Sports Cinema: The Natural

Note: Before beginning this article, it’s highly recommended that, for full effect, you listen to this on repeat while you read this article.

When the 2012 Academy Awards began with the montage of great, epic movie moments, there was a shot of the final at-bat from The Natural. My friend Travis, another lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, gasped in that “Of-course-you-have-to-include-that-moment” kind of way, and exhorted, “Roy Hobbs.”  This movie has that kind of magic.

Part of what makes baseball and the movies such soul mates is the mythology of baseball. No other sport’s history is as rich or as long. Until the recent steroids scandal-ridden era in which American sports fans have also demand sports better suited to a hyperactive, instant pleasure audience, baseball was king. Because of this, so many of our larger-than-life sports heroes are baseball players. Babe Ruth (The Sultan of Swat! The Great Bambino! The King of Crash! The Colossus of Clout!). Hank Aaron. Jackie Robinson. Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio.  Ty Cobb. Willy Mays. Stan Musial. Roger Hornsby. Lou Gehrig. Bob Gibson. The list could go on and on.

In the 1920s, when radio first brought sports stars to everyone’s home, Babe Ruth became the biggest nationwide celebrity. Since then, the history of baseball has slowly turned to mythology. Stories get exaggerated. Anecdotes define players. And these stories and myths define the game for a century of youngsters playing in backyards, sandlots, and public parks. For so many of us, baseball is the mystique, magic, and myth that surrounds it.

So it’s no wonder that one of the most famous American sports films of all time is The Natural. Bill Simmons has even gone so far to say that any “Best Sports Movie List” that doesn’t include Hoosiers or The Natural as #1 shouldn’t even count. The cast is timeless.

Robert Redford. Kim Basinger. Glenn Close. Robert Duvall. Wilford Brimley. Barbara Hershey. Michael Madsen.

Hollywood’s best.

In the midst of the 1980s, it’s a tale spanning decades.  It’s about the light sides and dark sides of the American Dream.  It’s about success and failure.  It’s about life, love, and the pursuit of a legacy. But, at its core, what makes it great, is that it is about baseball.  Once again, baseball captures everything there is about life. And this movie is timeless, because it speaks to the game in the midst of scandal, fixes, corruption, and cheating. But the game stands above that. Roy Hobbs fights to defeat that.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I want to spoil very little plot here, because you need to see it. And even The Onion admits that it’s on TV all the time, so it shouldn’t be difficult for you to find it.  And if not, the entire movie is on YouTube.  So you have no excuse.

But if you’re a fan, the movie that borrows heavily from Homer’s Odyssey and Greek mythology no doubt captivates your memories, bringing a smile to your face as you think of classic scene after classic scene.

From the beginning when Roy Hobbs, before his career even begins, strikes out The Whammer.

To his first at-bat and first batting practice upon his return to the game.

And even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ve probably seen parts of this scene, one of the best ever in sports movie history and, probably, American cinematic history.

Even without the resonation of classic Greek mythology characters, themes, and motifs throughout, The Natural stands alone as a portrait of American history and one of the most perceptive portrayals of the pursuit of the American dream. Professional life vs. family life. Desire to succeed vs. fame. Longing for love vs. overwhelming lust. Taking the easy road vs. doing what’s right. Overcoming obstacles. Comeback story. Media obsession. Dealing with old age and loss of power.

Amongst it all, it’s a story about baseball and a man named Roy Hobbs. Based off of an array of real-life stories as compiled in a novel, it’s a film that is above all of its sources.  Because, when watching The Natural, you’re neither completely losing yourself in a completely mythological world nor are you brutally facing the realities of everyday life.  There’s just enough of both.  By watching the myth, you’re also reflecting on yourself and your place in a country that makes and tears down its superstars day in and day out. But at the end, legacies exist.

We will all have the statistics we earned and the families we made.  We all want to be known as the greatest.  We live and we learn.  We make mistakes and we pay for them. But, if we keep picking ourselves up and show up every day to our jobs, our families, and our friends, that may be where the legacy is truly made.

Sports Cinema – Top 9 Quotes from The Natural (in honor of our hero’s number)

1) Pop Fisher: Batting practice tomorrow, be there!
Roy Hobbs: I have been. Every day.

2) Roy Hobbs: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.

Iris Gaines: And then?

Roy Hobbs: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would’ve looked and they would’ve said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.

3) Iris Gaines: You know, I believe we have two lives.

Roy Hobbs: How… what do you mean?

Iris Gaines: The life we learn with and the life we live with after that.

4) Roy Hobbs: I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.

5) Ed Hobbs: You’ve got a gift Roy… but it’s not enough – you’ve got to develop yourself. If you rely too much on your own gift… then… you’ll fail.

6) Roy Hobbs: Pick me out a winner Bobby.

7) Roy Hobbs: The only thing I know about the dark is you can’t see in it.

8) Gus Sands: If it isn’t enough, tell us what you had in mind.

Roy Hobbs: To hit away.

9) Pop Fisher: C’mon Hobbs, knock the cover off the ball!





Posted on by Joseph Williams in Baseball, Featured, Movies, Sports

One Response to Sports Cinema: The Natural

  1. Pingback: Exclusive Interview with TN State Sen. Jim Tracy Running for U.S. Congress | The Wise Guise

Add a Comment