This movie should work for me.
It’s about baseball, and I love baseball. It stars Robert Redford, and I think he’s generally terrific. It co-stars Glenn Close, who is always the best part of any movie she is in (I saw her on Broadway in Sunset Boulevard a few years ago, and she was absolutely brilliant). Robert Duval is in it. Kim Basinger is in it. The Old Man from A Christmas Story is in it.
It’s artistically shot. It has a moral. It is dripping with sports magic.
But to me, it’s kind of just…how do the kids describe it now?…
And that’s probably because I just never get all heartsick and emotional for the story of poor old Roy Hobbs.
So, here’s the deal with Hobbs:
- He learns the game from his father, who dies of a heart attack near an old tree on the family homestead.
- Lighting later strikes that tree, and Hobbs decides to honor his father, I guess, by making a bat from the wood. “Wonderboy” is born.
- Roy’s longtime, loving girlfriend Iris stays in Nebraska while he heads to Chicago for a tryout with the Cubs. On the way, he meets the movie’s Babe Ruth character, a slugger named “The Whammer,” who is bonded at the hip with another typical baseball movie character of the past, the sports-writer sycophant Max Mercy. Somehow, Hobbs and Whammer make a bet that Hobbs can’t strike him out.
- Hobbs, of course, strikes out Whammer, catching the eye of a fetching young lady named Harriet Bird.
- They finish the train ride to Chicago. Harriet invites Hobbs to her hotel room and…plot twist…shoots him in the stomach before taking her own life. (Never understood that part, because evidently getting up close and personal with baseball’s best was evidently Harriet’s game. But I guess Hobbs ruined all other ballplayers on her.)
- A decade or so later, Hobbs resurfaces and signs a contract with the last-place New York Knights.
- Hobbs can still really play. He knocks the cover off the ball. He takes the starting spot from Bump Bailey. He becomes the best player crotchety manager Pop Fisher has ever seen. Hobbs is still using Wonderboy.
- At the height of his success, Hobbs hooks up with another half-his-age vixen, the sultry Memo Paris (played by Basinger). It’s clear she’s attempting to get him on board with a plan by team co-owner The Judge to steal full ownership from Fisher, who is somehow co-manager/co-owner.
- Hobbs predictably starts to struggle, consumed more by Memo than the game.
- Iris returns. Roy notices her in the stands during a game, and suddenly, he gets his swing back. They go out to dinner, to catch up. Hobbs talks about himself and leaves out the part of his life story where the crazed groupie shot him a couple days after he last kissed her goodbye before that trip to Wrigley. Later, Iris mentions that she is in New York because her son’s father lives there. An oblivious Hobbs never wonders if he is the father.
- Did I mention Max Mercy, The Whammer’s sportswriter friend, is now covering the Knights beat? Well, he is, and the players hate him because he delves into personal lives. He remembers Hobbs from somewhere, but can’t quite place him. Eventually, he figures it out and, evidently, reports it to The Judge.
- Hobbs is having some health problems related to the old bullet wound. He collapses at a party. It’s a silver bullet, which if he was Teen Wolf would have meant certain death. Instead, it’s causing potentially fatal effects even after doctors removed it. The only way to live: Stop playing baseball.
- Hobbs can’t stop, won’t stop, even after The Judge threatens to expose his past. He returns to the team for a one-game playoff against Pittsburgh. Win, and Pop gets to keep his ownership stake in the team. Iris is at the game and sends a note to the dugout letting Hobbs know he is the father of her son. Roy homers to win it.
Look, we all make mistakes. We’re human. Hobbs couldn’t outrun his, and I guess that’s what the movie was about. There’s a fine line between legend and also-ran, between success and failure. Hobbs walked that his whole career. We all do.
I just wish he wasn’t such a jerk to Iris.
At the end, I think that’s why I just didn’t ever get into this one. Hobbs was kind of a shady character who was kinda, sorta sorry for everything that happened in the past, but didn’t really learn from it for a key part of his time with the Knights.
Plus, I didn’t buy him as “a natural,” which is important to do because it’s the title of the movie, and because it’s the only way a guy who looked to be in his early-40s (Redford was 47 when the movie was released) could sell himself as a big leaguer. He threw OK. His swing was OK. He was no natural, though. Nor was he a great guy necessarily deserving of redemption.
Although, despite it all, this was pretty cool…
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT