Bernard Malamud’s 1952 novel “The Natural” is generally considered to be the greatest baseball novel ever written. It’s the type of book I’ve heard tons about over the years, but for whatever reason, I’d never read it, which kind of irked me. I put it on my “bucket list” a couple of years ago and finally finished reading it on Friday.
For those you unfamiliar with the novel, it’s about Roy Hobbs, an up-and-coming, 19-year-old baseball star, who has his career derailed just before his big break into the Major Leagues. A mysterious woman shoots him in the stomach, and it takes him years to recover. Fifteen years later, Hobbs eventually battles back and finally makes it into the Big Leagues when he’s in his mid-thirties.
Hobbs joins the fictional New York Knights and helps them fight their way out of the basement and into the hunt for a World Series title. Along the way, he’s plagued by a long list of problems that include health issues, hitting slumps, various female admirers and gamblers. Helping him navigate all of these problems, mostly those on the field, is his legendary bat, “Wonder Boy,” which he crafted from an old tree that was struck by lightning.
You’ll find this book on a wide variety of “best of” lists. In 2002, Sports Illustrated ranked it No. 24 on its list of “Top 100 Sports Books of All Time,” and the book is prominently lauded in Ron Kaplan’s 2013 book, “501 Baseball Books Fans Must Read Before They Die.” Interestingly, Stephen King, who is a huge Boston Red Sox fan, also listed “The Natural” on his 1981 list of his favorite horror books.
Many people will be familiar with "The Natural" thanks to the 1984 motion picture adaptation of the book, a film that was also called “The Natural.” Directed by Barry Levinson, this movie starred Robert Redford in the lead role of Roy Hobbs. Other cast members included Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Kim Basinger and Barbara Hershey.
I saw the movie years ago, so long ago that I can actually remember very little about it. Of course, now that I’ve read the book, I want to re-watch the movie. The movie version is also highly regarded, appearing on such “best of” lists as The Art of Manliness’ “Essential Men’s Movie Library” and the Art of Manliness’ “15 Best Baseball Movies.”
This novel also left me wanting to check out some of Malamud’s other books, especially “The Fixer,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Aside from “The Natural” and “The Fixer,” his other novels include “The Assistant” (1957), “A New Life” (1961), “Pictures of Fidelman: An Exhibition” (1969), “The Tenants” (1971), “Dubin’s Lives” (1979) and “God’s Grace” (1982). He also published a number of short stories and story collections.
In the end, how many of you have read Bernard Malamud’s “The Natural”? What did you think about it? Did you like it or not? What other baseball novels would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.