The Natural (1984)
An unknown comes seemingly out of nowhere to become a legendary player with almost divine talent.
An unknown middle-aged batter named Roy Hobbs with a mysterious past appears out of nowhere to take a losing 1930s baseball team to the top of the league in this magical sports fantasy. With the aid of a bat cut from a lightning struck tree, Hobbs lives the fame he should have had earlier when, as a rising pitcher, he is inexplicably shot by a young woman.
- The movie opens with the story of a young boy, Roy Hobbs (Paul Sullivan Jr. & Mark Atienza), who is a farm boy with an incredible talent for playing baseball. Encouraged by his father (Alan Fudge), Hobbs is told by him that he has an amazing gift for throwing a baseball, but he needs more than that if he is to succeed and play in the big leagues. Hobbs witnesses his father's death while working under a large tree in the front of his home. Some years later, a lightning bolt strikes the tree splitting it into pieces. Hobbs takes a part of the tree and carves out a bat, using a tool to burn into the bat the name Wonderboy along with a symbol of a lightning bolt for whence it came.
A few years later, Hobbs finds out he is going to get a chance to play in the big leagues. In the middle of the night, he runs to meet his longtime girlfriend, Iris Gaines (Rachel Hall as young Iris), to inform her that he is going to try out for the Chicago Cubs. He tells Iris that he loves her, and as soon as he makes the team he will return for her. They happily make love in her barn before he leaves. The next scene shows Hobbs on a train with the Cubs' scout, Sam Simpson (John Finnegan), where he meets a sports journalist, Max Mercy (Robert Duvall), who is on the train covering a famous baseball hitter known as the Whammer (Joe Don Baker).
The train stops at a carnival where Hobbs and the Whammer each have an opportunity to show off their skills at various games. The Whammer has caught the interest of a young lady by the name of Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershery), who is also on the way to Chicago. After watching Hobbs miss a stack of empty jugs with a baseball, Max claims that Sam has missed again in finding talent. Sam bets Max $10 that Hobbs can strike out the Whammer on only three pitches. After watching the first pitch for a strike, the Whammer swings and misses the next two pitches and strikes out. Back on the train, Ms. Bird garners an interest in Hobbs, for whom he immediately develops a crush on her. When they reach Chicago, Harriet invites Hobbs to her hotel room. Wearing all black and a veil, Harriet asks Hobbs to confirm what he told her on the train, that he would eventually be the best in the game. When Hobbs agrees, Harriet raises a gun and shoots him.
Fifteen years later, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley), the manager of the New York Knights, discovers he has a new "rookie" for his team, a thirty-four-year-old man named Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford), whom the team's owner, the stingy Judge Banner (Robert Prosky), has signed for a paltry $500. Hobbs also meets Max Mercy, the sports journalist, again, but Max does not recognize him. The Knights are doing very poorly; even their playing field is dried up from a long drought. Pop is skeptical of Hobbs. When Hobbs refuses to join the hypnotist sessions to which Pop subjects the team, Pop benches Hobbs for three weeks. One afternoon during batting practice, Hobbs hits home run after home run with ease. This catches the attention of Pop Fisher, who questions the homemade bat that Hobbs is using. Skeptical to the end, Pop says he'll permit Hobbs to use the bat if it measures within specifications.
Hobbs continues to sit on the bench as the Knights continue to lose. During a game against the Phillies, Bartholomew 'Bump' Bailey (Michael Madsen) is benched by Pop for not hustling enough. Pop decides to send Hobbs into the game to pinch-hit for Bailey. After Pop wishes him luck and to smash the cover off the ball, Hobbs does exactly that in his first at-bat, causing the Phillies manager to protest to the umpires requesting the real ball and not the mess of string that resulted from Hobbs amazing hit. Hobbs continues to wow everyone with his amazing talent. The Commissioner validates that Hobbs' bat was within specifications and can be used in a game. After Pop threatens to pull Bailey from the lineup, Bailey tries so hard in the next game to outdo Hobbs that he accidentally cracks his skull against the wall, which results in his untimely death.
The Knights begin to rise in the standings due to Hobbs' amazing performance. The lightning bolt on Hobbs bat inspires teammate John Olsen (Jon Van Ness) to wear a patch on his arm, which results in a stellar batting practice session by Olsen. Soon after, the entire team adopts the lightning bolt patch, which is worn on their right sleeves. The teams stellar hitting continues as does the Knights win streak. While getting a shoeshine one afternoon, bench coach Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) tells Hobbs about the deal that the Judge made with Pop in an effort to swindle the remaining shares from him. If Pop wins the pennant, the Judge would give away his shares. If Pop loses, then the Judge gets all of Pops shares and he's out for good.
During practice one afternoon, Hobbs is asked by a teammate to throw him a pitch to hit. With the ever-inquisitive Max looking on in the stands, Hobbs rears back and throws a pitch so hard that it sticks into the protective mesh behind home plate. Upon panning back to the stands, Max has disappeared from his seat. After practice, Pop informs Hobbs that the Judge wants to see him. During the visit, the Judge attempts to persuade Hobbs to help him get control of the team from Pop. Hobbs stubbornly refuses and leaves the office. Upon his departure, the Judge's personal bookie, Gus Sands (Darren McGavin), assures that Hobbs isn't as greedy as Bump Bailey was but he could be persuaded in different ways.
Max takes Hobbs to dinner the next evening. While there, he meets Gus and his female companion, Memo Paris (Kim Basinger). During the dinner visit, Gus bets Hobbs $100 that he knows exactly how much money he has in his pocket, give or take one dollar. Gus guesses $10 and Hobbs pulls eight greenbacks out of his wallet. Gus tells Hobbs not to forget the silver, which totals $1.37, leading Gus to win the bet. When Hobbs informs Gus that he will soon pay him the $100, Gus politely dismisses the bet stating that perhaps Hobbs can do him a favor in return someday. Hobbs states that he shouldnt bet on it and pulls two more silver coins out of Memo's ear.
Hobbs begins a relationship with Memo, but Pop is concerned that it's bad luck for Hobbs. Pop's feelings are confirmed as Hobbs quickly falls into a hitting slump. Hobbs obsession with Memo continues as does the Knights losing streak. Hobb's longtime girlfriend, Iris (Glenn Close), has been paying close attention to Hobbs in the papers and sees that the Knights are going to be playing in Chicago. Iris decides to attend the game to watch Hobbs play. During an at-bat in Chicago, Iris notices Hobbs is struggling and stands up hoping to get his attention. Hobbs notices a woman standing up in the crowd for him, but appears unsure who it is. Without purpose or reason, Hobbs crushes the next pitch into the centerfield scoreboard clock for a home run, and the Knights losing streak comes to an end.
After the game, Hobbs receives a note from Iris stating it was her in the stands and requesting to meet with him. Hobbs meets Iris at the café where they have a nice visit. Iris is cordial during the visit, but remains distant to Hobbs. Upon leaving, Hobbs asks Iris to come to the next game, but she says she can't for other reasons. After another great game performance, Hobbs leaves the ballpark only to find Iris waiting for him outside. The two walk to Iris home from the ballpark. During the walk, Hobbs elaborates to Iris about his troubled past and how he failed to return for Iris after leaving for Chicago. At Iris' house, Hobbs notices a baseball glove lying on the couch. Iris informs him it belongs to her son. Hobbs is shocked to hear this and asks where the father is. Iris says that his father lives in New York. After a warm embrace, Iris informs Hobbs he needs to leave.
Hobbs regains his focus as do the rest of the Knights, and the team begins a winning streak that results in the Knights' three games ahead of the Pirates in the standings for the pennant with just three games to go. Hobbs attempts to contact Iris by phone, but is unsuccessful. Soon after, the Knights hold a banquet for the team. During the event, Gus informs Hobbs that he has already bet against the Knights, which raises suspicions with Hobbs, who again rejects any of Gus persuasions. Gus informs Memo of his disappointment, who subsequently poisons the unsuspecting Hobbs with a tainted piece of food. This results in Hobbs being taken to a local hospital where he is laid up sick for three days. During his visit, the doctor (Peter Poth) informs Hobbs that his stomach lining has been gradually deteriorating. Upon pumping his stomach, the doctors remove an old bullet that has apparently been there for many years, apparently the bullet that Harriet Bird had shot him with.
Meanwhile, the Knights lose their next three games, allowing the Pirates to catch and tie them for first place. Memo visits Hobbs at the hospital. Memo begs Hobbs not to play as it may kill him, but Hobbs insists that Pop Fisher and the Knights need him in order to win. Hobbs sneaks out of the hospital to test whether he can play or not. Upon seeing Max in the stands taking pictures, Hobbs hits a number of balls into the stands toward Max to scare him away, telling Max to never look back at the past. Successful in shooing off Max, Hobbs crumples to the ground and is rushed back to the hospital. That evening, Judge Banner visits Hobbs and offers him $20,000 to throw the next game, which will decide who wins the pennant. The Judge leaves Hobbs with the money assuming that they have a deal.
The team arrives the next day to visit Hobbs in the hospital. Hobbs wishes the team luck as he will not be ready to play in the game. Iris comes to visit Hobbs at the hospital, but before she can see Hobbs she is confronted by Max who shows her some old photos from Hobbs past attempting to blackmail her for information. She flatly rejects Max and continues on to meet with Hobbs, who begrudgingly admits to his failure of falling for Harriet Bird on the train all those years ago, and how all of that resulted in his life not turning out how he expected. Hobbs asks Iris if she and her son are going to the game the next day. After confirming this, she is unable to finish before being interrupted by the nurse (Elizabeth Ann Klein) treating Hobbs. She quietly dismisses herself.
Hobbs returns to the ballpark the next day. In the presence of Gus and Memo, Hobbs gives the Judge back his envelope of money informing them all that its his plan to play in the game that evening. The Judge attempts to blackmail Hobbs one last time, but is unsuccessful. Memo pulls out a revolver and fires a round to scare Hobbs, but relinquishes the weapon to Hobbs before breaking down in tears, jealous and envious of Hobbs in being such a good man.
Hobbs returns to the clubhouse where he meets Pop and Red in the shower cleaning up before the game. Pop tells Hobbs that he's the greatest player that he's ever seen, and tells Hobbs to suit up for the game. Max meets Hobbs in the clubhouse prior to the game, claiming that he's there to protect the game and that he'll do what's necessary to ensure that. The next shot is of the Knights taking the field; Iris and her son in the stands clapping as Hobbs trots out to right field to start the game. Hobbs is able to perform, but not without being in visible discomfort. He strikes out in his first at-bat.
Al Fowler (Ken Grassano), the Knights pitcher, walks a batter then allows a home run on the next pitch. Hobbs suspects that the Judge has bought off Fowler and pleas with Fowler to give the Pirates the real stuff. He agrees to play for real when Hobbs starts hitting the ball again. Hobbs strikes out in his second at-bat. Iris persuades a stadium usher to deliver a note to Hobbs in the dugout. Upon reading the note, Hobbs is visibly moved by what Iris has told him Hobbs is the father of Iris son! Down 2-0, the Knights begin a rally in the bottom of the 9th inning. With runners on first and third base, Hobbs steps up to the plate for his third at-bat. After two errant pitches, the Pittsburgh manager puts in his young phenom left-handed relief pitcher to face Hobbs. The next pitch is fouled off into the press box where it breaks the glass in front of Max who is reporting on the game. After a swing and a miss, Hobbs takes the next pitch down the right field line but it veers off foul. Upon running back to the batters box, Hobbs is shocked to see that Wonderboy has split in two. He tasks the batboy, Bobby Savoy, to pick him out a replacement bat. Bobby returns with another homemade bat that Hobbs helped him make, named Savoy Special. Noticing blood on his jersey, the Pirates catcher calls for an inside fastball. Hobbs drives the pitch high up into the right field lights, which result in a magnificent explosion causing other lights in the stadium to explode in a shower of sparks.
Hobbs rounds the bases in an almost dreamlike sequence as the Knights win the game and Pop Fisher looks on. As the team jumps on Hobbs as he crosses home plate, the camera pans to the ball that is still flying out into night. As the ball drops in the next sequence, it lands in the glove of Iris' son, who throws the ball back to his father, Roy Hobbs, while Iris looks on in the distance.