There She Is, Myth America

The Natural Jacket, EFFAt left is an Ebbets Field Flannels replica of the jacket Robert Redford wore when he played Roy Hobbs, the thirty-five-year-old rookie from nowhere, an item which may prompt postmodernists to question what it means to replicate the frankly fake. The 1984 film The Natural has become a litmus test for baseball savants and film critics. Either it was horrible, a comic-book parody of Bernard Malamud’s excellent 1952 novel; or it was grand and mythopoeic, a tour de force by director Barry Levinson that was vastly superior to the book on which it was based. The battle was pitched anew on Facebook yesterday, with some hating the book and loving the film, others the opposite.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m the only one in the world who hated the film,” Tara Krieger wrote. “It just felt incredibly overwrought.”

“One thing that kinda bugged me about the movie,” said Ron Bolton,” was Hobbs did two things at the plate – he either hit a home run or he struck out.”

“If you’re looking for realism,” I replied to my friends, “yes. I like the film as fable.”

The Natural_Lobby cards_aThe Natural was not a movie about baseball, the critics charged. Overly simplistic, they said, it was instead an allegory about the eternal battle between good and evil, between our past and our future, between what could have been and what is. (Sounds like baseball to me.) The film was chock full of allusions to baseball players and events–Babe Ruth, Jim Creighton, Eddie Waitkus–and to classic legends: Faust, King Arthur, the Serpent in the Garden, Prometheus. It gave us a dazzlingly visual ending–the famous homer into the light stanchion that explodes into a brilliant fireworks display. Bull Durham and Field of Dreams touched new sets of nerves about baseball, life, love, and myth, and Moneyball was complicated fun, but for me, The Natural is the long ball of baseball movies.Geena Davis, LIFE

A League of Their Own was based on the real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL), whose story has grown larger in death than it was during its twelve-year life in 1943-1954. Once a lightweight item for morning talk shows in the early 1980s, the AAGPBL would have retreated into the anonymity of academic theses had it not been for director Penny Marshall and actors Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty, and Rosie O’Donnell. The film, released in 1992, was a huge hit and brought renewed attention to the women’s league. As a feminist rallying cause, the film reversed the classic paradigm in which art imitates life; Geena Davis imitating LIFE puts an additional spin on the ball.

A League of Their Own rekindled interest in the AAGPBL and in its players, giving them a well-deserved second chance at honor and fame. But the film’s impact extended further than that. The Women in Baseball exhibit at the Hall of Fame became vastly popular, and today such organizations as Baseball for All ( are taking the next step, empowering girls to play the game and imagine themselves as big leaguers too. As to the whole question of whether a woman could one day play major-league baseball, reasonable people, myself included, believe that a female equivalent to Jackie Robinson will break the gender line.


I loved the movie and especially Redford. But the supporting cast of Wilford Brimley and Richard Farnsworth as manager and coach respectively will always stay with me. I alternate between this and Field Of Dreams as my favorite baseball movie. Both films end with a father having catch with his son and it gets me every time.

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From Roy striking out The Whammer as the sun sets to the home run call, “Good-bye Mr. Spaulding” to Pop Fisher warning his prematurely-celebrating team, “Don’t jinx this thing”, The Natural is simply the best baseball movie ever made. Grand and mythopedic – certainly. “Best there ever was, best there ever will be.”

I love A League of their Own. So many funny lines and great characters.

“But the film’s impact extended further than that.”

Indeed. You can throw in “there’s no crying in baseball” to any tangentially appropriate conversation and likely get an appreciative response.

I enjoyed both movies immensely and I agree with John that the movie about the AAGBL has sparked renewed interest in the game of baseball among girls and women. I say “renewed” because, as I learned while conducting research for my dissertation/book on nineteenth century female baseball players, girls and women regularly played baseball up until the early twentieth century when multiple factors influenced their shift into baseball “light” games. As one of the countless women who grew up dreaming of playing in the “Big Leagues” someday, I am delighted to see the growth of girls and women’s baseball teams and leagues around the world. As for whether a woman will ever play in the MLB, I am not certain. I agree that a female knuckleballer could probably make the grade; whether she would ever be given the chance is another matter entirely. I am glad to see that girls who enjoy baseball have more opportunities to play competitively into adulthood and to engage in international competition.

I agree wholeheartedly, Deb. Your forthcoming book on early women’s baseball will change the way we think of the game.

There She Is, Your Eye Deal?

Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2015 13:50:05 +0000 To:

Well John, since you brought our jacket into it, I can give you some perspective from that angle. We got more grief from The Natural aficionados about details on that jacket than about any jackets we made for real teams. People would try to “prove” their point by citing this or that scene in the film. We would reply that this was fiction, and the film jackets were costumes, hence the minor differences in different scenes. Another interesting thing is that the actual jackets worn the film were lousy quality. We had to make a much better jacket than the “real” one. So reality and fiction blur on several levels on this particular item.

Good story, Jerry. Thanks!

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