Here’s a great little tidbit from a recent podcast with Charlie Manuel, the manager who took the Phillies all the way to a World Series championship in 2008. Back in 1993, he and yet-to-be five-time All-Star Jim Thome, were at a Cleveland Indians minor league team. As the story goes, Manuel walks into the locker room where his players are watching Barry Levinson’s The Natural.
“I saw Robert Redford standing there pointing the bat with one hand, bringing it back. I looked over at Thome, I said, ‘you can finish watching the movie. From now on that’s going to be your load.’ I took him down in the cage and worked with him. The game started and the Phillies had a left-handed pitcher named [Kyle] Abbott. He was pitching that day. I told Jimmy, ‘From now on that’s your stance.’ He gets up there the first time up, Abbott throws him a breaking ball away and he hit a home run to left center… I mean a longways. He come up the next time he hit another one to right center. I think he had three hits that day.”
”That’s a true story," Manuel added.
I love the idea of a bunch of ballplayers sitting around watching The Natural in the locker room. Crazy to think Thome would take his stance from a film, but if it works, it works.
As a side-note, I happened to rewatch The Natural last year after reading Bernard Malamud’s novel for the first time. It’s amazing how a few changes can alter the entire tone and meaning of a work. The Roy Hobbs of the novel is unrecognizable in the film, even though so much of the film pulls scenes straight out of the book.