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Thursday, May 05, 2016

Baseball’s Naturals: There Goes Yet Another Roy Hobbs

Bernard Malamud’s first novel, “The Natural,” upon which the movie was based, was published in 1952 and with no lack of publicity (it was reviewed twice in The New York Times). But it doesn’t seem that many of that era’s sportswriters were inspired to compare their subjects to Malamud’s Roy Hobbs, even with both Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle, 1950s versions of Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, just then bursting upon the scene.

Then again, Malamud’s Hobbs, however talented, was hardly an attractive character. Redford’s Hobbs, on the other hand, is largely pure of heart. Which allowed the post-1984 writer to compare a player to the celluloid Hobbs without insulting him….

Beginning with Terry Pendleton, a Cardinals rookie in 1984 who batted .409 in his first 22 games. His teammates began calling him the Natural, but Pendleton finished that season batting an un-Hobbsish .324. Superstardom (and a long-lasting nickname) would ultimately elude Pendleton, as it eluded Gibson. But Pendleton would, well into his career, win a Most Valuable Player Award. Just as Gibson had.

In 1993, Blue Jays first baseman John Olerud’s teammates took to calling him Hobbsy while he flirted with a .400 batting average until late in the season. A few years earlier, Giants first baseman Will Clark— like Olerud, a left-handed batter with a textbook swing — was commonly called Will the Thrill, but the Natural was another of his nicknames…..

In the mid-1990s, outfielders Andruw Jones and Karim Garcia would both be called the Natural, however briefly. Jones delivered on that early promise and Garcia did not, but neither was associated with the nickname for long.


 

 

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