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.
“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…