The Natural is a 1984 sports drama. It is a film adaptation of Bernard Malamud's 1952 baseball novel of the same name, directed by Barry Levinson and starringRobert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall. The film, like the book, recounts the experiences of Roy Hobbs, an individual with great "natural" baseball talent, spanning decades of Roy's success and his suffering. It was the first film produced by TriStar Pictures.
This film was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Glenn Close), and nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress (Kim Basinger). Many of the baseball scenes were filmed in Buffalo, New York's War Memorial Stadium, built in 1937 and demolished a few years after the film was produced. Buffalo's All-High Stadium stood in for Chicago's Wrigley Field in a key scene.
Roy Hobbs is a boy who is a skilled baseball player, often playing catch with his father Ed (Alan Fudge). One day, his father suffers a fatal heart attack and drops dead near a tree on the family property. When the same tree is later struck by lightning, Hobbs considers this a sign and fashions the heart of the tree's trunk, seen glowing after the trunk is split in two by the lightning, into a bat, which he dubs "Wonderboy", carving a lightning bolt into the bat.
In 1923, a 19-year-old Hobbs (Robert Redford) is a promising pitcher who threw eight no-hitters in 1922. One night, he informs his girlfriend and neighbor, Iris (Glenn Close), that he has been called up for a try-out with the Chicago Cubs, which they celebrate by spending the night together in a barn. On the way to Chicago with his manager Sam Simpson (John Finnegan), the train stops at a carnival and Hobbs is challenged to strike out "The Whammer" (Joe Don Baker), the top hitter in the Majors (it is insinuated that The Whammer also plays for the Cubs), and Hobbs proceeds to do so. Sportswriter Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), travelling with Whammer, acts as the umpire and later draws a cartoon of the event.
Hobbs also encounters Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) on the train, a beautiful, mysterious and alluring woman, who becomes fixated on him after he strikes out Whammer and spends the evening with her having drinks and talking how he plans to be the best baseball player ever. After reaching Chicago, Bird lures Hobbs to her hotel room, asks him if he will be the 'best that ever was', to which he replies yes and shoots him in the abdomen; and then commits suicide by jumping from the hotel room window. It is later revealed that Bird, a serial killer, kills rising athletes with a silver bullet, having only days earlier murdered a star football player named Johnny Serowski, as well as an Olympic decathlete. This gunshot wound puts an apparent end to Hobbs' promising baseball career, the effect devatstates his dream and he proceeds to wander for many years afterward, sometime playing semi pro baseball - but no longer as a pitcher.
Sixteen years later, in 1939, a 35-year-old Hobbs re-emerges and is signed to the New York Knights as a hard-hitting right fielder, much to the ire of the team's manager and co-owner Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley). Pop is angered over being saddled with a "middle-aged" rookie and does not play him, or even let him practice with the team. After sitting on the bench for a number of weeks while the team slump continues, Pop tells Hobbs that he is sending him down to the Minors to play Class B ball. An argument ensues, with Hobbs telling Pop that it took him 16 years to get to the majors and that he wouldn't go down. Eventually Pop gives in and allows Hobbs to take batting practice the next day. There, Hobbs shows his hitting ability with Wonderboy, hitting every pitch from the team's starting ace Al Fowler into the Knights Field stands for a home run.
During the next game, the team's star player, right fielder "Bump" Bailey (Michael Madsen), angers Pops after causing the center fielder to drop a catch, and Pop sends Hobbs in to pinch hit for his first start in the majors, telling him to "Knock the cover off the ball". After taking a first-pitch strike, Hobbs literally does just that, knocking the cover off the baseball and winning the game just as lightning strikes in the sky above the stadium, signalling the start of a heavy downpour. The next day, Iris, now living in Chicago, learns of his presence in the Majors during a movie newreel. Bump sees that his position is in jeopardy since he and Hobbs both play right field. He later dies after crashing through an outfield fence. Hobbs then becomes the league's sensation by turning the Knights' fortunes around, which is shown in vignettes of newspaper articles detailing the games.
Hobbs' success prompts Mercy to try harder to unearth his background since he feels he's seen him before, but can't finger exactly where or when. Later, Hobbs is summoned to a meeting with the principal owner of the team, The Judge (Robert Prosky). The Judge has an agreement with Pop that if the Knights fail to win the pennant at the end of the season, Pop's share of the team reverts to the Judge. However, if they win, Pop can buy his and the judges shares back- winner take all. To ensure the team loses, the Judge had the team's chief scout stock the roster with unknown players like Hobbs. When Hobbs refuses a bribe to throw the season, gambler Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) and the Judge devise a plan to manipulate him though Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), a mersmerising blonde and also Pop's niece as well as Bump's girlfriend until his death. She is also on Gus' payroll who uses her to further his manipulation of players to affect outcomes for betting purposes.
At the end of a Knights practice, one of Hobbs' teammates, Boone (Mike Starr), asks him to pitch him one, telling him that he wanted to hit it into the stands. Hobbs sends down a fastball that sticks in the cage netting, much to the surprise of his teammates, who knew nothing of his past as an incredible left-handed pitcher. Mercy, watching practice from the stands and seeing the pitch, finally remembers where he had seen Hobbs before. Later, after showing Hobbs the drawing he had done of him striking out The Whammer in 1923, Mercy introduces Hobbs to Gus and Memo. Although she is his niece, Pop tells Hobbs that be believes that Memo is "bad luck" and that bad luck has a way of rubbing off on others, but they begin a relationship and Hobbs soon falls into a playing slump.
At Wrigley Field in Chicago against the Cubs, Hobbs comes to bat having already struck out twice in the game. Iris, having watched his first two at-bats fail, stands up so he can see her. Hobbs promptly hits the game-winning home run, causing the ball to shatter the scoreboard clock. Hobbs makes his way to her as quickly as he can after the game and they have a quick talk at her favorite soda shop. As she hurries off into a cab, he pleads for her to come to the next day's game, but she is noncommittal. The press then dubs Iris "The Lady in White" and lands her picture on the front page of the paper along with Hobbs, prompting panic from Gus and Memo--so much that Memo calls to tell him she misses him and taunts him with visions of what they will do once together again. Hobbs hangs up, but Memo, pretending he is still on the phone, says, "I love you, too". Gus asks if she is still playing a game, and she assures him that she is. After the game the following day, Iris is waiting for Roy and he asks her if they can go for a walk. Hobbs confides to her about the shooting and how he lost his way in life. As they talk at her apartment, Hobbs sees a glove and ball, which prompts Iris to reveal that she has a son whose father lives in New York. They hug before he leaves for his train.
With Hobbs hitting again, the Knights surge into first place, needing just one more win to clinch the pennant. Hobbs again refuses a payoff from Gus to throw the game and it's revealed that Bump was the person they were paying off to lose previously. During a party at Memo's new apartment (paid for by Gus), she feeds him tainted food which causes him to collapse and be rushed to the hospital. By the time he awakens in the maternity ward (due to overcrowding), the Knights have lost their last three games, forcing them to a one-game playoff against the Pittsburgh Pirates. When his doctor arrives, he informs him that the silver bullet from the shooting has been eating away the lining of his stomach, meaning it could burst at any time and kill him instantly. Memo visits after finding out that he can't play due to his health and is surprised to find he wants to anyway. She then asks him not to so they can run away together with money that Gus gives them so they can buy into a business and be well off. After a visit by his teammates, Hobbs awakens to The Judge in his room, holding a briefcase. The Judge offers him double what he was paying Bump: twenty thousand dollars. When Hobbs again declines, he reveals the crime scene pictures from the Harriet Bird shooting, showing that Max had put all the pieces together. During the attempted bribe, The Judge admits that there is another player that has been paid off and that no matter what Hobbs does, the Knights will lose. The last person to see Hobbs before he is released is Iris. He is feeling dejected that what has kept him from playing all this time might finally take it away now that he's reached where he's wanted to be. He blames himself, not Harriet, for failing to achieve his full potential, but Iris insists he is a great player and he had no clue that simply getting to know an interesting woman would hurt him this much.
Before the playoff game, Hobbs visits The Judge in his office to return the bribe. The Judge reacts with disbelief that he'd still play knowing that the crime scene pictures have come to light. Memo responds in anger by picking up a gun and shooting it at his feet while screaming at Hobbs how much she hates him for ruining their perfect ending. Gus calls him a washed up loser who was less than he'd given him credit for. Roy then heads out to the locker room to prepare for the game, catching Pop talking about how much he wanted to win the pennant. He then reveals his presence and that he intends to help Pop win. During the game after giving up a 2-run homer in the 4th, Hobbs realizes that the Knights' starting pitcher Fowler is the player the Judge bribed. Hobbs confronts him on the mound, telling him not to throw the game. Fowler replies he will start pitching when Hobbs starts hitting. Iris, in the stands with her son, asks an usher to deliver a note to Hobbs. It finally conveys what Iris has been struggling to tell Hobbs since they reconnected: that her son is his from the night they spent together before he left for Chicago. Once he reads the notes, he's shocked and looks up into the stands, but can't find them.
The Knights are trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the 9th and Hobbs comes up to bat with two outs and runners on first and third. After opening with two balls, the Pirates take their starting pitcher Youngberry out of the game despite being on a 3-hit shutout. They bring in a young, left handed Nebraskan farm boy named John Rhoades who, like Hobbs had been in his youth, was a highly touted prospect with a blazing fastball. Down to his last strike, Hobbs hits a foul ball so hard it splinters the Wonderboy in two. He then turns to the bat boy, Bobby and asks him to pick him out a winner. He returns with the "Savoy Special", the bat that Hobbs helped him to make. Hobbs then hits a homer into the lights on top of the right field stands, which wins them the pennant. He then runs the bases under the showering lights as his team rejoices.
The screen fades to a wheat field on the family farm that Iris had told Hobbs she still owned and would never get rid of, with Hobbs playing catch with his son as Iris looks on, echoing the opening scene with Hobbs and his own father at the start of the film.
- Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs
- Robert Duvall as Max Mercy
- Glenn Close as Iris Gaines
- Kim Basinger as Memo Paris
- Wilford Brimley as Pop Fisher
- Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird
- Robert Prosky as The Judge
- Richard Farnsworth as Red Blow
- Joe Don Baker as "The Whammer"
- Darren McGavin as Gus Sands
- Michael Madsen as Bartholomew "Bump" Bailey
- John Finnegan as Sam Simpson
- Alan Fudge as Ed Hobbs
- Ken Grassano as Al Fowler
- Mike Starr as Boone
- Mickey Treanor as Doc Dizzy
- Jon Van Ness as John Olsen
- Anthony J. Ferrara as Coach Wilson
- George Wilkosz as Bobby Savoy
- Paul Sullivan Jr. as Young Roy
- Rachel Hall as Young Iris