning reflections on a classic movie.

Of all the great baseball movies out there, for me, “The Natural” stands alone. It has good guys, bad guys, sex, gambling, Kim Basinger, that guy from “A Christmas Story,” and even some Cubs references. So I do not come to this conclusion lightly when I say, “Pop Fisher sucked as a Manager.”

 
Look, I realize criticizing Pop Fisher is like criticizing a cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer’s day. And don’t get me wrong, I love Pop and I love Wilfred Brimley. He’s America’s grandpa.  It’s just that, lovable as he was, Pop was a complete baseball moron.
 
Read on…
 
“The Natural” follows the mythical career of Roy Hobbs who played one partial season for the New York Knights, managed by Pop, in 1939. The pre-Hobbsian Knights were the most awful team in baseball. We’re talking like the 2012 Chicago Cubs kinda awful.
 
Pop co-owns the Knights with “The Judge” (Was he really a judge? We’re never quite sure) and in our first clue that Pop is, well, an idiot, we learn he’s made an agreement to sell his share of the team if the Knights fail to win the pennant in 1939. Got that? Pretend you own a share of the Cubs and in 2012 Tom Ricketts approaches you with the same deal. Sound like a good idea to you? If so, Pop’s your guy.
 
Now Pop has granted his trusty scout, Scotty Carson, the authority to sign anybody he wants. We also come to learn that Scotty Carson is working for The Judge. Or is he? This business of whether Scotty Carson was working for Pop or The Judge has bothered me for 30 years. In any event, if you grant only one scout full signing authority, you may want to pick a guy not quite so friendly with your evil, conniving, co-owner who’s trying to screw you. Eh Pop?
 
The team Pop has assembled, and in fairness I can’t really blame him for this one, is perhaps the worst looking bunch of players in the history of fictional baseball movies. The actors in the film, and I’m an actor myself so I say this with a great deal of empathy, were not good ballplayers. I mean, did you watch these fundamentally unsound, misshapen guys in the field? It’s almost as if the Casting Director said, ‘Oh you seem athletic, you played a little shortstop in high school you say? Yeah we can’t use you. Now you there, you look like you’ve won a few pie eating contests in your day. Second base.’
 
Back to Pop…
 
As a Manager, it’s Pop’s job to assemble a deep team of top assistants. The Knight’s 1939 assistant coaching staff consists of one guy. Yes, one. Red. A likeable, grizzled guy who thinks Italian food eats good even though he can’t spell it.
 
Next, displaying his keen eye for talent, Pop’s reaction upon seeing Roy Hobbs for the first time is to tell him to retire (#facepalm).You see Hobbs was 35 years old, but was played by the then 75 year old Robert Redford. In those days, 35 was old for a ballplayer. Today, 35 means you’re just two years removed from signing a 4-year, $75 million contract with the Padres. Perhaps Pop had a point on this one…
 
The Knights have only one good everyday player, right fielder, Bumb Bailey. Bump also happens to be having a terrible season, and this could be because he’s friendly with gamblers close to The Judge. Ever astute, seemingly none of this bothers Pop.
 
Anyway, Hobbs announces he plays right field and Pop is so vexed by the mind bending dilemma of having two guys that can play the same outfield position that he vows never to play him! Ever. Not only that, he bans Roy from taking batting practice.
 
Beginning to see my point about Pop?
 
And lest you think Pop is some master psychologist just trying to ease Roy into the majors, his next bright idea is to hire a shrink to tell the Knights that losing is disease. Hobbs has been waiting for a chance at the majors for 16 years and now even he’s ready to quit after this shrink shows up so Pop finally decides to give him a chance. No, not in a game. Just batting practice, where Hobbs proceeds to hit like 85 homeruns in a row.
 
At last Pop is impressed! With Wonderboy. He takes hold of the bat, looks Roy straight in the eye and says, “If it measures up to specifications we’ll let you use it.” Then he tells Hobbs to go shag some flies.
 
What a Coach…
 
Pop then keeps Roy on the bench to start the next game. Will this ever end? Maybe so, because against Philly, in a game in which Bump was dogging it again, Pop puts in Hobbs to pinch hit for him. This is where Hobbs famously hits the cover off the ball; and Pop rewards him by keeping Roy on the bench to start the next game. Yes, Seriously. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. You wonder if this will go on forever until thankfully, Bump dies in a tragic fly ball accident finally allowing Hobbs to takeover right field.
 
To recap, Roy Hobbs, ‘The Natural,’ shows up at the end of May, yet his first start with the Knights isn’t until July 24. Teddy KGB must’ve had Pop in mind when he said, “Baaad judddggmint.”
 
Hobbs is unstoppable for a while until he suddenly hits the worst slump in the history of baseball movies. Why? Because he’s dating Memo, who of course, is Pop’s niece. Look, Pop ain’t making it easy on himself but he sure can’t catch a break either.
 
This goes on until finally Roy sees his childhood sweetheart played by Glenn Close (or was it Meryl Streep? After all this time why am I STILL confusing them? This shouldn’t happen) at Wrigley Field.
 
There’s your Cubs connect.
 
The next day, Hobbs hits four home runs and naturally it has to be against the Cubs right? We don’t know who was on the mound for the Cubs that day, I’m guessing it wasn’t Dizzy Dean, but it’d be ironic if it was Charlie Root. Root faced Babe Ruth when he hit his mythical ‘called shot’ and it’d be a damn shame if he was also on the mound when the mythical Roy Hobbs hit four home runs. It could qualify as the first ever “Cubbie Occurrence.”
 
The story continues and if you watched the rest of the movie you know how it ends. Unless of course you only read the book then you think it ends differently. Either way by now I hope you’ll agree with me on this.
 
Pop Fisher was a terrible Manager…

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  • Who's on first?

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    That's one of my favorite baseball movies.

  • In reply to Brian Steiner:

    How do you write this without mentioning Eddie Waitkus the former Cub first baseman traded to the
    Phillies who was shot by a basebasll groupie in a Chicago hotel. effectively ending his career. It should be noted the Bernard Malamud Published "The Natural" before this event occured in 1952. I think. The book was published in 1948..

  • Never saw a baseball movie I enjoyed as much as a game. Unscripted action is true drama.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    "bang the drum slowly" was the only baseball movie Ive ever watched, unless you include the "bad News bears".

  • For us old timers, try watching "It Happens Every Spring" with Ray Milland.

  • I'm 57 years old. Never have seen the movie. Thanks a lot, you spoiled it for me.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    You've only had 31 yrs to watch it.

  • In reply to copinblue:

    I was just about to rent the tape from Blockbuster.

  • In reply to Oneear:

    The LaserDisc is a far clearer picture.

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    In reply to Oneear:

    Just recently saw bang the drum or something like that w Robert Deniro and I thought it was a pretty good movie. Lot of young actors in there who became stars or at least stayed in the industry awhile.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Micheal Moriorty and Deniro. Yeah, good movie.

  • For me the worst thing about the film was, when he was doin' the bad dame he suddenly couldn't hit. That's not how it goes.

  • The relationship between The Natural and the real world of baseball is problematic. The pointy-headed academic literary critics pretty much all agree that it's not about baseball, but rather its about myth and reality, and that baseball is setting because, well, baseball players have a tendency to become mythic heroes to their fans. If you Google it you can wade into some of those discussions (but academic papers usually are not accessible).

    The movie glosses over much of that and that's why its one of my favorite baseball movies, but not because it accurately reflects the actual game.

  • In reply to TheThinBlueLine:

    Check out (if you have not already) For the Love of the Game w/ Kevin Costner. My favorite baseball movie.

  • I had to double check...thought I clicked into an old Siskel column.

  • I did my PhD thesis on the Kantian dialectic as played out in The Bad News Bears.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    All about dealing with Kant sequences.

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    In reply to wastrel:

    Ugh.

    Go to your room.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Kant sequences equals Cubbie occurrance?

  • In reply to wastrel:

    I did "Show and Tell" on the Hegelian Dialectic in the 4th grade. I was burned out on "dialectic" by the time I graduated. Not only that but no one came to my birthday party!

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Is that why you chose "wastrel"?

    I kid, I kid. I'm not one to talk. You should hear what my (unfinished) Ph.D dissertation topic was.

  • I like The Natural, too.
    Never really thought about it all that deeply.

  • In reply to hoffpauir6:

    That's how one should enjoy all movies!

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    whoever's moderating today - can you please free my comment from the filter?

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    John
    Have you finished your move? A new member of the hated Cub fans of Arizona ?

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    The Rookie. The scene where he's in the bullpen holding his wife's hand before the first major league game - I always get a speck of dust in my eye when I see that.

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    It was Glenn Close and yes Pop Fisher was a lousy coach. I think he was a modeled after the "college of coaches".

  • Lets be honest, as Mark Grace would tell you, Glen Close was a slumpbuster.
    No truth to the rumor Edwin was on the mound that 4 dinger day.
    I thought the movie actually showed how random baseball can be. Front office can be screwed up to the hilt, but you get some guys that go off and have career years, crazy things can happen.
    And being serious, that scene in the bathroom where Pop tells Roy, his Dad wanted him to be a farmer is one of my all time favorites. It brilliantly shows the love for the game they both have.

    The novel is actually quite different from the script of the film, and some find it more interesting. In the book, Hobbs is actually throwing the final game for money. He has an epiphany during the game, and realizes how he is soiling the game and his talent. In his final at bat with the game on the line, he strikes out. But he was trying to hit a home run in this final at bat, and for the first time in his life, even though he failed, Roy was doing things the right way. He is later exposed and banned from the game. Not exactly a Hollywood ending.

  • I read the book long before the movie came out. First, the book was set in the present day, around 1950 at the time, not 1939. And the ending was a downer. This was one of the few instances when the movie was better than the book. My favorite all time baseball movie.

    There's also a Cubs connection with the shrink. PK Wrigley hired a shrink to lecture the Cubs sometime in the late 30s or early 40s.

  • Breaking news....Baez sent to AAA along with Russell and Bryant.

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    In reply to stv711:

    Yea well not much of a surprise there.

    Although I am glad Javy gets to go down to AAA so he can get a lot of at bats. I pretty sure Maddon rather have him w the team, but the best thing for his development it to get his swag back even if it's feasting on AAA pitchers. It's been Prob over 9 months since Javy has been Javy ( feasting on mistakes and hitting 5-6 bombs a week )

    Hope Bryant comes up before May.

    Congrats to Tommy Lastella and Mike Olt as they are now virtual locks.

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    The title of the shrink's lecture in the late 30s or early 40s? How To Deal With Unparalleled Upcoming Decades Of Futility.

    As for The Natural... The book is more interesting and that story probably would have been made into a film in the 70s when anti-heroes' stories were told far more. I love Randy Newman's satirical songs but his music in The Natural puts even John Williams to shame in the wall-to-wall over-the-top treacly movie score department. The movie is total schmaltz pretending to be something more serious.

  • Eddie Waitkus anyone?

  • Anyone interested in Bryant and Baez being sent down?

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Nothing unexpected. See you soon, Kris. Get to work, Javy.

  • My favorite movie of all-time. Still tear up a bit at the end every time I see it.

  • True fact: Super Joe Charboneau was one of the Knights.

  • YOu cant be, Im going to change the pitcher from Charlie Root to Lon Warneke. Charlie wasnt pitching in 1939.

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Actually, Charlie Root was 8-8 with a 4.03 ERA in 1939. According to Baseball Reference, he was a 2 WAR player for the Cubs that season.

    The Cubs weren't bad that season (for the Cubs), at 84-70...

  • In reply to TheSinisterUrge:

    Sorry, but UR correct. Charlie was with the Cubs thru 1941.

  • There is a little part of me, when I heard that Maddon had brought in a sports psychologist, that I wondered if his speeches began with, "Losing is a disease..."

    I love the movie, but you have a great point with the actual baseball being played. Fowler is apparently a good pitcher, but doesn't look like he could throw harder than 40mph. I also have to admit it has always bugged me that you can't make room for two stars on that team, just because they played the same position.

    Still, there's a scene in the hospital that always gets me. He's talking to Glenn Close about the game, and his dad, and says, "I wish my dad...God, I love baseball."

    For anybody who's love of the game was passed down to them by their father, and who has lost him, that scene has got to get you somehow. For many, love of baseball and father are one and the same. Great movie, and agree that it's one of the few movies that is better than the book.

  • It hurts doesn't it? Your hopes dashed, your dreams down the toilet. And your fate is sitting right beside you.

  • In reply to bwitty:

    Ha! Appreciate you adding to the Teddy KGB reference. Well done.

  • I'm appreciative of all the comments guys. I haven't been on the boards and didn't even realize this was going to be posted today (or yesterday I guess).

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    In reply to YouCannotBeSerious:

    We probably should have told you. Sorry about that.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    It's all good Mike. No worries.

  • "The Natural" is a lights out baseball movie, especially when Roy knocked the lights out!

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