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Williams' No. 9 honored in 'The Natural'

Williams' No. 9 honored in 'The Natural'

Roy Hobbs, one of the most noted baseball fiction characters of all-time, wore No. 9 a quarter-century ago in the smash hit film, "The Natural."

He was also left-handed and the possessor of a sweet swing and a flair for home runs in the most dramatic of situations.

As it turns out, the Hobbs character -- played by Robert Redford -- was trying to emulate, at least in some fashion, a non-fictional character who was larger than life.

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While Wednesday is a day that the number "9" is wild -- it is Sept. 9, 2009 -- it is another chance to remember the lasting magnitude of Ted Williams, the magnificent Splendid Splinter.

Williams, the last baseball player to hit .400 (.406 in 1941), wore No. 9 for his entire career (1939-60) with the Boston Red Sox.

When Redford finally fulfilled a dream and got to be a baseball player on the big screen in 1984, it took him about two seconds to decide what number he would wear.

"I wanted to make a baseball movie for many, many years because baseball had been such a big part of my life. The No. 9 that I wore, that I was dedicating to Ted," Redford said in the recently released Ted Williams documentary filmed by HBO. "I just had it in my head as the perfect character to pattern myself after in terms of hitting and determination and the ability to block things out and focus on just what you were there for."

Williams drilled an epic game-winning homer to end the 1941 All-Star Game. He also gave his career a fairy-tale ending, hitting a home run in his final at-bat.

And there Hobbs was, out of the hospital bed -- blood staining his jersey -- hitting a home run to lift the New York Knights to the pennant. It seemed like something Ted Williams would do.

"It was just an homage to someone that I had respected and idolized for much of my life, and it was just a chance to bring that to a close," Redford told HBO.

Redford was one of many young boys in the 1940s and '50s simply blown away by the aura of Ted Williams.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to be a baseball player," Redford said. "We didn't have television then. We just had magazines. And I used to read about Ted Williams, because he was left-handed and I was left-handed. Because he was from Southern California and I was.

"Because, as I learned more about him, he grew up in a neighborhood very similar to mine. I just made a connection to him in my head. I thought he had just an incredible swing. I tried to pattern my swing after his, from looking at pictures. The more I learned about him, the more I realized that he was a scientific hitter with just incredible natural ability."

Take a trip to Fenway Park now and Williams' presence is felt, even seven years after his death. There is a Ted Williams statue outside of the ballpark. The No. 9 stands out among the other retired numbers on the right-field façade. There is only one red seat in the bleachers at Fenway, and it is the landing spot of a Williams blast in 1946 that was said to have traveled 502 feet.

Before Williams became a star, he said that his goal was for people to say when they saw him, "There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived."

You might recall a similar line in "The Natural."

"There goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was," Hobbs said in the Natural, speaking of what he hoped his legacy would be.

No. 9 -- be it Hobbs or the baseball player he emulated -- spun a tale for the ages.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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