ME AND “THE NATURAL” (1984) – GARRY ARMSTRONG

“God, I LOVE baseball.”

It’s a line that comes up near the end of Robert Redford’s 1984 film, “The Natural.” Redford’s “Roy Hobbs” character is reflecting on the odd turns his life has taken, but he is still playing baseball, still chasing his dream. It’s a wistful, melancholy reflection because the protagonist has lost many productive years because of a bizarre and almost fatal incident.

As many of you know, I’m a life-long baseball fan with roots dating back to the late 1940’s and the Boys of Summer, the Brooklyn Dodgers.

I’ve always loved baseball!  It’s had an almost hypnotic grip on me. I fantasize about baseball the way some men day-dream about a tryst with a beautiful woman. There are only a handful of really good baseball movies. Hollywood, for some reason, hasn’t been able to get a grip on baseball. The short list of good baseball movies includes “The Natural”, “Bull Durham”, “Field of Dreams”, “Major League” (The original), “42”, “Cobb”, “A League of Their Own” and one or two I’ve forgotten.

“The Natural” and “Field of Dreams” top my list.  Some baseball purists, including a couple of Boston sports writers I know, claim those films are too hokey and sentimental. I disagree. Both films carry the lyricism of baseball. They are “print the legend” movies about America’s national pastime. Pro football is great but baseball is special, part of the fabric of our American dream.

My favorite memories, then and now, are of baseball games played during hot summer afternoons. They are languid, not long. Each at bat is drama unto itself. What will the pitcher throw? Can the batter hit the 100 mph fastball? It’s really a chess match between two teams, managers trying to out-scheme each other. I still stand and gasp when great defensive plays are made. This year’s Boston Red Sox have several gifted young players. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr, and Andrew Benentendi are capable of highlight reel plays in the blur of a second. It’s a joy to watch them play.

Field of Dreams – the Ghostfield

The long-maligned Chicago Cubs were the talk of the Nation last year when they won their first World Series in over a century. Everyone felt good for the Cubbies and their fans. It didn’t really matter that your team was on the outside looking in. Real baseball fans have a special bond. Our political leaders might take note.

The New York Yankees have their own core of talented young players.  Mother of mercy, did I just say that?  Never in the wide, wide world of sports did I think I’d watch and appreciate the dreaded Yankees. Applaud “The Pinstripes”?  Family and old friends would gasp in disbelief. The “Baby Bombers” include Aaron Judge, a giant of a young slugger who is setting the baseball world on its ear. Judge, 6’7″ or 6′ 8″ is a muscled Paul Bunyon who appears on the verge of becoming a legend as a rookie. He’s already surpassed Joe DiMaggio’s record for home runs by a rookie and we’re just past the midway mark of the season.  Aaron Judge has the looks and personality of one of those old “Wheaties” Breakfast of Champions heroes. I tune into Yankee games just to catch Judge at bat. His home runs are routinely Ruthian.  You have to be a genuine baseball fan to appreciate Aaron Judge in a Yankee uniform. He appears to be (so far) this generation’s new superstar without the baggage of arrogance or rumors of drugs.

The new generation of Yankees and Red Sox promises to fire up their long rivalry, hopefully with appreciation rather than spiteful dislike.

The Yanks visit Fenway Park in a few days for a four-game series. It promises to be exciting and fun for all. It certainly will get me away from our national political angst.

All of which brings me back to “The Natural.” I’m 75 and still have boyish dreams. Yes, some are X-rated. Men are pigs. No argument. However, most of my dreams are about baseball. I’m Roy Hobbs who is a composite of Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio and (for me), Duke Snider.

Robert Redford admits he copied Ted Williams’ batting stance, even his uniform number 9. Redford’s grace on the base paths and in the outfield remind me of my hero, Duke Snider. There’s a sense of grace to his movements, even the way he swings his shoulders as he runs. I shamelessly copied those movements when I played baseball as a not-very-gifted youth and adult.

If I could have one genie wish, it would be to morph as Roy Hobbs in his prime. I think now, more than ever, America needs Roy Hobbs to hit a walk off home run and send us home with unbounded happiness.

32 thoughts on “ME AND “THE NATURAL” (1984) – GARRY ARMSTRONG

  1. Cricket is the closest thing we have to Major League Baseball but i don’t think there would be many (Any??) Aussies with the passion for it you have for your beloved sport! 🙂

    As far as i know no-one has made a film about it either!

    love.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lwbut, I know very little about cricket. As I told you earlier, my maternal Gramps was from Barbados where they played cricket. He shared stories about his cricket playing days. I didn’t grasp the game but loved his passion. Gramps also took me to many of my early Brooklyn Dodgers games in the late 40’s. As for Aussies with cricket passion, there MUST be some very fervent fans down under.

      Like

      • I’ve seen a lot of movies where cricket was part of (or most of) the story, but I guess you couldn’t say the movie was specifically about the sport. I think both cricket and baseball are based on a batting and base-running game called “rounders.” I think all games like this are similar: someone pitches, someone hits, someone catches, and the guy who hit, runs. It’s like soccer which is basically identical to hockey, but minus the sticks and sometimes, minus the ice skates. For that matter, basketball isn’t all that different. All of our “adult games” are built on similar themes. sticks and balls, goals, goalies … and don’t whack that other guy. Ouch, stop hitting him! And don’t hit ME either!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh there are those… they just follow the football! 😉

        Cricket fans are the Amish to football’s ISIS!

        It used to be a refined game for the gentleman and crowds would largely behave themselves (or sometimes take a nap).

        The crowds have become a little rowdier and will do stuff like wear costumes for the amusement of themselves and everyone else and engage in rival friendly banter, but it is still largely a family day out more than a win at all costs contest.

        At least with fans in the UK and Australia anyway (and the Carribean too most likely) but the Indians, Pakistani’s and Sri Lankans take the ‘game’ a little more seriously.

        love.

        Liked by 1 person

    • DC, I caught a couple of those games when they were on “The Game of the Week” broadcasts. It was neat to see and hear the Duke of Flatbush again. As I’ve mentioned, meeting Duke back in ’63 ranks as a highlight for me. I must remember to polish up the Duke Snider pics I have on our little kitchen wall shrine.
      DC, have you ever seen the old “Rifleman” episode where Duke played a surly bad guy? Chuck Connors used to find cameos for his old Brooklyn Dodger team mates. Don Drysdale also played a bad guy in another “Rifleman” episode.

      Like

  2. A very good film, based on one of the greatest Bernard Malamud’s novels. But this has brought back other memories as well, like my father taking me to watch the games in the 1950´s when I was a little kid in grade school. Back then, baseball was quite popular in Guayaquil, Ecuador (not any more, unfortunately). Us kids would ask for gloves, mitts and bats for Christmas and would play in the neighborhood streets after school. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Juan, I have similar memories of baseball (beisbol) as a kid. Sadly, I didn’t have much talent but it didn’t matter. I was the kid in rightfield –praying they wouldn’t hit the ball to me. They did!!

      Juan, I’ve never read the Malamud novel and I gather Redford/Barry Levinson took liberties. I think I’ll stick with Hollywood’s take on Roy Hobbs. I like happy endings these days.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Juan, did you also play rightfield and pray?

          You are right about baseball’s magic. I love James Earl Jones’ monologue about baseball in “Field of Dreams”.

          Like

            • Juan, my eyes well up a bit during that Jones’ monologue. As does the closing scene in “Field of Dreams” when Costner plays a little catch with his Dad. I also love Burt Lancaster (in his last feature movie appearance) as “Doc” Archie ‘Moonlight’ Graham. Have to watch it again this week.

              Build it..and people will come.

              Like

    • Leslie, I’ve always had a man crush on Redford..from his first feature flick, “War Hunt” (’64) with John Saxon. My favorite RR flicks include “The Natural”, “The Sting”, “Jeremiah Johnson”, “The Horse Whisperer”, “Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid” and “The Electric Horseman”.

      During my long ago interview with Paul Newman, I remember flexing my right thumb from time to time. It’s just a habit. I noticed Cool Hand Luke Smiling at me. I asked why. “You copy that from Redford?”, he asked.
      I told him no, I’d done it since I was a kid. Newman smiled again and said (paraphrase) “Redford ripped you off. I’d sue him”. laughter all around.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You mentioned two of my favorite movies…The Natural being the very top of my list. I was a baseball fan for many years. Th Dodgers used to give tickets to the A’s students of Southern California schools. All we had to do was write for them. Up to 4 games (2 tickets each) a year. The Dodgers in the mid to late 1970s and early 1980 held my dreams. I even babysat for a pitch reliever (pretty good record too) for someone who played with the Cubs. Yeah, dreams are made with baseball even for girls.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cee, I love your baseball memories. Do you recall the name of the Cubs’ relief pitcher? Bruce Suter?? Did you listen to Vin Scully (my baseball announcer idol)? Sure, baseball is great for everyone who loves to dream. Last night,I was watching (again) “On Moonlight Bay” (’51) in which Doris Day plays a tomboy at the beginning who is also one swell baseball player.

      I’m really looking forward to this weekend’s Yanks-Red Sox series at Fenway Park.

      Like

      • I listened to Vin Scully all the time on the radio. The baseball player I knew was Mike Young. He and his wife ended up being teachers in Oxnard, California. They were a real cool couple and great teachers. I babysat for them for 4 or 5 years.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mike Young, Cee? Don’t remember him. Envy time you spent with Mike and his Wife. It’s funny, I used to think of Compton as a really nice place because that’s where Duke Snider grew up. Different time, I guess. Too bad. I used to have all those old baseball mags with photos of players and their families at home. California in the late 40’s and 50’s. Like the movie fan mags. Duke and Bev, Don (Drysdale) and Ginger, palm trees and pools. Seemed so idyllic for a Brooklyn kid.

          I did enjoy the 70’s (and early 80’s) with the Red Sox. I arrived in Boston (’70) when Pudge Fisk and Dewey Evans were green rookies. A guy named Bob Veale was the Sox pitching coach. Veale had been a star with the Pittsburgh Pirates, a Bob Gibson clone. Mean and nasty fast.

          I did a “Walter Mitty” series for the TV station. One of the segments had me as a Sox rookie, in uniform and working out. “Big” Bob Veale threw “BP” (batting practice) to me. He didn’t mess around, treated me as a genuine player. I almost turned white, trying to duck away from a Veale inside fastball.

          I bonded with some of the Sox, especially the late Johnny Pesky. “Pesk” treated me like family over the years. He’d greet me at the players’ entrance, bring me up to speed on “inside” stuff and made sure I got the interviews I needed. Pesky would always inquire how the TV station was treating me and offer to intervene if things were going bad. He told me the story about Fenway Park’s famous “Pesky Pole”. It marks the fair/foul line at the end of the Park’s very short right field wall. Pesky was a “singles” hitter and didn’t hit many home runs during his career. But he did hit a few “dingers” that went over that short right field wall. It used to “irritate” Pesky’s pal, Ted Williams who was a prolific home run slugger. Eventually, because of Pesky’s “prowress”, the right field spot was named “Pesky’s Pole” and is now legend in baseball history. Ned “Mercy” Martin and Curt Gowdy were amiable Sox broadcasters.

          God, I love baseball!

          Like

          • The Dodgers of the late 70s and early 80s were my dream team. I used to pretend I was their catcher. Had a crush on Steve Yeager. So I would replay some of their greatest games. And when they finally won the World Series against the Yankees in 1981 that was magic. I have pretty much stopped paying attention to baseball since their last strike. Although if I did watch part of last years World Series. I had to see the Cubs win.

            Like

  4. What a great reminiscence. When I played little league baseball, I modeled my catch in the outfield after Willie Mays’ basket catch. But somehow I lost my fascination with the game and haven’t followed it for the last half century or so. Believe it or not, this post makes me want to watch a couple of games this season.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Emilio, you absolutely make my day!!

      I love the languid pace of baseball that so many find long and boring. There is so much stuff going on. Plus, there are so many exciting young players on many teams. The playing field has definitely leveled. The big market, deep pocket teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, etc) no longer have a monopoly on winning. Most teams realize they need to develop their farm systems and cultivate their own stars rather than focus on expensive free agents. It’s an old concept, developed by the late, great Branch Rickey who built my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers, “Boys of Summer” team. Most of “the boys” — Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Peewee Reese, Gil Hodges, Sandy Koufax (a “bonus baby” in ’54), Roy Campanella, “little” Don Zimmer, Don Drysdale, Carl Furillo, Carl Erskine, Don Newcombe, Ralph Branca, etc — all of these legends came up through the Brooklyn Dodgers farm system.

      Emilio, I never tried to emulate the “basket catch”. I was duck ‘n cover if anything was hit to me in right field. I usually was practicing my Duke Snider swing. I remember telling this to Ted Williams who grinned because he was scolded for doing the same thing when he really was “the kid” playing for the San Diego Seals in the 30’s.

      Emilio, I enjoy sharing baseball stuff with someone who cares.

      Take 2 — and go to right.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Sandy Koufax, Roy Campanella, and Don Drysdale, And though I recognize the other names in your list, I don’t really remember them. I was born in Brooklyn but we moved to California when I was only 4 so my dad was always watching the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Yankees and Giants. No Mets in our house, though. I was always a Giants fan and followed them off and on even when they were in San Francisco, as that’s where I went to college.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Emilio, the Giants were on my “enemies” list but not “disliked” as much as the Yankees. If you were from Brooklyn, you were a Dodgers fan or a traitor. Those old N.Y. Giants had some fine players. The “Say Hey” Kid, “Mandrake” Mueller, Hammering Hank Thompson, Monte Irvin, “Dusty” Rhodes, “Little”Davey Thompson, Alvin Dark, Sal “The Barber” Maglie (who also pitched for the Dodgers), Bobby “The Flying Scot” Thompson, Wes Westrum, etc. Thompson’s “shot heard ’round the world” off Ralph Branca in ’51 still sits in my sense memory.

          I lost some interest when “The Jints” followed the Dodgers out west.

          The New York days of Willie, Mickey and The Duke…..they were the best!!

          Like

          • Well, your “enemies” list was a lot better than Nixon’s. Mays, Rhodes, Dark, Maglie, Westrum. I remember the names most of all,I’m not sure I ever saw them play, except for Mays. I would run to the tv whenever he was playing. The New York days of Willie, Mickey and The Duke…..those WERE the best!!

            Like

  5. Hi Garry,
    I like the Natural, but Field of Dreams is an all time favorite of mine. A very spiritual movie with lots of personal messages for me. It’s definitely and Inspired movie. Damn near perfect.
    I’ve played some baseball. Wasn’t bad either. But we were always focused on Hockey up here. I understand your passion though as I relate to my passion for Hockey. Some say it’s not important, but I learned a lot of things there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The Natural” and “Field of Dreams” are, indeed, both spiritual movies. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the two films but they still have a very emotional pull on me. I have a couple of tissues ready for “Field of Dreams”. Yes, it’s almost perfect. The casting of Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones was inspired.

      I must confess I don’t know much about hockey. I learned enough to not sound like an idiot after my infamous stint as a sub for the sports guy in ’70. I was doing Bruins film highlights, “v/o” (voice over) and yelled “Orr SCORES, he puts the **ball** into the net”. Yes, the phone lines lit up, many questioning my birth right. I met #4, Bobby Orr later and he laughed broadly when I recounted the story. Bobby had a restaurant, “The Branding Iron”, in the apartment complex where I lived for many years in Boston. We became casual friends. One night at some social event, Bobby approached me. I introduced Marilyn. He smiled at her, chatted briefly, gave Marilyn a little kiss on the cheek and then walked away. Marilyn looked at me puzzled and asked “Who was that guy?”

      True story. (BTW: We’ve become friends or so I feel. What’s your first name? I could call you “Buck” from your pix but…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought I was the only who cried when I watched Field of Dreams. It’s especially poignant for me because of my poor relationship with my father. I’d give a million to play ‘catch’ with him now.
        Bobby Orr!! WoW. that’s lofty in Hockey majesty. He’s probably one of the 5 Greatest players who ever played. A very nice man too – so I hear.
        Well Garry, my name is Jeremy. Thanks for asking.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hi, Jeremy!

          We are kindred spirits when it comes to Dads. My Dad and I had an okay relationship but we never shared much. He wasn’t big on “chatter”. Dad was a big boxing fan. “Bonding” was watching the “Gillette Friday Night Fights” together. Once, I had a courtroom artist friend make a painting of my Dad in the ring squaring off against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He used pics of my Dad (from his WW2 amateur boxing days) and Hagler, who was a friend. I also got Marvin Hagler to autograph a photo to my Dad that in part said, “..Saluting a fellow boxer and thanks for your service in World War 2”. Jeremy, my Dad’s face lit up in a broad smile that I remember to this day.

          I am my Father’s son, Jeremy. I constantly have to remind myself I need to verbally share with Marilyn and my family. Ironic given my career as a TV News reporter who had no problems talking to people.

          Like

  6. Thanks for sharing.

    So many things I’d change if I had a chance like Ray.

    Incredibly, my Dad had no interest in sports at all, None. But us 4 older boys were insane sports nuts: Hockey, Football, Baseball, Soccer – we played nearly every day.

    “Hagler”! One of the greatest fighters I ever saw. Brilliant. So I can imagine that was a great – and classy – gift you gave him..Good on you.

    Like my Father, I’m pretty much a loner. I like people, but I don’t socialize much outside of work. ??

    Like

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s