Overrated – The Natural

Ned Bitters

Ned Bitters

This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … The Natural.

I love baseball. I spend $150 on the MLB Extra Innings cable package every year. I go to 5-10 games in four or five different cities each season. My shitass team is in the midst of the longest string of losing seasons in the sport’s history, and still I watch almost every game, and even more pathetically, still care. At 46, I still try on baseball gloves at sports stores. The baseball playoffs in October are my March Madness.

So, I should love the movie The Natural, which, like Rudy and Remember the Titans, is probably showing on one of your cable channels right now. But I don’t love it. Oh, I enjoy it, but it contains too many goofy elements that keep it from achieving classic-sports-movie status.

It’s not that I’m against fantasy and cheap emotion. I get goosebumps five or six times when I watch Field of Dreams. James Earl Jones’s “People will come” speech gives me chills every time. (Although I have to admit that the last scene, the father-son game of catch, is a bit hammy. In my ending, when Kevin Costner asks, “Dad, wanna have a catch?” his old man would respond, without even looking up, “No, I’m too damn busy” and then just walk off. Hey Kinsella, your dad still owns you, bitch!)

But The Natural just misfires too many times. Let me attempt to kill some of the enjoyment you might get out of this overrated schmaltz-fest:

  • Why do we hold Mr. Mom-Baseball-and-Apple Pie in such high esteem? He leaves his loving, loyal girlfriend behind, and within a day or two he’s trying to bang some batshit crazy baseball groupie he met on a train. Don’t tell me about his small-town innocence. He’s already been tapping his doe-eyed farmgirl for months. The dude just wanted fresh pussy. Nothing wrong with that. He was a horny young stud. Yet we’re manipulated into seeing him as duped by the evil temptress. Bullshit. If that chick is unarmed, Hobbs is going to be treating her like a three-dollar Bowery whore.
  • Mr. Wonderful couldnt’t even bother to use a condom when he was banging the smalltown girl he knew he’d be blowing town on first chance he got. He impregnates the sweet girl who loves him, then bolts for the bigtime. Had she known single parenthood was in her future, I’m sure the jilted young lady would much rather have taken a Hobbs gob down the gullet rather than be a 19-year-old burdened with a blond bastard kid, no provider and stretch marks.
  • Robert Redford was almost 50 when he made this movie. He was in great shape for a man his age, but come on, that face was craggier than Lincoln’s. They had to filter the camera lens to the point where half the movie looked like a dream sequence. Yet I’m supposed to believe he was in his late 30’s and still able to turn on the inside heat? Surely they could have found an actor with a younger face. You know, like Nick Nolte or Gary Busey.
  • Redford was too skinny to be a power hitter. Sure, the “splendid splinter” Ted Williams hit over 500 homeruns, and thin as rails Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks blasted almost 1300 dingers between them, but Redford’s twiggy limbs and chicken neck make that Ruthian power too implausible.
  • Throughout the movie, we’re manipulated into feeling sorry for the old coot who missed out on a Hall of Fame career due to a lead love letter courtesy of the luscious loon he might have banged. Yeah, sure. I feel so sorry for poor ol’ Roy Hobbs, who got to bang a young Glenn Close (with no rubber, mind you), a hot baseball Mollie (who you know was as crazy in the sack as she was in her head) and Kim Basinger (still in her prime, good god). If any baseball character deserves our poon sympathy, it’s Ray Kinsella, who somehow had to work up a stiff one for that shrieking shrew of a wife. Yeesh.
  • Hobbs is also supposed to be appear nearly destitute when Darren McGavin’s Gus Sands predicts that he’s got “ten bucks” in his pockets. Viewers think, “Awww … poor guy, out rolling with the bigtimers and trying to nail expensive snatch with only 10 dollars in his pockets.” Well, a little check of Westegg.com’s inflation calculator shows that 10 bucks in 1937 is worth about $143 today. Do you have 143 bucks in your pocket right now? Will you have that much cash when you go out tonight? Dude was doing all right in the scratch department considering it was the tail end of the Depression.
  • Wilford Brimleys’ put-upon manager isn’t worth feeling sorry for either. He whines incessantly about never having won a pennant. Hey there, coach … yeah, you … the one with the Don Zimmer physique and the Bill Parcells personality. Maybe you’d win more games if you didn’t sit around playing Name That Shitty Tune with your coach and if you’d give new players a real look instead of benching their asses just to spite your owner. You couldn’t motivate an Eskimo to wear mittens. You should have stuck to farming like your old man wanted you to. No wonder you’re 130 years old and still chasing that first pennant.
  • Why is tenacious reporter Max Mercy so villainized? The man works harder than any reporter this side of ESPN’s John Clayton, but we see him as some sort of ink-stained satan whose main sin is the pursuit of the truth. Would that Max Mercy was on the White House beat in the days leading up the Iraq War.
  • While we’re busy pulling for pussy-hound Hobbs and the dimwitted manager, where’s the love for the poor third baseman who makes the crucial 9th inning error in the final game? The Angels’ Donnie Moore eventually shot himself after blowing the 1986 pennant by giving up that two-out, three-run tater to Boston’s Steve Henderson. But this poor bastard boots an easy grounder which blows the pennant, and all we care about is whether Mr. Selfish can win the big one for the retarded manager.
  • And speaking of retards, what’s up with that batboy? He doesn’t belong in the on-deck ring. He belongs in the center ring of a traveling freak show.

So let’s ease up on praising The Natural. It’s not an awful movie. It certainly has its moments. But too many elements misfire and distract me from getting lost in the story. Instead, I just get lost in the cavernous valley’s of Redford’s craggy face.

Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at teacherslounge@hobotrashcan.com.

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