When I think of baseball around this time of year, I am reminded of the 1984 classic The Natural. A great baseball movie featuring Robert Redford playing folk hero Roy Hobbs. A once can’t miss hot shot whose career was derailed after striking out the Whammer on three pitches. Of course, it’s supposed to be Babe Ruth. Only Hobbs strikes him out with The Babe batting right-handed. It’s still an epic scene that wins the young lefty flamethrower new fans with him tossing a signed ball to a kid who asks what’s his name to which he shouts, “Roy Hobbs!” as the train pulls away.
Unfortunately, his professional tryout gets derailed when crazed Ruth follower Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) asks Hobbs to visit her hotel room and then shoots him after he proclaims “I’ll be the best there was.”
Fast forward some 16 years later and the New York Knights managed by Pop Fisher (Wilfred Brimley) are a struggling last place outfit getting booed out of their ballpark. Star player Bump Bailey (Michael Madsen) is on the take for evil owner The Judge’s (Robert Prosky) bookie all in an attempt to sabotage the ball club in a get rich scheme. Then comes 35-year old Hobbs from the minors. After being interviewed by Pop and telling him, he got sidetracked the skipper refuses to play him figuring he was closer to retirement. He doesn’t even let him take batting practice. Eventually, Hobbs walks out during a team therapy session and gets into a heated argument with Pop. The rest is history.
Hobbs replaces Bailey in right field after he crashes through a wall attempting a catch and dies. This after Pop threatens to bench Bailey, who plays more inspired only for his character to come to a crashing end. Hobbs had pinch hit for Bailey and “knocked the cover off the ball” in a rain shortened win in which is lightened which was fitting considering his bat Wonderboy was made during a thunderstorm when he was a kid. The imagery is poetic. Symbolism is a theme throughout with Pop’s niece Memo Harris perfectly played by Kim Basinger becoming Hobbs’ girlfriend to put him into a slump.
With the beautiful distraction off the field throwing his timing off, he doesn’t get back on track until a visit at famed Wrigley Field. After striking out in his first two at bats, he comes up with two on in the ninth. After falling behind 0-2, former childhood girlfriend Iris Gaines played by Glenn Close stands up because she doesn’t want to see Hobbs fail. After stepping out due to shouts and seeing her in that beautiful white hat, he delivers by crushing the next pitch off the scoreboard. They skip ahead to Hobbs coming off the field after the Knights win to cameras flashing as he tries to track her down.
It’s my favorite scene. That’s why I featured it. Sure. You could easily point to his heroic home run which goes off the lights setting off fireworks in a dramatic walk off against the Pirates to win the pennant. But to me, the classic scene of Hobbs hitting the scoreboard at Wrigley is the signature moment. It’s the turning point as he finally breaks out of his slump and leads the Knights into first place before the evil Memo slips something in his drink and he misses the next three games which allows the Pirates to tie them for the division setting up a one game scenario for the pennant.
There’s so much scenery in this movie. From Hobbs as a teenager throwing perfect strikes in a drawn circle by his Dad to the show he puts on in batting practice which leads Pop to have his bat measured, it’s just your classic baseball film which goes back to a different era. Maybe that’s why I like the most. It’s so different from today and even 31 years ago when it came out. Even if sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall) was a jerk who also was part of The Judge’s scheme. Your classic good guy versus your classic bad guys. When is AMC gonna finally put it on again instead of repeating Back To The Future over and over again? I love BTTF and it’s the 30-year anniversary but come on. At least stop re-airing US Marshals. 😉