OK, well, things have cleared up a bit. So to celebrate … well, it’s been way too long since there’s been a curiously long post about something nobody on earth should care about. So here we go.
Seems to me that one of the great questions in the history of sports movies — and, so, one of the great questions in all of life — was whether or not Scott Carson purposely double-crossed the Judge when he sent Roy Hobbs to the New York Knights.
I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s time to decide this definitively. You will remember the scene from “The Natural.” Roy Hobbs shows up to play for the New York Knights. He’s old and broken down. Hobbs was supposed to be 34, though Redford was 46 or so when he played the role. Anyway, Hobbs walks in, and the Knights manager Pop Fisher, despite having the lousiest team imaginable, is outraged. He apparently was not informed about the Hobbs signing. The conversation goes like this:
Pop: What do we got here? The Salvation Army band?
Hobbs: Pop Fisher?
Pop: Who wants to know?
Hobbs: I’m Roy Hobbs, your new right fielder.
Pop: My what?
Hobbs (showing him a letter): It’s right here.
Pop: Scotty Carson sent you here?
Hobbs: That’s right.
Pop: He must be nuts.
So, that’s Scotty Carson, the Knights chief scout. He had signed Hobbs to the major leagues right off a semi-pro team called the Heeber Oilers*. Best I can tell, there is no “Heeber” anywhere in America. There is a “Heber” in Arizona, another in California, and a fairly big city in Utah called Heber City. There is also a Heber Springs, Arkansas, where former NFL star Fred Williams lived. I like to think that’s the place where Scott found Roy Hobbs.
*In the book, Scotty found Hobbs while playing for the “Oomoo Oilers.” I have no idea why the movie people would have changed that — Oomoo Oilers is a much better name than Heeber Oilers.
Scotty and Pop must have known each other for a good while because Pop gave him the authority to sign a player, on sight, if “he ever found anybody decent.” I’m fascinated by the back story. Pop, best I can tell, is a horrendous manager. He allows some hypnotist to come in and try to voodoo them out of a losing streak. His team’s fundamentals are beyond terrible. But it’s also fair to say that he doesn’t have a lot to work with; there isn’t a player on his team who looks younger than 43. I’m guessing that Pop was a decent catcher in the big leagues, respected by everyone, he became a manager, was pretty good, and was offered manger, treasurer and part-owner of the New York Knights. Pop’s undoubtedly a good man who he loves baseball. The fact that he had that kind of trust in Scotty Carson suggests that Carson has been a good scout, or was at some point in his life.
Of course, there’s a complication — the Judge has muscled Pop out of of power, and is trying to take over the team full-time. The Judge — it is never clear if he is still a judge — is an evil guy, based on the facts that he likes sitting in the dark and using big words. There’s a bookie and gambler named Gus who has a glass eye and is tampering with the players and escorting Kim Basinger around a lot. So he’s evil too. There’s also corrupting sportswriter named Max Mercy who can draw pretty well and is interested in getting the dirt of ballplayer’s lives. You can bet Max Mercy would not vote for Mark McGwire in the Hall of Fame. It is fair to say that all this does not create a healthy environment. It’s slightly worse than what’s going on with the Twins this year.
The Judge also seems to have corrupted Scotty Carson into purposely signing lousy baseball players.
Judge: As my chief scout, Mr. Carson, I’m relying on your honor.
Carson: I’m doing what you asked. Hobbs is a joke, a nobody from nowhere.
Judge: Yes, that’s what concerns me, Mr. Carson.
So, what to believe? Did Scotty send Hobbs to New York because he’s a joke and would make the team even worse than it was already? Scotty Carson is smart enough to realize that the Judge is probably to get control of the team — the only way he won’t is if the Knights win the pennant, and the Knights are absurdly bad — and I’m sure he wants to stay in baseball. Or did Scotty send Hobbs to New York because he knew the guy could really play. He probably has some loyalty to Pop and probably wants to help him if there’s any way he can.
It is a classic question — kind of a “Lady or the Tiger” sports scenario. Really, there should be a whole movie about Scotty Carson. I’ll get to work on that.
In the meantime … I was watching The Natural again this week, and it struck me that I think I know which way Scott was leaning. Here’s what turned me. When Hobbs is talking with Red — who apparently was the only coach Pop had on the team — he’s very reluctant to talk, since he would basically have to explain that he used to be a pitcher, and he once struck out the Whammer on three pitches, and on a train he met a lady in black who looked a lot like that actress from “Hannah and Her Sisters,” and he thought she was hot, and she shot him and so on. That’s just not something you can cover in a quick dinner. He doesn’t say anything at all.
And Red says this:
“I read Scotty’s report on you. Said you’re one hell of a hitter.”
OK, so this probably tells us something. It seems: Scotty saw Hobbs play. It’s possible he could have written that report based on second-hand reports, but I doubt it. I think Scotty went to Heeber.
And so this is what I think happened: Scotty heard about this old guy who was hitting home runs in Heeber. He realizes that the way the Judge has scoped out his job, he is not really allowed to go sign real prospects anyway. So he heads over to Heeber to see for himself. Why not? All scouts — even the guys in the movie “Moneyball” — are curious beings. They like to get in their cars and drive to places like Heeber to see ballplayers. It’s just in their blood.
Scotty goes to Heeber to see Roy Hobbs play and … holy cow, this guys hits the hell out of the ball. Hobbs has gotta be 40 years old, and he’s a bit of nut (carries around his own bat in a case, had “Wonderboy” written on the bat, won’t say where he’s from, keeps talking about some Republican Party slush fund) and he plays the same position that Bump Bailey has locked down for the Knights. But there is no question he can really hit. He was probably hitting .650 down in Heeber — though if Scott was a real scout, he wouldn’t care about the numbers. He’d see that swing, and he’d know. Of course, he’d also know that this was Heeber, and that’s a long way from the big leagues. But it seems to me there’s no way Scotty could have missed the talent.
So now, Scotty has to make a hard decision. On the one hand, he knows if he sends up a talented player, the Judge will think he was double-crossed (“As my chief scout, Mr. Carson, I’m relying on your honor”). On the other, he knows that if Hobbs can hit like this for the big leagues, that could be a big boost for his old friend Pop. What to do?
But I keep coming back to this: Scotty saw Hobbs play. And I believe this: No scout could see a player like Roy Hobbs and not sign him. That would cut against ever fiber of being a scout in the first place. These are men (and a couple of women, though not many) who dedicate their lives to finding talent. This was especially true in the Roy Hobbs days. Scouts went from town to town, chasing rumors, tracking potential, running time and again into fastballs that fell just a little bit short, hitters whose swings could not make the big jump, shortstops with heavy legs that will only get heavier. They so rarely see the real deal, the player who is not only good enough to get to the big leagues but good enough to star in the big leagues. Some never see that player.
And when they do see it — their eyes light up like the Vegas strip. My first full-time job, I covered high school sports in Lancaster, S.C., and there was an amazing young baseball talent there named Earl Cunningham — I’ve written about him before too. And while the dozens and dozens of scouts were watching Earl Cunningham, I was watching the scouts. They were awed by the guy, the way he hit home runs over streets, the powerful way he ran and so on. Every one of those scouts wanted to be the one to sign him — and this was in the days of the draft when you couldn’t just sign a player you liked.
So, it seems to me that Scotty Carson had wandered into the greatest find in the history of scouting — and I think he just had to sign the guy. No choice. No doubt. This was what he lived to do. Of course, once he signed Hobbs, it was out of his hands. He had to know Pop probably would not play Hobbs because he looked to be a hundred years old and anyway he already had the talented-but-incorrigible Bump Bailey in right field (why Pop couldn’t move Hobbs to left is beyond me, but like I say, Pop was a lousy manager). He also had to know that if Pop DID play him, there was a chance the guy could crush the ball and that would get Judge angry.
So he figured out an answer for that too: “Hobbs is a joke. He’s a a nobody from nowhere.”
I think Scotty Carson knew exactly what he was doing.