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Who was/is baseball's ultimate "Natural?"



Every now and then I feel it is my responsibility as your bartender, confidant and an erstwhile pop-culture moron to pass on some important info to you, my beloved patrons.

This is one of those times.

Roy Hobbs is 73.

Actually, Robert Redford, one of those actors who seemingly stayed the same age for about 40 years and then suddenly looks old, turned 73 on Tuesday.

Sharing a birthday with Redford: Dirty Dancing’s Patrick Swayze, who turned 57; and Baltimore’s Edward Norton, who hit the Big Four-Oh Tuesday.

Also turning 40 Tuesday: Creepy actor Christian Slater and rapper Masta Killa of Wu-Tang Clan.

Yeah, I had too much time on my hands Tuesday. I was on a plane to Tampa to cover the Orioles and I accidentally packed my novel in my check-in luggage. So I read every inch of two newspapers (and still had about an hour to kill).

Anyway, back to Redford, who has had many key roles in his esteemed career. But to me he will always be Hobbs, the mythical lead character in, “The Natural,” one of my Top Five baseball movies (Bull Durham and Field of Dreams battle for my top spot).

Quick aside: For nearly two decades I have been in a fantasy baseball league in which the person that finishes last has to attend the following year’s draft in a dress. Yes, it’s an all-male league. One year, a respected journalist who will go unnamed – but was not me: I’ve never had the dress indignity -- showed up as Glenn Close in “The Natural,” complete with the wide-brimmed white hat. Now that is losing in style.)

OK, so to today’s question: The term “The Natural,” has been thrown around a bunch of times over the last few decades to describe a young ballplayer with unlimited promise.

Orioles’ catcher Matt Wieters has gotten that moniker from some (I prefer “Savior in Shin Guards,” but that’s just me). Many of the players with that label, however, have failed to meet the lofty expectations. New York Mets outfielder Jeff Francoeur, formerly of the Atlanta Braves, is a recent example. But who is baseball’s ultimate natural?

Brief Guidelines: To be a proper “natural,” the player has to have immense God-given talent, has to have hit the big leagues early in life and has to have ridiculous hype surrounding him.

To me, the quintessential natural was Ken Griffey Jr., who was one of the few to live up to the expectations. As for Orioles, Jeffrey Hammonds is the first to come to mind. Injuries stopped him from reaching his potential.

Daily Think Special: Who was baseball’s ultimate natural?

Bonus Think Special: Who was the Orioles’ ultimate natural?

Comments

O's natural: Hammonds is a good one, but I'd also add Otter Olson. Big things were expected from the moment he was drafted, and for the most part he delivered, until his arm gave out.

Overall natural: Dwight Gooden. What a waste. This kid (back then he was anyway) was Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson rolled into one. Watching him pitch was an event, not just another game.

Baseball’s ultimate natural: Willie “Say Hey” Mays.

The Orioles’ all-time natural: Cal “Charmed Life” Ripken, Jr.

Ultimate 'Natural' - Mickey Mantle
Orioles Ultimate 'Natural' - still Jeffrey Hammonds

Ken Griffey is a great modern-day choice. However, my all-time Natural has to be Ted Williams.

Wieters has to be the Orioles version of the Natural ... immense God-given talent (check), hit the big leagues early in life (check), and ridiculous hype (check). Hammonds doesn't come close to matching him in those three criteria.

Hopefully, Wieters has a more successful career than Jeffrey did.

I only saw him play at the tail end of his career but I would think Willie Mays must be in that category. And he had all the tools to be a star from the get go. It was a different era media wise so there probably wasn't a lot of ridiculous hype.

As for the O's...I remember all the hoopla surrounding Ben McDonald and he seemed to have it all. Didn't pan out but he had the talent.

Bo Jackson

only one natural. babe ruth..great pitcher..great great great hitter.

Great question Dan! There are several "legends" who come to mind- Babe Ruth of course, Gehrig, Mantle, Mays, and a few others. In the more modern era, I would go with Griffey Jr. or Nolan Ryan. (I know- he was a pitcher- he may not have had the same all-around talents, but still- seven no-hitters, pitching well into his forties, and he made it look...well... natural.)

As for an Oriole, I'd like to pick Brooksie or Cal, but I know that their accomplishments were equal parts natural ability and hard work. For pure natural talent though, I'm going to say Frank Robinson.

On another topic (and maybe this is an idea for a future question), you gave us three of your top five baseball movies, but what are the other two? My guess is that Pride of the Yankees has to be in there, and knowing your sense of humor- Major League.

I agree with Griffey, who was the clearest "Natural" in my lifetime.

I say Pujols is the best "Natural" in the game now!

On a side, humorous note...does anyone else besides me remember when former Oriole Brad Komminsk was once referred to (in Braves organization) as being the next "Hank Aaron"?!

Josh Hamilton when he first came up with the Marlins (?)

Ben McDonald for the O's!

Ken Griffey Jr. is probably the top choice for this query.

Frank Robinson. He was some natural baseball player. Best player I ever saw, and became a pretty good manager of some really bad teams. Yeah, Frank was great baseball player, a leader, and a Hall of Fame " NATURAL".

No question. Mickey Mantle

Baseball all time natural- "The Babe". The one and only from Baltimore. Nobody close. Babe Ruth is the all time "Natural".

The Orioles ultimate natural - Cal Ripken, Jr

First, I have to disagree with your premise. If we are talking about a comparison to Roy Hobbs, then the player would have had to make a career comeback after getting off track. Therefore, I have to say that Josh Hamilton comes to mind. Tons of hype, tons of talent, but got distracted due to some early character flaws, but overcame them to be an elite player in baseball.

However, if you want to talk about pure natural talent, then I have to go with Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays.

Eddie Murray and Rickey Henderson.

The real life natural was a fellow who played for the O's for a short time named Eddie Waitkus. He has a interesting story.

Props to Kenny for his Josh Hamilton comments. And also to malbie for naming the Splinter, probably the best pure hitter since Cobb. Can't go wrong with the Babe either, great pitcher and hitter, not just for home runs. And Bo was an athletic freak of nature - darn shame he took a helmet to his hip.

For the answer on pure natural talent, with or without the hype, my top two choices are Say Hey and Junior Griffey. For the Orioles, hmmm... Hammonds was an athletic talent that unfortunately never realized his potential due to injuries. Ripken got the most out of his natural abilities with his unsurpassed work ethic. I'm going with Adam Jones for his natural atheletic abilities even though he came without the hype of others.

As for the hype of today compared with the days of yore, Mays was hyped because he played in New York. Aaron was not because he played in Milwaukee, and then Atlanta.

The real natural was a fellow named Eddie Waitkus who played for the O's for 2 years. The natural was all based on Eddie getting shot by his sometimes girlfriend.

Ted Williams!!!!!!!! He hit .406 when he was 22!!! He left baseball for a few years to save the world and didn’t miss a beat when he returned!!

Certainly not Cal "The most overrated player in baseball history" Ripken, though if you want to go by the criteria of having stretches of where he couldn't hit a lick and didn't deserve to be on the field, like Roy Hobbs' Nemo Paris stage, Cal would qualify.

I say the O's all-timer is Eddie Murray. He kind of appeared, like Hobbs did, out of no where and certainly had rotten streaks but also streaks of where you couldn't get him out.

All-time natural is Babe Ruth, with a nod to Teddy Ballgame. Today's natural has to be Albert Pujols.

Because he had so many of the qualities the current O's lack, like leadership, I second the nomination of Frank Robinson for the team's "nat" The best baseball movie is the original Bad News Bears. The glorious corruption of youth sports is exposed hilariously. Limiting myself to guys I saw play, George Brett hit .388 for the season one year, had at least ok power and likely has a few gold gloves.

Daryl Strawberry
Vida Blue
JR Richard
Greg Olson -wild thing

Hamilton was first with Rays.

How about Dave "Swish" Nicholson?

First of all, Ken, let's be honest here...the most overrated player in the history of the game is Derek "I play for the Yankees and because of that everything I do is amazing" Jeter. Cal won 2 MVP awards, several gold gloves, a World Series ring, always played the game the right way. You can't win two MVP's and be overrated. It's just not possible.

But, I agree with you that he wasn't the Orioles "Natural." In fact, I actually think that the most "Natural" Oriole is Nick Markakis. The guy is so fluid, plus he was formerly a pitcher with a 96 mph fastball.

The most natural baseball player, I think I've ever seen in my lifetime, though is Ken Griffey, Jr. Absolute monster and if it weren't for several big injuries, he probably would have been the greatest player to ever play the game.

Oh, and I don't like that we're using Natural for Albert Pujols, nothing about that guy screams natural to me. Wait...do you smell that? Smells like steroids to me.

The greatest, most graceful, fluid, effortless, five-tool player that ever set foot on a ball field was Mickey Mantle. Had it not been for his congenitally bad knees (osteomylitis) and his own self-indulgences ("If I had known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself"), he would hold every record (prior to steroids). Most of Mays' home runs were pop ups compared to Mantle's monster shots. And Williams was, no doubt, a better hitter for average, but could not carry Mantle's glove, or run like a deer. When watching the Mick play, I often shook my head. Sometimes in awe, and sometimes thinking what might have been.

Shoeless Joe Jackson -- though he didn't come back....

Baseball's "natural" is, now and forever, the immortal Satchel Paige.

Totally agree on Griffey, andtotally disagree on Hammonds ... he was hyped but lets be honest it wasn't the injuries that stopped him from being the "Natural" it was the fact that he had horrible pitch selection and could not hit a slider much like Mike Devereux...once the opposing pitchers figured that it was over.

One and the same: Will Clark

Eddie Murray, hands down. Over his best years here- never let me down in the clutch. Always the most feared hitter in the lineup. Solid as a rock.

The natural was Johnny Bench, greatest all-around catcher ever. The O's Natural was Jim Palmer. No delivery was ever more smooth and fluid.

O's natural: Roberto Alomar

All-Time: Griffey, pre-steroid Bonds, Mays, Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith, Greg Maddux

Albert Pujols

I don't want to turn this into a Cal Ripken discussion but, first of all, Jacob, Ripken's second MVP was a joke. How can you be valuable to your team when your team finishes sixth? He played the game the right way? How is playing when you frankly didn't deserve to play playing the game the right way?

The "Why Not" year everyone's talking about? When the team needed him the most, in September, the everyday SS and number three hitter hit .198. The last 20 games of the year? He hit .157 with eight RBI. Very valuable.

A whole generation of high school coaches had to teach their kids not to do what Ripken did, and that's play the ball off to the side. Whatever happened to getting in front of the ball? Gold Gloves? He won two. World Series? Second year, when he was a truly valuable player. Nothing after that. I can go on and on.

Sorry, he is the most overrated player in baseball history. And yes, I would much rather have Derek Jeter anytime. Jeter is a winner, pure and simple, the epitome of doing it the right way(just ask Madonna or Jessica Alba; sorry, I digress.)

And Pujols? What inside info do you have the Albert is not legit? With all the jackals out there just waiting for some dirt and the fact that no one has found any with this guy, you are still gonna say he's juiced? I don't buy it.

I will though grant you Markakis and Griffey, Jr. Two outstanding ball players.

Babe Ruth. Just like Roy Hobbs he was a great young pitcher. He, of course, made his real impact on the game with a bat in his hands. And just like another famous Yankee, the Mick, he could get royally drunk, stay out til 4am and STILL hit HR's the next day. Both Mantle and Ruth had overwhelming talent and it is scary to think what they would have been like had their private lives been like Cal's or Brooks.

Future "natural." Dorian Hairston out of Lexington, KY. 15 years old and a minature Willie Mays. He plays centerfield, hits for average and power. He also pitches and runs like a deer. He is five foot 11 and 180 pounds at 15 years of age. Keep an eye out a few years down the line. He is a Natural waiting to happen.

The most recent Oriole that was hyped but never really panned out: Ben McDonald.

An old Oriole who had a ton of ability and never panned out: JACKIE BRANDT

Only two:
Barry Bonds
Bo Jackson

Chipper Jones

Babe Ruth was baseball's greatest player ever. He certainly was a natural.

Next to him, I would put Mickey Mantle. A player with great genetic gifts.

They both excelled when the only supplements they took were whiskey, hot dogs and beer.

Think of what they could have done with a little "clear."

Rick Ankiel. Big hype when he came up (at least in St. Louis) as a young phenom pitcher. Issues that derailed his career for years. Came back as an outfielder that nobody thought would make it and hit bombs left and right when he returned. He's struggled to regain that form since, but, remember, Hobbs strikes out at the end of the book.

Although I am too young to see him in person. Hands down the "Natural" has to be Mickey Mantle, 5-tools, lot's of hype, I mean he was scouted by the Yankees when he was 16 years old. He also hit balls out of stadiums. Joe DiMaggio, in his final season, called Mantle, "the greatest prospect I can remember."

The Orioles "Natural", although unproven career wise, has to be Markakis. A multi tooled Left Hander who was an esteemed pitcher early in his career **Must similar to the Roy Hobbs character**. At Young Harris College, Markakis played as both an outfielder and a pitcher, hitting .439 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs, while also gathering a 12–0 win–loss record as a pitcher with 1 save and a 1.68 earned run average in 15 games.

Shoeless Joe.
Obviously I never saw him but Ruth said he was the best hitter and patterned his swing after him. Had all five skills covered.

Mantle.
My boyhood idol. If only he had never tripped over that drainage ditch in left field in 51 - he couldnt have been the greatest ever. Heard my dad mumble that thousands of times.

Mays.

Griffey Jr.

Josh Gibson and Satchell Paige.
Met and talked to Buck O'Neill in 95; I've got to take his word about these two.

Ted Williams. The Babe. Bo Jackson. Bob Gibson.

Pujols and Hamilton are awesome baseball players but their power (only one part of the game) comes from bulking up in the gym (legally or not) not necessarily "natural". Many great players arent necessarily natural. (I think) we're not talking comebacks but natural talent and ability. Born to play baseball.

CAL was born to play ball, but I'm on the fence with natural; he worked his behind off. Old School - FRobby and Jim Palmer. Hard to ignore Jeffery Hammonds. New School - Adam Jones and "The Kid" Weiters behind the plate.

This is a great topic for thought and discussion - thanks Dan!!

Ted Williams, easily. Take away his war service and who knows what he might have accomplished.

O's never had a natural, as i think of the term. Some awfully good players, worthy of Cooperstown -- but none of Williams' stature.

Sorry, Ken- I gotta jump back in here.

No offense as you are entitled to your opinion, but it really perplexes me when some of our own fans start Cal bashing! You say Cal is "the most overrated player in baseball HISTORY"?! Are you kidding me!! [I also don't think Jeter is most overrated in history either. Even though we hate the Yanks, he's still a solid, consistent player.]

Man, what did Cal ever do to you to fuel this kind of opposition? And like you, I love Eddie as well! Talk about an UNDERRATED player- it's Murray. But seriously, let's get real here. First of all, to say Cal's second MVP was a joke...look at baseball HISTORY and tell me how many MVP's there have been on teams that DIDN'T finish in, or at least NEAR first place? The list is very short. THIS reason validates just how good Cal was in '91! He carried our team on his back. Now I will be the first to admit that he is not one of the greatest offensive players in history, but still his numbers were solid: over 400 HR's, 3,000 hits, the RBI's, doubles, etc. Plus, he transformed the perspective of the shortstop position to add hitting with power. But it's all intangibles, like how hard he worked and how good he was defensively. But he has some serious achievements that very few MLB players can boast: first ever player to win Rookie of the year, then MVP in next season; 2 league MVP's; 2 All-Star game MVP's; multiple consecutive All-Star appearances; HR derby winner in '91 All-Star game; and a HR is his LAST All-Star game- oldest player ever to HR in All-Star game! Then, the gold gloves- and speaking of gold gloves, what about that ridiculous year of 1990 when he had like 3 errors, including that consecutive game streak WITHOUT an error! And speaking of streaks...um, 2632- perhaps the greatest feat in the history of sports!

Sorry, Ken. I just get really fired up when O's fans actually criticize Cal. I love Brooks, Eddie, Palmer, etc., but Cal is the greatest Oriole ever and certainly is not "the most overrated player in baseball history".

Theodore Samuel Williams. No bout adoubt it. Bryan's right. At the height of his career, he served in two wars and was an ace fighter jock in both. Add 200 HRs to his stats and look who he was challenging.

Orioles natural: Eddie Murray. God-given talent and made everything look so easy that a lot of the fans thought he wasn't trying.

Freddie Bynum

Hobbs main attribute was his hiotting in the clutch. Cal in the World Series, in game 2030 and 2031, last All Star Game. Those were Hobbs all over!

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