My favorite baseball movie of all time is The Natural. Go ahead, mock me.

I love it for all that is pure fantasy: whittling Wonderboy from a lightning-split tree, whiffing The Whammer, inexplicable shooting by a crazy woman, busted open balls, deadly outfield walls, exploding clocks in Wrigley, Glenn Close sold as attractive, a shadow lurking owner, Wilford Brimley being tangentially related to Kim Basinger, and of course… the bloody hero’s fireworks display.

But more than that, I love what is deeply rooted in fact: women ruin ballplayers.

Especially beautiful women. And for my money, 1984 Kim Basinger was about as attractive as it gets. It’s easy to get lost in the trials and triumphs of Roy Hobbs, but the most interesting character is actually Basinger’s haunting depiction of cleat-chasing bad luck charm: Memo Paris.

natural-1Kryptonite.

A quick refresher on Memo’s circle of friends and the torment they endure by simply associating themselves with her:

Bump Bailey: With his head in Paris and not on the field, his play is lackadaisical. He plays poorly enough for Pop to bench him in favor of Roy, who then proceeds to literally hit the cover off the ball. Bump responds by actually trying hard and runs through the proverbial wall for his manager, only to die for his efforts.

Pop: With his niece watching every game, Pop has suffered through countless losing seasons. He is a miserable old man who has completely lost touch with whatever was once enjoyable about the game.

natural-2“He took my Quaker Oats!”

Gus: He finances Memo’s extravagant lifestyle without ever actually sampling the goods. A sugar daddy who gets no sugar in return. Also, he gets burned by betting on her ability to seduce Hobbs away from playing in the final game.

natural-3

“How’d Hobbs do that coin behind the ear trick?”

The Judge: Thanks to Memo’s inability to control Roy, he loses control of the team to Pop. She pops a cap in his office floor for good measure.

natural-4.“I certainly have a type.”

Roy: When his relationship with Memo heats up, his bat cools off. Significantly.

 

There are plenty of valid criticisms for why these could all be coincidence and no fault of Memo’s:

Outfield fences were dangerous in the 1930s, it could have happened to anyone!

Pop, not Memo, is Pop’s problem.

Gus was a bad gambler and a worse magician, he got what he deserved!

Who leaves a loaded gun out in the open where a mentally unstable woman can get her hands on it?

Roy was bound to regress!

The league finally got a book on him and started pitching to his weaknesses!

Memo Paris is just a fictional character conjured up by Bernard Malamud!

 

Ah ha, that’s where you’re wrong. Memo Paris is real. And I know her.

A few years ago, I had a young player named Lawrence, who was as physically gifted as anyone I had ever coached. He was capable of doing just about anything on the field. He fearlessly patrolled centerfield, held runners at bay with a howitzer attached at his shoulder, peppered the gaps with sharp line drives and gracefully floated around the bases. In a pinch, he could come in from the outfield and pitch an inning, efficiently eviscerating opposing hitters. He was destined for stardom.

 

natural-5

“What could possibly go wrong?”

 

And then he met Memo.

In stark contrast to the statuesque blonde played by Basinger, Memo was a petite brunette – but no less the devilish minx. She dressed provocatively, partied hard, lingered around our baseball practices to make herself seen, and feigned a flirtatious ignorance that was devoured like catnip by my players. Once she lured Lawrence into her Bermuda Triangle, he lost all sense of direction and had no chance at escape.

 

natural-6

“Just one dance won’t slow you down for tomorrow’s game.”

Shortly after they started dating, Lawrence went into a tailspin. His power vanished. He was sluggish in the field and on the basepaths. His on base percentage plummeted while his strikeout rate skyrocketed to a Javier Baez-esque 40%. Even his arm began to give him fits, ending his dalliances on the mound and limiting his effectiveness in the field. A few weeks into the season, he lost his starting outfield job and spent the bulk of the season as a spectator on the bench.

All the while, Memo sat dutifully in the front row, flanked by her squad of wannabe groupies, not far from the on deck circle. She watched mostly in silence, offering obligatory words of encouragement every time her boyfriend shuffled back into the dugout after waiving pathetically at three pitches. Actually, “words of encouragement” is charitable. Truthfully, her words were full of more pity and subterfuge than truly encouraging. “Just missed it, you’re right on him,” is encouraging. “You’ll get him next time,” is encouraging. But Memo’s post-K, “Don’t worry, I still love you even when you strike out,” was pitiful. Furthermore, it was devious because it actually planted the idea that, in addition to losing playing time and hurting the team’s chances of winning; he was also playing for her affections. At the conclusion of each game, he would find refuge in her arms, the agony of his latest on-field failures evaporating with every embrace.

 

natural-7

“I wore this in honor of your latest hat trick.”

Lawrence’s downward spiral opened the door for other players to earn playing time. The primary beneficiary was Shawn, a junior college transfer, who was also an outfielder/pitcher. He soon usurped Lawrence in the starting lineup and began racking up valuable innings on the mound. His star was clearly on the rise. Lawrence’s had fizzled. And girls like Memo only want to be with stars.

In hindsight, it’s obvious how this would play itself out, but for Lawrence, it hit him like an outfield wall at a full sprint.

 

natural-8

Love personified.

Shawn was powerless to resist Memo’s charms and a full-blown love triangle erupted. The tension was palpable. Lawrence and Shawn were icy towards each other on the field and avoided each other off it. Memo, ever the superfan, continued to hold court over the WAG section of the stands, despite her shift in romantic loyalties.***
Fortunately, Lawrence landed on his feet in time for the next season. He scooped up a nice quiet farm girl to soothe his pain and stroke his…ego. Seriously, I’m not stretching the truth to make it “fit” the movie. The girl was an equine major who spent the majority of her academic life in a barn, not a classroom. She wasn’t as comely as Memo, but she was just what he needed to regain his focus and confidence.

 

natural-9

“I look my best in the dark with the light behind me.”

Shawn stayed with Memo through the following season.

Now, since most readers of BttP are likely educated in the dark arts of narrative, you can probably guess what happened next. Also, since most BttP readers are as interested in raw data as with prose, the next part of the story need not be told with words, but with numbers:

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

TB

BB

HBP

SO

SB

SBA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Lawrence Pre-Memo

114

26

35

5

7

0

15

54

12

5

18

13

16

.307

.397

.474

0.871

Lawrence Post-Memo

80

18

23

7

1

3

13

41

12

4

19

8

8

.288

.406

.513

0.919

Shawn Pre-Memo

55

11

16

3

0

0

11

19

11

1

10

3

4

.291

.412

.343

0.755

Memo-less Totals

249

55

74

15

8

3

39

114

35

10

47

24

28

.297

.405

.458

0.863

AB

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

TB

BB

HBP

SO

SB

SBA

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

Lawrence w/Memo

72

8

15

4

2

0

11

23

5

2

29

4

6

.208

.272

.319

0.591

Shawn w/Memo

42

9

8

2

0

1

9

13

15

1

23

2

5

.190

.407

.310

0.717

Memo-full Totals

114

17

23

6

2

1

20

36

20

3

52

6

11

.202

.336

.316

0.652

 

 

***Epilogue

While you marvel at the strikeout rate of the Memo-stricken players, allow me to conclude with the last spooky parallel to The Natural. Shortly after Memo jumped ship from Lawrence to Shawn, Shawn came down with a mysterious illness and needed to be hospitalized.

 

natural-10

“On second thought, I’m gonna sit this one out.”

Our team, which had won 11 of the last 12 (aka 11 of the last 13) games, suddenly dropped five straight while Shawn staved off death’s icy grip. We limped into the playoffs without Shawn and promptly lost the next two, eliminating us from the tournament and ending our season. On the somber bus ride back from the playoffs, I couldn’t help but wonder if, when life imitates art – it exacts revenge on Hollywood endings.

 

natural-11

This only happens in movies that betray the source material.

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