Note to readers: In honor of Sports Illustrated’s recent “where are they now” issue, we’ve decided to introduce a new feature to the Out of Ink blog. We’re taking the best sports movies ever made, and giving our opinion on what happened to our favorite fictional characters after the movie ended.
--by Josh Suchon
We start with the movie The Natural. The final scene of the movie shows us Roy Hobbs, back at some farm, playing catch with his son, while his wife looks on with a big smile on her face. We’re led to believe that Hobbs retired after his dramatic home run put the Knights in the playoffs.
What happened in the playoffs? Earlier in the movie, manager Pop Fisher says he just wants to reach the World Series. He doesn’t care if he even wins. This is typical of why Pops wasn’t a very good manager. Who on earth is just happy to be there and doesn’t want to win it all? Hobbs’ home run was so eerily similar to Kirk Gibson’s in 1988, it’s not a stretch to think that Hobbs wasn’t healthy enough to perform in the playoffs, just like Gibson didn’t play again the rest of the 1988 World Series. Hobbs was bleeding, after all. This doesn’t mean the Knights won, just like the Dodgers did. No chance. Not with Pops’ attitude. The Knights didn’t have Orel Hershiser either. Without Hobbs, the Knights had no chance. They were swept in the World Series.
The Pittsburgh manager: Without question, his performance in the one-game playoff was one of the worst in history. Why on earth didn’t he intentionally walk Hobbs? In case you forgot, Hobbs hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning to beat Pittsburgh, 3-2, in the one-game playoff. There was nobody else in the Knights lineup who could beat you. Who cares if Hobbs is the go-ahead run? The Pittsburgh media crucified the manager for this strategy, and management agreed. He was fired, justifiably, two days later.
Pittsburgh starter Youngberry: Yes, he was so good, he didn’t need a first name. Youngberry was furious that he was lifted. Youngberry ripped his manager for taking him out. He’s got a shutout with two outs in the ninth inning, he’s struck out Hobbs twice already in the game, and you take him out because the count is 2-0? Youngberry was livid and demanded a trade. After the manager was fired, Youngberry agreed to return, and won the Cy Young the next season.
Pittsburgh reliever John Rhoades: The play-by-play announcer said he had the best fastball to come into the game in years. As Rhoades learned, you need more than one pitch in the majors though. Rhoades wasn’t affected by giving up the dramatic home run to Hobbs, just like Dennis Eckersley wasn’t affected by Kirk Gibson’s home run. Rhoades learned to trust his slider, developed a changeup, and became the most dominant relief pitcher in baseball the next five years.
Knights owners: Considering the amount of money the owners lost betting against their own team, they were desperate for cash and wanted to make somebody pay. If any mobsters had bet against the Knights, thinking the starting pitcher and Hobbs were on the take, they’d have probably put a hit on somebody’s life. But let’s not kill anybody too soon. Let’s assume the owners were the only ones who lost all their money on the Knights.
Knights pitcher Al Fowler: You might recall, Fowler was weighing the pros and cons of tanking the one-game playoff and accepting the gambling money. Hobbs saw this, and called him out on it after Fowler gave up a two-run homer early in the game. Evidently, Fowler then went back to trying, since he didn’t give up another run the rest of the game. After the season, the owners want to get rid of Fowler. They sell him away -- like the Red Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees -- for straight cash. They need cash just to operate the franchise the next season. In response to irate Knights fans, the owners try to destroy Fowler’s credibility in the press.
Max Mercy, the sportswriter/illustrator: Mercy led the original crusade against poor Fowler, printing every lie the Knights owners told him. But even if Mercy was a slime ball, he was a dogged reporter, and he got to the bottom of the gambling scheme. Mercy’s got the scoop and he’s about to break the story, but Fowler beats him to it. Fowler drops the gambling news at a bombshell press conference.
The commissioner: After the gambling charges come to light, the commissioner investigates what the heck is going on with the Knights ownership -- and let’s hope he reaches his conclusion in a shorter amount of time than it’s taking Bud Selig to rule on the A’s-Giants territorial rights to San Jose. Let’s say the commissioner is somebody like Bart Giamatti, and he hired somebody like John Dowd. The results are made public pretty quickly and the public is outraged. The Knights owners are forced to sell. There’s a silent, not organized, but very clear boycott of the stadium until new owners are brought in.
The new owners: Their first move, naturally, is reaching out to Hobbs. They need him to come out of retirement, to bring the fans back, and for the good of baseball. Hobbs says no. He’s done. He’s retired. After more prodding, Hobbs’ wife and son give their blessing, and Hobbs makes his celebrated return to the Knights in mid-season.
Roy Hobbs: Of course, Hobbs hits a home run in his first at-bat. The scene is incredible. You can’t write a script like this. Actually, you can. I just did. Hobbs’ body can’t handle the day-to-day demands of playing ball though. He does his best and tries to play, but his performance suffers. He’s on the disabled list for most of the year. Fans boo him. Those damn New York fans boo everybody. They speculate that Hobbs is tanking it on purpose because of gamblers. Hobbs struggles through the rest of the season, the Knights don’t make the playoffs, and Hobbs calls it a career. Again.
The Pittsburgh club: After choking away the pennant last year, there’s no stopping them. They run away with the pennant. They’ve got Youngberry. They’ve got Rhoades. They’ve got a manager with a clue. Pittsburgh wins the World Series and dominates baseball the next few years.
Bobby Savoy, the Knights bat boy -- he was besieged with questions about the bat that he picked out for Hobbs to use. Once the story goes public, everybody wants a similar “Wonderboy” bat for themselves. Realizing this is a golden opportunity to make money, the kid quits the team, drops out of school, and opens a bat-making business. Orders fly into his bedroom office. He hires his mom and dad to keep up with the demands. The problem with the business was the bats never cracked, so people only needed one. A few years later, he sells the bat-making business to Rawlings, and goes to junior college to study economics.