Angry Ward Wednesday: Wilford Brimley, Bump Bailey and Other Unnatural Things About “The Natural”

“Rage is the only quality which has kept me, or anybody I have ever studied, writing columns for newspapers.”  —Jimmy Breslin (1928-2017)

BRONX, NY – My wife’s brother and his family came up from Orlando to visit us this past weekend, so naturally I subjected them to watching movies that I wanted to watch. After my suggestions of “Hot Dog: The Movie” and Short Matt’s favorite flick “Beaches” got shouted down, I got my bro-in-law to watch “The Natural” after almost everyone else had gone to bed. After all, and despite the recent snowstorm, it is almost baseball season. Anyway, it’s a great movie so I could barely do the late-night Cliff’s Notes version, where I fast forward through scenes that aren’t all that compelling. Watching it pretty much in its entirety, here are a few observations.

Wilford Brimley Got Old Fast. In the movie, longtime character actor Wilford Brimley (great in “Absence of Malice” and many others) plays aging/long-suffering manager Pop Fisher. When my brother-in-law asked if he was still alive, I said “I think so.” What followed was fairly weird. I looked him up and he is still kicking. But, get this, when he played this role he was only 48 or 49 years old! That’s like wayyyy younger than Short Matt is right now. I mean, I know they can do impressive stuff with movie make up but, c’mon, the guy looks like he’s in his seventies in this movie and others. He’s still acting and Short Matt is still trying to act. Kudos and Metamucil to both!

Bump Bailey Goes Bye Bye. For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, tough guy actor Michael Madsen plays the lone star on the fictional baseball club, NY Knights, before Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs arrives. Long story short, Bump dies when he runs through the right field wall tracking down a long fly. He dies! Has this ever happened in the history of Major League Baseball? I just looked it up, and it hasn’t. Though quite a few players succumbed to tuberculosis and typhoid fever. Don’t forget to get those inoculations, kids.

Barry Levinson. The director of “The Natural,” as well as the magnificent movie, “Diner” (which had some great sports themes in it),  Barry Levinson never directed another sports movie, unless you count a “30 for 30” on the Baltimore Colts marching band. “The Natural” was so good, it’s amazing that he never tried another sports story. Still, he was brilliant as an actor in the very-funny Mel Brooks Hitchcock send-up, “High Anxiety.”

The Hollywood Ending. At the recommendation of a Junior High School English teacher, I actually read the novel “The Natural” before the movie was ever made. The Bernard Malamud-penned classic had quite a different ending than the movie. In the book, Roy Hobbs strikes out. No exploding lights, no dramatic music, no nothing. So when I saw the movie on the big screen I was absolutely floored when he hit the game-winning homer. Mostly I hate when Hollywood changes literature to please the audience, but in this case I actually loved it.

It felt good watching a baseball movie on the first day of spring. Think I will probably watch a few more before opening day. Maybe next week I’ll write about how there’s no way that Crash Davis could be the all-time leading minor league home run leader and only get called up to the show for a cup o’ joe.

Come back tomorrow for Buddy Diaz, a guy who is a much more believable ballplayer than Brendan Fraser was in “The Scout.”





Share Button
About Angry Ward 751 Articles
Angry Ward, who has admirers at the New York Times, is the quintessential angry sports fan but for one exception... he's flat-out funny. And the angrier he gets, the more amusing his work becomes. Psychiatrists say, "Angry Ward's 'anger' is a direct result of "Bronx/Mets syndrome: growing up in the Bronx as a Mets fan." As if that weren't enough, his Minnesota North Stars abandoned him for Dallas, forcing him to embrace The Wild the way Nancy Pelosi embraces Mitch McConnell at charity events. And while his Vikings only tease him with success, his Golden State Warriors actually win these days. A-Dubya is MTM's longest-tenured indentured servant, its Larry David and quite simply, "The Franchise." (Junoir Blaber disputes this). Vent, curse and giggle with him on Angry Ward Wednesdays.