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Malamud’s novel The Natural, the character of ‘Roy Hobbs’ was patterned after the lives of several famous ballplayers – ‘Babe’ Ruth, Bobby Feller, Eddie Waitkus and ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. As screenwriter Roger Towne attested, “Almost all of the historical baseball allusions in the movie were Malamud’s.”
When ‘Roy Hobbs’ made it to the big screen, however, one more baseball legend was added to the mix. Towne explained, “Some have asked if the on-screen Roy Hobbs was modeled after Ted Williams. In a way, yeah, but that was mostly because Williams was a hero of Redford’s, and both were lefties, so Bob decided to wear number nine.
Redford even wanted Williams to visit the set, but unfortunately the ‘Splendid Splinter’ was on one of his extended fishing trips.”
“Ted Williams was my hero as a kid,” said Robert Redford. “This was really before television… I could just see him in my mind’s eye in Fenway Park. I copied his stance the way I'd seen it in pictures."
Ted Williams was an outfielder for the Boston Red Sox from 1939 to 1960. Much like The Natural’s ‘Roy Hobbs,’ he stated early in his career that his goal was to be “the greatest hitter who ever lived.” Also like Hobb's, his baseball career was interrupted for several years – though Williams wasn’t shot by a mysterious stalker. Instead, he served as a Marine Corps flight instructor during World War II and flew bombing runs during the Korean War. Though he was shot down over
North Korea in 1953, he was able to ‘limp’ the fighter jet back to an Air Force base over the South Korean border. All in all, Williams’ military service took five years out of his baseball career, which significantly limited his career totals. When he was released from military service, he returned to major league baseball as a star.
Redford recalled, “The first time I was ever in New York – must’ve been 1957 – I was standing on top of the RCA Building asking the guide what all the buildings were, when off in the distance I saw this flash of light. ‘What’s that?’ I asked. The guard said it was Yankee Stadium, and I realized the Red Sox were playing the Yankees that night. I got in a subway and rode out to the ball park and got a seat in the bleachers… Williams came up to pinch hit in the ninth. I said to myself, ‘Bob, this is for you.’ And I’ll be damned if he didn’t hit one right over my head for a home run… I’d had some good days myself, but that was my biggest thrill in sports.”
While making The Natural, Redford got a chance to emulate his childhood hero. “I didn’t really play ball again until I filmed this picture,” Redford said. “Then, 27 years later, I discovered what it was I liked about baseball. Everybody in life wants his time at bat, after all. And there I was, standing up there and hitting one out. Yes, I did, before a crowd of thousands – all extras. Of course, the rightfield foul line was only 310 feet, but I did get one out of there. Like Ted Williams.”
Peter Handrinos, “Baseball Men: The Storyteller,” scout.com, 12/20/06
Ron Fimrite, “A Star With Real Clout,” Sports Illustrated, 5/7/84