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Monday, April 19, 2021

‘The Natural’ 20th anniversary: Why the cheat scandal is not the Cubs

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Most baseball movies are about young players coming up with their first big deal. Not “The Natural.” The 20th anniversary of the movie is upon us, and the film seems remarkably relevant.

The baseball story of Mikey and his quasi-petals does seem almost eerily prescient for our day, as does the subject matter: The Sports Illustrated cover of Oct. 7, 1988. It was called “The Fix” and featured nine major leaguers implicated in ball cheats who had formerly been a part of the Chicago Cubs team known as the “Chicago 7.”

Almost three decades later, the story has been revisited on the HBO series “Luck,” but “The Natural” is one of the most detailed histories of the baseball briber. A case that has led to nine guilty pleas and three convictions: In fact, the first couple of seasons of “Luck” were actually told onscreen from “The Natural’s” POV.

“Baseball’s biggest secret is a secret everyone loves to keep,” says Brad Kretzmann, an aide in the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, from which we hear the sounds of door slamming and needles clacking. With a vested interest in the story that includes the longtime MVP of the scene who was part of the real-life 7, baseball’s worst crimes, secret corruption and fame of the scandal are explored through a stranger than fiction perspective. But as The Natural learns in the movie, words cannot explain everything. But perhaps one of the most moving moments of the movie comes when Mikey says, “But I love sports so much.” The Cubs as the Cubs; the seven cheating Cubs as the seven superstars of their way back from hell in heaven (in case you don’t know; or don’t care and just want to stay up all night in a bathtub in Boca Raton).

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