Today we salute The Natural, or at least this year's incarnation: Shane Spencer of the New York Yankees. Just like Redford's Roy Hobbs, he's a nobody from nowhere and at 26, a little old maybe to be breaking into the bigs. Unlike the hero of Barry Levinson's gorgeous, myth-infused baseball fable, Spencer is neither angel, Christ figure, nor the best there ever was. But he's one hell of a hitter.
In 67 regular-season at bats, Spencer hit 10 home runs (and three grand slams) just to show McGwire and Sosa how easy it is -- and tossed in six doubles just for fun. Then he crushed one in Game 2 on Wednesday to beat back the Rangers. And Friday -- well, the way Yankees starter David Cone attracts run support, we could see some playoff records fall.
How long does the magic last? For Hobbs it was one season, filled with glories of a cosmic scale. He saved the New York Knights, saved Pop, and broke the bad gamblers with one cascade of the stadium lights. The Knights needed an angel desperately. After 116 wins and counting, the Yankees maybe didn't; after the yearlong McGwire-and-Sosa show, baseball maybe didn't either. But there's always room for one more.