Aug 16, 2006

The Natural - by Bernard Malamud

I just finished this baseball classic. I wouldnt say it was excellent, but it was certainly enjoyable. I'd seen the movie many times, but the book is different in many ways. I'll go into the ending later.

It is a mythic baseball tale, about Roy Hobbs, a 20-year-old farm boy who wants to be 'the greatest there ever was at the game.' And he has the talent to do it as he strikes out the reigning MVP on 3 pitches. Him and a scout are heading to Chicago on a train for a tryout with the Cubs. However, he's too greedy and too much of a womanizer and it turns out to be his undoing. A lady seduces him to come to her hotel room, then she shoots him. He eventually recovers and gets back into the game for the New York Knights at 34 and starts killing the ball. He rallies his team to first place, all the while trying to 'get' a girl named Memo, who's the niece of the manager.

Near the end of the season, he gets sick and while he's in the hospital, the Knights lose 3 games to finish in a tie with Pittsburgh.


He reluctanly accepts a bribe to lose the game because: he's making very little $, he thinks it will impress Memo, and he might never play ball again anyway.

This is where it gets mythic. He hits the shit out of a ball with 2 men on but it goes foul. His special bat, Wonderboy breaks ('it sounded like thunder') and he has to use a different bat for the first time. Then, as he's trying to hit a foul ball at an annoying fan, he accidentally hits a woman who loves him (who he had a one-night stand with and got pregnant). She tells him he has to win the game. After that he tries his hardest, and gets ahead of the pitcher 3-0, 2 outs in the bottom of the 9th, down by 1, with a runner on. The pitcher is so nervous he actually faints on the mound (Hobbs hit 4 HR in an earlier game off him).

The Pirates carry him off the field and bring in a rookie, 6 feet tall, 158 lbs. The first pitch is a called strike bullet, Hobbs barely sees the ball. Then a gust of wind picks up and surrounds the pitcher in dust, the pitch flies out of the dust for strike 2. Hobbs is so eager to hit a HR (to redeem himself for his past) that he swings at ball 4 and Ks.

Afterwards, he binds Wonderboy together and buries it in left field. When he opens his locker, only half the bribe money is there, with a note saying he didnt fulfill his end (because he tried to win).

Then he gives the bribe back, and humiliates his 3 main enemies, Memo, the owner, and a bookie. On the street a newspaper reads that Hobbs may have taken $ to throw the game and that he may be banned from baseball. A kid asks him if its true, and he just puts his face in his hands and cries.

The ending would have been very depressing if Hobbs had been a likeable guy, but he wasnt. They made him far more likeable in the movie. The young pitcher who Ks him is obviously meant as the antithesis to Hobbs. Instead of a farmboy who wants to be a baseball player, the pitcher is only playing ball to get enough $ to buy his own farm, his dream. His purity stands against the selfishness of Hobbs.

If you like baseball or the movie, I'd definitely recommend this. A short read too, only 230 pages.

Monday August 14, 2006 - 12:30am (EDT)

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