The (Un)Natural: A-Rod Updates Malamud

Just hours after MLB read its punishment to Alex Rodriguez, good old Ozzie Guillen tweeted this gem:

Ozzie Guillen FND ✔ @OzzieGuillen

its all madonnas fault. every athlete she has been with has gone bad. see canseco, rodman and now rodriguez lol lol lol

6:27 PM - 5 Aug 2013

It got me thinking about the girl with the gun. Harriet Bird, the murderess obsessed with baseball heroes in Bernard Malamud's The Natural. She shot Roy Hobbes. Hobbes; possessor of preternatural baseball ability but also the tragic inability to understand the responsibility of his greatness. So he gives in to his insatiable appetite for the idea of greatness, less the acts of greatness.

Performance enhancing drugs: they are the girl with gun for today's ballplayers. PEDs are the siren song. So attractive. So easy. And so tragic. Not only is your career ruined but so is your vessel -- your natural gifts -- permanently scarred and shrunken and distorted. This is why A-Rod is playing the victim. He has read Malamud. Like Roy Hobbes, he was simply shot by the girl with the gun. He will come back to life, to the game, just like Roy Hobbes. Just like Hobbes, for A-Rod it's not the girl with the gun that is the evil, nor his attraction to her, it's the vultures -- owners (the Judge), the management (Gus Sands), the media (Max Mercy). As if they didn't know.

There are other villains/explanations, right? What about those agents in Brooklyn? Weren't eight or so of the "dirty dozen" represented by them? Then there's the Latino theory. Latino ballplayers who came from those piss-poor places where the fast ticket out is the girl with the gun. Did you see Sugar? Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck in 2008, it's the story of what's like to be young, gifted, Dominican and poor, so poor that your mother's heart and soul is all own and you will do anything to yourself to protect it. It is a hero's journey. It is The Natural brought 60 years up to speed; The Natural on steroids. Sugar is the most affecting sports movie I've seen in many years. It is a sensitive and observant work of verisimilitude that informs us that dreams are crushed every day for nobodies you've never heard of who had precious hero potential if fulfilled you might never have forgotten.

Yet verisimilitude is no match for verity. Crimes have been committed, you see. All these home runs and low ERAs, well sports fans, the news tells us there are no fairy tales, no true heroes. Discussing it all on ESPN's Baseball Tonight right after the penalty was handed down, Jon Kruk commented on A-Rod's career: "If you see a guy who is performing so much better than everyone else he must be using. " Unlike the movie version, The Natural the novel does not have a happy ending. Roy Hobbes strikes out. Even in his second chance, he cannot resist the girl and all she stands for.

Verity, verity, verity. Slumped on my couch, remote in my hand, I reach for verity. And godammit, I still believe. My cynic is conscious but so is my dreamer. The happy ending, for The "real" Natural? It lives. Didn't you see it? It goes like this: Injury causes him to miss the first two months of the season -- everyone wondering, for a few seasons now, is this last season for The Captain? He comes back only to re-injure himself the first game he plays. Maybe, this time, the Captain truly is finished. Two weeks later, on the first pitch he sees, he does it. He hits a home run in front of the home crowd. This is Derek Jeter. This is verity. It's better than the book or the movie.