By In Baseball

No. 57: Roy Hobbs

Roy Hobbs was born in Sabotac Valley, Iowa in 1904, the same year as Hall of Famer Chuck Klein. Hobbs’ mother died in childbirth. His father, William, had played some semi-professional baseball before settling on a farm; Billy Hobbs desperately wanted his son to become a Major League player. According to legend, Billy would draw a circle on the side of a barn and tell young Roy to hit that spot again and again. At age 14, Roy Hobbs had hit that circle so many times that his fastball actually broke through the wood. Billy Hobbs died of a heart attack that same year.

Young Roy Hobbs was a phenomenal amateur pitcher; he threw eight no-hitters his senior year in high school. When Billy Hobbs died, Roy was taken in by a former big league catcher named Sam “Bub” Simpson, who is a good story in himself. Bub Simpson played for the St. Louis Browns from 1904 to 1906. He was a terrific defensive catcher and he hit .340 his first season, though he quickly drank his way out of the game. He lived near Sabotac Valley and was Billy Hobbs best friend. He sent letters to the Chicago Cubs raving about young Roy’s talents and after getting several tepid responses finally got Hobbs an invitation to a tryout.

How good a pitcher was Roy Hobbs in those days? It’s hard to tell. Simpson died the year he brought Hobbs to Chicago for the tryout but he supposedly told the sportswriter Max Mercy that he was a “slam-bang pitching prospect” and that he would be the “coming pitcher of the century.” Mercy himself always said he only saw Hobbs throw three pitches. Mercy’s story — and it is perhaps apocryphal — is that he was on the same train for Chicago as Simpson and Hobbs, only he happened to be traveling with one of the great sluggers of the day, Walter Wambold, known of course as “The Whammer.”* Wambold was apparently going East to work out a new contract.

*Wambold was probably the second-best right-handed hitter of the time behind Hornsby but, ironically, he is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The irony is that Max Mercy himself led a campaign against Wambold, insisting that the Whammer used a corked bat and various potions and elixirs that Mercy was convinced were performance enhancing drugs. Wambold denied this until his death but just before the first Hall of Fame election in 1936 Mercy quoted Wambold’s second ex-wife saying that she saw him load up on performance enhancers. Whammer never got even 10% of the vote.

According to Mercy, at some point, the train stopped at a fairgrounds, and a somewhat inebriated Simpson suggested that Hobbs could strike out Wambold on three pitches. A bet was arranged, and Mercy would write in biography, I Outlasted Them All: “As the sun set in the distance, Hobbs — barely a shadow on the mound — uncorked three of the damnedest pitches you ever saw. The first one hopped. The second one dropped. And the third one disappeared into a puff of smoke.” After seeing that, Mercy claimed Hobbs would have been better than Lefty Grove. Whammer denied the event ever happened though before he died, he reportedly told one friend that it did happen but “the sun was so low It was like hitting in a tunnel at midnight.”

We’ll never know just how good a pitcher Hobbs would have become because once the train reached the hotel, Hobbs was the victim of perhaps the oddest crime in baseball history. A woman named Harriet Bird, who deserves a book all her own, had decided to kill the greatest athlete in every American sport with a silver bullet. Bird, who considered herself something of an expert in literature and philosophy, supposedly believed that America’s growing attention on sports in the 1920s was leading the nation on the road to perdition. She was also crazy. In successive days, an Olympic athlete and a college football star (Johnny Zirowski, who played end for UCLA) were shot with silver bullets.

Bird was probably on the train to kill Whammer (though, if she wanted to kill the best, Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby were both better players). Instead, for unknown reasons, she turned her attention to Hobbs. Mercy always thought she was persuaded by the three-pitch exhibition that Hobbs was the better player, which seems an odd baseball decision but Harriet Bird was certifiably crazy. At a Chicago hotel, just before Hobbs could go to the Cubs tryout, Bird shot him in the side with a silver bullet. She then took her own life.

Doctors told Roy Hobbs he would never play baseball again.

The next 16 years of Hobbs life are dim and out of focus. Hobbs never much liked talking about anything, but he was especially reticent about those dark years. The only thing he would say was, “I lost my confidence.” He kicked around in various jobs. When he was 34 he decided to give baseball one more shot, this time as a hitter. The lingering injury from the silver bullet (which was never actually removed) made pitching out the question.

He joined a semi-pro team in Utah, the Heber (City) Oilers. In his first game, he hit five home runs. Yes. Five. The next day, he hit three more home runs. A New York Knights scout named Scotty Carson was traveling in Utah at the time, looking for a different player, when he heard about Hobbs. He saw Hobbs hit two doubles and a near 500-foot home run and signed him for $500 and gave him a train ticket to go directly to New York. Hobbs hit .798 with 11 home runs in the two weeks he was with the Oilers.

The Knights were the worst team in the National League when Hobbs arrived, and this was in large part because of their mostly incompetent manager, Pop Fisher. He had been a popular player for the Knights during Deadball, a good fielding second baseman with some speed. He could not hit at all. His nickname “Pop” did not come from his fatherly comportment but because that’s what he usually did when he actually connected with a pitch. His Knights were routinely awful, but he was part-owner of the team and so continued to manage.

Fisher’s managerial ineptitude is the stuff of legend. He was known to hire psychologists to address the players about the “disease of losing.” When Hobbs showed up, the Knights were buried in last place and Fisher decided to not only keep Hobbs on the bench but to not even allow him to take batting practice. Fisher was in the middle of a nasty battle with his co-owner Goodwill Banner, who was a successful New York judge (everyone called him “The Judge”). Fisher was convinced that the Judge had signed Hobbs as a trick to make him look bad and also so the team would lose more games, freeing the Judge to buy out Fisher and own the team himself. Fisher, in addition to being inept, was also a bit paranoid.

So, remarkably, Hobbs not only sat on the bench but was forbidden from taking batting practice for more than two weeks while the team sank deeper into the cellar. Finally, as the story goes, Hobbs walked out of a psychologist’s “Losing is a disease” seminar, infuriating Fisher. The two had words (Fisher reportedly threatened to send Hobbs down) but Hobbs’ earnestness impressed Pop. The next day at batting practice, Hobbs was included and he hit seven home runs in a row. Fisher — despite huge holes all over the field — kept Hobbs on the bench that day too.

But late in the game against Philadelphia, the Knights right fielder Bump Bailey dropped a fly ball, perhaps on purpose, and this was finally too much for Pop. He benched Bailey and sent Hobbs to the plate as a pinch-hitter. This was July 21, 1939. Hobbs came to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning and of course every baseball fan knowns what he did. With runners on first and second, he hit the baseball so hard, the stitching snapped and the baseball core and the yarn surrounding it popped out. According to legend, just before this happened, Pop Fisher had told Hobbs to “knock the cover off the ball,” though this part seems unlikely.

Just as Hobbs hit the ball, a flash of lightning lit up the sky and it began to pour rain. The Philadelphia outfielders fumbled with the twine and cork while rain fell in buckets. Two runners scored and Hobbs made it all the way around the bases for a triple. At this point, the Philadelphia manager and players raced on the field to argue with the umpire. Here was the story as it appeared in the Daily Mirror:

Roy Hobbs
Man From Nowhere

While Daily Mirror sports columnist Max Mercy continues to cry for an investigation into Roy Hobbs’ bat, speculation continues over the phenomenal blow that sent a baseball whirling into center field with enough twine to tie up the Philadelphia Phillies outfield and put right-fielding pitch-hitter Roy Hobbs on third base for a standup triple, scoring two runs and giving the Knights a sensational 4 to 3 victory over Philadelphia as rain plummeted down on Knights Field. When the umpire called Hobbs safe, a rhubarb boiled sending Phillies manager and his players onto the field. At the same time, Pop Fisher was shouting in defense of the ump. The ump had a troublesome time of it and was shoved this way and that. He tossed out two men and then turned in his decision that Hobbs hit was a ground-rule double.

The report was wrong — Hobbs slid into third — and the ruling has been the subject of much debate ever since because if it was called a ground-rule double, then the game should have been tied and the runner on first should have been sent back. But the victory stood. There was so much confusion … in large part because of Mercy’s insistence that Hobbs’ bat was corked and the investigation that followed.

This, by the way, was the lead in Mercy’s famous “Sports Beat” column the next day.

I have combed baseball record books and newspaper files and nowhere can I or my colleagues find any evidence that a cover has ever been knocked off a ball before, although some of the older stadium scribes insist its’s been done before.

Mercy insisted until his death that Hobbs corked that bat, which he called “Wonderboy,” though Hobbs himself always said he made it from a tree on his father’s farm that had been struck by lightning. The league examined the bat and, to Mercy’s disgust, agreed with Hobbs and approved it. Hobbs was free to use the bat.

Well, not right away, not with Pop Fisher around. The Knights’ manager of a last place team, even though he had now seen Hobbs (1) Hit seven consecutive home runs on the first seven batting practice pitches he had faced, and (2) Knock the cover off a baseball, decided to keep Hobbs on the bench for the July 23rd game against St. Louis and start Bump Bailey, who was having a dreadful season and was rumored to be in cahoots with gamblers. It is possible that, had fate not taken a hand, Pop Fisher never would have played Roy Hobbs.

But fate did step in. That very game, Bailey crashed threw a wall as he chased a fly ball and died in the hospital that evening.

“He chased a fly, crashed a wall,” was the rather crass headline in the Daily Mirror a week later. Bailey was just 28 when he died. He’d been a good player his first couple of seasons, flashing both power and speed, but he declined quickly and the rumors about him possibly throwing games should have been picked up by Pop Fisher.

With Bailey dead, Hobbs started in right field on July 24. He promptly hit a monstrous home run. “Maybe we can expect good things from Hobbs,” the Knights radio announcer famously said. With Hobbs in right field, the Knights won twelve games in a row and moved out of last place for the first time all season. A cartoon in one of the New York papers showed Hobbs literally leading the Knights out of a cellar and shouting “Taste that fresh air!”

Hobbs was utterly remarkable the first four weeks or so. In 30 games, he hit .591 with 23 home runs and 57 RBIs. The Knights went 27-3 within striking distance of the first-place Pirates. Nobody had ever seen anything liked it. He was so good, that just three weeks after he made it to the big leagues he was put on the cover of the August 14 Life Magazine with the headline “Roy Hobbs, Baseball’s New Wonderboy.”

Then, just as suddenly as it began, Hobbs stopped hitting. Between August 23 and August 30, he came up 29 times and struck out 20. He blooped one hit and walked twice. The Knights lost six of seven and seemed to be dropping out of the pennant chase. Hobbs never did say what went wrong during that stretch, though rumors are that it had something to do with a relationship problem.

Anyway, everyone remembers how he snapped out of it. He was in Chicago, ninth inning, at at 4:41 p.m. a woman wearing white stood up in the stands. Hobbs had struck out two more times in that game but, according to reports, he saw her and seemed to gain strength. On the next pitch he mashed an opposite field home run that broke the clock near the top of the scoreboard. Many have estimated that home run would have traveled more than 600 feet.

The woman, Iris Lemon, was in the papers the next day. “The Knight and the Lady” was one headline. Hobbs would not talk about her — he was very press shy — but we would later learn that he grew up with her. The next day, September 1, Hobbs hit four home runs to beat the Cubs. It was the beginning of a month for the ages.

Hobbs hit a grand slam to beat Philadelphia. He hit a ninth inning walk-off home run to beat St. Louis. He hit another. He scored a game-winning run by crashing into the catcher and knocking the ball free. He hit an opposite field double when the pitcher was trying to intentionally walk him.

All in all, Hobbs came up 148 times in September. He hit .622 with 92 hits, 28 of them home runs. He scored 61 runs in the 34 games. He drove in another 58.

Hobbs season numbers look like fiction.

Roy Hobbs, 1939: 72 games, 307 PA, 171 hits, 42 doubles, 13 triples, 51 homers, 106 RBIs, 101 runs, 30 walks, 44 strikeouts, .557/.655/1.415

He missed the last three games of the season with an abdominal injury related the silver-bullet shooting. It appeared that he would not be healthy enough to play in the one-game playoff against Pittsburgh for the pennant, which gave Pop Fisher one more chance to display his incompetence. With Hobbs seemingly out, Fisher at the last minute decided to simply cross out Hobbs name in the lineup car and replace it with Bobby McGee, a defensive fourth-outfielder who hit .189 in his career. This meant he planned to have McGee hitting THIRD in the lineup with the pennant on the line. Pop may have been a friendly guy but he really didn’t know baseball.

Anyway, as you know, Hobbs did play in the one-game playoff. He was badly hurt, but he famously hit the game winning home run in the ninth, a home run that crashed into the lights, sending sparks everywhere. Hobbs’ uniform — which he actually bled through — is on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame as is his Wonderboy bat.

Roy Hobbs never played again. The Knights, without Hobbs, were swept easily by the Yankees in the World Series. Fisher retired after the season and became a farmer, “the job he was should have been doing the last 10 years,” in the accurate but not especially gracious words of Max Mercy’s farewell column. Mercy also called Hobbs “selfish” for not playing in the World Series and “money driven” for not returning the next year.

Hobbs moved back to Sabotac Valley and married Iris Lemon where they lived out their quiet lives. He never gave an interview though people around Sabotac Valley said he was friendly. People who saw him play insist that if he could have stayed healthy, Roy Hobbs would have been the greatest player in the history of the game. He was, a natural.

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113 Responses to No. 57: Roy Hobbs

  1. drZerb says:

    Ohhhhhh….it’s gonna be that kind of list. Loving the rundown, even with this curve.

    Keep having fun, Joe — it’s only a game!

    • John says:

      I’m only sad this is based on the movie instead of the book.

      • Karyn says:

        Well, the book’s a downer, with Hobbs sitting alone on the curb, weeping tears of bitterness.

      • Louis Nosko says:

        Even Malam up came around. After the movie came out & was re ended rather well, Mr. Malam up confessed that he thought the film ending more satisfying and actually a better ending than the book.

        • Louis Nosko says:

          Don’t you just hate automatic word check by the computer!!! Malamud, not Malam up. Received, not re ended.

  2. Jake Bucsko says:

    I LOVE this. Two real players tied for a spot, so throw in Roy Hobbs to keep the list at 100 (real) players. Well done you. But while you’re at it, can we get an alternate entry for #1, Yankees RHP Steve Nebraska? He threw an 81 pitch, 27 strikeout perfect game while also hitting a home run every time up in Game 1 of the World Series in his MLB debut. He’s the greatest fictional athlete of all time, just a tick above Tecmo Bo.

    • gogiggs says:

      The only pitcher to ever actually win a game.
      (as opposed to being credited with a “win”)

      • Ian R. says:

        Hey, somebody still had to catch all the pitches. Nebraska didn’t do it single-handedly.

      • DJ McCann says:

        Catfish Hunter hit a home run in his perfect game. While technically the A’s scored several more runs, that would have won the game on it’s own. So I give him that credit.

        • Ian R. says:

          Nope. Hunter went 3 for 4 with a double and drove in the first run (and 3 of 4 overall), but he didn’t hit a big fly. In fact, no pitcher has ever hit a home run in his perfect game, although several have driven in runs and one – Matt Cain – has scored a run.

          Hunter also struck out 11 in the game – an impressive total, but that still means the defense had to make 16 plays behind him. And, of course, someone – namely Jim Pagliaroni – had to catch all the pitches.

          That was an amazing performance both on the mound and at the plate, but he didn’t win the game single-handedly.

      • Kenneth Scheibel says:

        Rick Wise in 1971: 2 HRs in 4-0 no hitter versus the very good Reds. Truly wins the “arm and hammer” award.

    • andrew says:

      I thought Sid Finch was better

  3. Will3pin says:

    I had the chance to meet Sidd Finch at a card show years ago. He singled out Hobbs as the one hitter that he wished that he had a chance to pitch against. Great conversation – like reading a chapter out of Tom Seaver’s “How I Would Pitch to Babe Ruth.”

    • Angus Velch says:

      #38 – Kelly Leak

      • Robert says:

        Hang on, if Roy is #57, where will Joe Hardy rank? Gotta be no. 1, right? I mean, how many others have sold their souls to the devil? Okay, ARod, BBonds, and a few others, but this was the ACTUAL DEVIL HIMSELF, not one of his minions like the afore mentioned dealt with.

        Also, I hope Alibi Ike gets on here somewhere too.

  4. bgreinhart says:

    I might be alone in this, but as much as I loved Roy Hobbs and his mythology, I hated the novel. The moral dilemmas rang false, they were easily avoided, and thus Hobbs’ downfall felt artificially contrived. The book simply felt like the author wanted his characters to suffer needlessly, and refused them very plausible escape routes.

    The novel is a queasy mixture of closely-observed psychological realism and absurd myth-making. It isn’t magical realism, either; it feels more like an evil Disney movie. Plus, the story reeks of a misogyny which should have been outdated even then. Again: I have nothing against Roy Hobbs. But he deserved far better than the novel he was born into.

    • robert magee says:

      Absurd mythmaking and baseball – yeah, nothing like that ever occurs.
      just ask Abner Doubleday…

    • Greg Mastin says:

      That’s Malamud for you…I have read a few of his novels and none of them do a thing for me. They feel like work.

      • John says:

        I’ve waded through two of his novels and several of his short story collections. All of his characters feel remarkably similar: men with myopic vision, no ability to trust, no ability to believe in more than themselves. I wouldn’t place him with the best “men as men” writers of the 20th Century (Hemmingway, Steinbeck, Roth) but I’ve met enough people who see the world as he seems to that I understand how his work resonated.

      • Andrew says:

        Plus his best-known work, The Fixer, methodically plagiarized the autobiography of a real-life Russian Jew without offering any acknowledgment.

        FWIW, I didn’t really enjoy this piece of Joe’s. It’s like reading the synopsis of a movie I’ve already seen. Oh wait! That’s exactly what it is.

    • I took a course in undergrad called “Jewish-American Fiction” and we had to read a few Bernard Malamud stories. After reading them, I was not willing to read “The Natural.” (I did watch and hate the movie, though.) If I did, I doubt you would be alone.

      And, for what it’s worth, every one of those stories was loaded with a ridiculous misogyny as well, so I think that was a Malamud trademark.

    • Donald A. Coffin says:

      I’d agree with bgreinhart’s comments. John R. Tunis’s trilogy (The Kid From Tompkinsville; The Kid Comes Back; World Series) actually works better, even if it is a bit predictable.

    • MLL says:

      thanks, I will now NOT read the book. The movie seemed to pretty much what was written in the newspapers. Mercy’s last comment, “selfish” “money driven” now that was not true. To late but hope folks get the truth.

  5. robert magee says:

    I read about a player named Roy Hobbs. he didn’t fare as well

    Bobby McGee did become a noted blues singer

  6. bl says:

    Awesome. Best one yet!

  7. bl says:

    On further thought, I think Hobbs should have tied with Damon Rutherford.

  8. Chad Meisgeier says:

    Buckled my knees with the curve ball.

    My No. 57 is boring ole Wade Boggs.

  9. Mikey says:

    If Hobbs is ranked this high I can’t wait to see where you rank Bugs Bunny, an incredibly versatile player who engineered one of the great comebacks of all time.

  10. Geoff says:

    Does this mean no Koufax? 🙂

  11. Cathead says:

    And it’s not even April Fools day

  12. Guest says:

    Hobbs is very overrated by the standards of modern defensive metrics. Plus a WAR less than Harold Baines. Next!

  13. NateDGreat says:

    The Whammer was a fine player, but couldn’t hit it as well as Casey.

  14. Mean Dean says:

    Umm, Hobbs did NOT homer in the final game. In fact, he struck out to end the season, because HE WAS THROWING THE GAME.

    How could you get this wrong?? It is in EVERY book about this story!!!

  15. gcuzz says:

    As usual, Joe over-romanticizes the past and winds up essentially rewriting history. Roy Hobbs is not a player to be celebrated. He represents the worst characteristics of Pete Rose, the 1919 Black Sox, and Barry Bonds all rolled into one. The TRUTH of the matter, as anyone without the rose-colored glasses of a Mr. Posnanski would know, is that Hobbs was offered a bribe by the owner of the team (the “Judge”) to help throw the one-game playoff against Pittsburgh. Not only was Hobbs receptive to the idea, he actually made a counter-offer of $35,000, which the Judge accepted!

    So much for the golden rule of baseball.

    As for that now famous one-game playoff, historians who actually care about the truth know what really happened, and it has nothing to do with the fiction Mr. Posnanski is trying to pass off here. In reality, it was an earlier at-bat before the 9th inning where Hobbs fouled a pitch off that broke his “Wonderboy” bat in two. That foul ball flew into the stands and, as miraculous as everything else in the story of Roy Hobbs it seems, injured his love Iris Lemon. Having a change of heart to actually try and win the game at that point, Hobbs came to bat in the 9th inning with a chance to win the game and famously STRUCK OUT.

    Thank God for the protectors of the game like Max Mercy (him not being enshrined in the Hall of Fame is one of the biggest travesties of all-time!). It was Mercy who discovered that Hobbs was a fraud and took a bribe to throw the game. To date, Roy Hobbs remains the only player in Major League history to have all of his records removed from the books in addition to be expelled from the game for life. Oh Max, if only you were alive today to right the wrongs of the PED users who have soiled the purity of baseball in the last twenty years. Then maybe their phony records could be expunged the way Hobbs’ numbers were.

    It’s just another reason why sportswriters are really the only people qualified to vote for the Hall of Fame. They simply know best when it comes to these things, and their moral tutelage is a shining beacon that guides the way for the rest of us. Roy Hobbs was the worst thing that ever happened to baseball, and if it wasn’t for the greatly underappreciated Max Mercy, people might actually buy this crock of bogus idolatry Joe is pushing here. The next thing you know, Joe will probably have Barry Bonds as being better than Babe Ruth in his little list. What a joke!


  16. Chip S. says:


    I had him at #9 on my list.

  17. Mean Dean says:

    Yes, agree with the excellent post by gcuzz.

    Another example of how Joe “Hollywoodizes” this story is the vilification of Pop Fisher. I’m not going to argue that Fisher was a good manager. But surely it would be only fair to mention that his performance was most likely affected by diabeetus.

    • daley says:

      Indeed; setting the record straight on Fisher would be the right thing to do.

    • JimD says:

      There’s a sordid side to the Pop Fisher story, though – rumors about being caught in his hotel room on road trips with hookers in a tub filled with Quaker Oats. Quitc a scandal orc those times.

  18. Phil says:

    Bobby Savoy was the Bosch of his day. Hanging around the clubhouse, ready with a “Savoy Special” when the team really needs a juiced homer. As corrupt characters of that season go, Savoy was the absolute worst.

    • Cuban X Senators says:

      I thought the Savoy Specials were Annie’s.

      I’m pretty certain it was the Oomoo Oilers, #45, left field & Bump *Baily*. Oh & the summer solstice is June 21.

  19. Dov Eidelballs says:

    That’s not a ball! We want a real ball!

  20. Dan says:

    “I Outlasted Them All” is sheer brilliance.

  21. Osgood Achlatter says:

    Well, now I have to wonder if I was wrong to leave Eddie Gaedel off my list.

  22. 陳朗 says:

    Max Mercy must really have been prophetic if he knew already in 1923 that a 23-year-old minor leaguer in Baltimore would be a pitcher against which all pitching phenoms would be compared.

  23. Damon Rutherford says:

    I agree with bl above. And, yes, I am biased because of my long-time posting handle/alias here and at Baseball Think Factory.

  24. Baseball Guy says:

    I loved this list before Joe listed Roy Hobbs.
    Adding him makes this the greatest list ever.

    I love Joe’s imagination.

    Absolutely fantastic.

  25. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    Look, we all know Mighty Casey struck out during that notorious playoff game in Mudville. But let’s face it, despite what the old school guys think, clutch hitting is an illusion. With a sufficient sample size, Casey would easily OPS .882 in similar situations. They called him Mighty Casey for a good reason, and you can’t just throw an rWAR of 13.2 down the drain just because of one strike out.

    I’ll look for Casey at #14 at least.

    • Richard says:

      Actually, sportswriter Frank Deford has unearthed the truth of Casey’s at-bat.

      Apparently, it had started raining that inning, and by the time of the last pitch, the rain was falling in torrents. The pitcher, a rookie, couldn’t get a proper grip on the wet baseball, and although Casey swung and missed, the pitch eluded the catcher. With first base open, Casey started running. A wet baseball and wet grass led to a couple of throwing and fielding errors, and Casey managed to make it all the way around the bases for a most unusual inside the park home run.


  26. RST says:

    . . . to say nothing of the infamous infield combo enshrined in the Hall of Fame: Who’s on first, What’s on second and I Don’t Know — third base!

  27. berkowit28 says:

    Gosh, four New York teams, three of them in the National League. Those were the days!

  28. DM2 says:

    Make room on your lists for Jimmy Dugan, Jack Elliott and Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez!

  29. Mark says:

    Great remembrance of one of the greats. Always glad, my dad, who was a bat boy on that ’39 team (he of “pick me out a good one, Bobby”) got Roy’s autograph. Still have the cap too…

  30. SB M says:

    Hobbs is overrated. He didn’t walk enough, and bWAR has him as a negative defender.

  31. Hollywood says:

    I can’t wait for the sequel. The Natural 2, starring Shia Labouf as Roy’s son, now a hot rookie power hitting short stop who has to deal with relationship issues with his girlfriend and the difficulties of being famous as he powers the Yankees to the pennant over a wild summer of antics, humor and baseball. Don’t miss Kevin Hart as Labouf’s wacky buddy, the quirky reliever providing comic relief, and Donald Sutherland as the tough as nails manager working to hold Labouf back at every turn!

    • invitro says:

      Looking forward to it, but who plays the girlfriend?

      • Karyn says:

        Lindsey Lohan.

        • invitro says:

          Well you see, the 1st problem with having Lins in this movie is that it’s a baseball movie, and so she’d have to be outside. But I am 100% sure that she would by now melt in sunlight. I doubt she has seen a ray of real light in ten years.

          The 2nd problem is that she is too old to be the gf of a rookie. Check that, he’s on the Yankees, they are used to having gfs that are ten+ years older than them.

  32. Really? I would have gone Crash Davis…. Or maybe project Nuke Laloosh as becoming Roger Clemens like…..if we were going to take a left turn into baseball movies. The Natural was not even in the same zip code as Bull Durham.

    • MCD says:

      I don’t think the point was that “The Natural” was a better movie than the “Bull Durham”, simply that if Roy Hobbs were not a fictional character, he would among the best players ever. Crash Davis barely made it to the major leagues.

      • I know that’s not the point. In fact, there is no point. That’s the point. Given that, I felt that shifting from fictional characters to movie preferences was perfectly in line with the seriousness of this blog….. Honestly The Natural was not a good movie, except maybe the ending…. Which was more memorable than good….if you suspend all sense of reality. So, I felt like Bull Durham deserved some props.

        • Bill Caffrey says:

          Sigh. Yes bellweather, thanks for giving Bull Durham props. No doubt it was underappreciated by the readers of this blog until you brought it up. Way to take the joy out of a thing.

          • doncoffin64 says:

            For me, “The Bingo Long All-Stars and Traveling Kings” is the best baseball movie ever…

    • invitro says:

      I did not like Bull Durham. Boring and I don’t like Robbins and I really don’t like Sarandon. Plus, even though I have led a sheltered life and haven’t been out much, I did go to about thirty games of the Durham Bulls, and any of those games was more fun than watching that blasted movie.

      Blah on The Natural, too. I think Bad News Bears is the only baseball movie I really like.

    • Spencer says:


      Absolutely incorrect.

  33. Brent says:

    Not to sound like an old school scout, but I have seen Nuke Laloosh throw and there is zero chance that dude was going to be a Major League star. I think Madonna had better form.

    • Are you saying Tim Robbins wasn’t believable as an athlete? I mean dude threw triple digits, then tunneled through a wall and crawled through a sewer pipe to freedom. He was Houdini and Nolan Ryan rolled into one.

  34. Is Roy Hobbs, per chance, code for Jeff Francouer? #56 Yuni Betancourt, #55 Kyle Davies. You can take the boy out of Kansas City…..

  35. tombando says:

    What people forget is that back in the 60’s and 70’s, Snoopy raced past 700 home runs in record time, played a mean short-stop AND patented the ‘Ball in Mouth’ catch. Given the fact that only Shermy could hit his weight and Pig Pen was an oft-injured DH playing third, this wasn’t bad.

  36. Vidro says:

    Gil Gamesh is way better.

  37. Tanner Boyle says:

    if Roy Hobbs is #, then Kelly Leak has to be top ten, right?

  38. wjones58 says:

    What about Joe Hardy? Or does selling your soul to the devil qualify as PED?

  39. NPB Card Guy says:

    Where’s Henry “Author” Wiggen rate?

    • Karyn says:

      He’s gotta be top 20. High peak, long career, Ws, Ks, rings, he’s got everything, even a few saves from that last, weird season. The string of consecutive wins he had was the stuff of legend. A lot of that stuff about him in the press has been way overblown–if you look at it, almost all of it comes from the Krazy Kress guy, who was a slimebucket on a par with Max Mercy, or worse.

      Anyway, multiple 20-win seasons, stellar career ERA, a few WS rings (and Ws there, too). Without even getting into WAR and advanced stats, Author is right up there with the very best.

  40. JayJay says:

    How come Hobbs never got the Barry Bonds treatment? With that SLG, I’m pretty sure it pays to walk him every single time he comes to the plate. Stupid pre-war NL managers.

  41. mbastable66 says:

    This requires a whole new post. Best “fictional” player at each position. I mean is Snoopy a shoe in at short, or who starts Bugs with his slow ball that can strike out an entire team, or do you go with Charlie Brown, clearly the owners son, I mean how else is he going to get all those starts?

    or better yet two teams, one with fictional characters from films and books, the other cartoon characters, and then face them off against each other. who wins?

  42. Brent says:

    One must assume that Charlie Brown is much better than his win loss record as a pitcher. He would have to be an extreme ground ball pitcher to overcome an outfield of Lucy, Patty and Violet.

  43. Andrew says:

    This crowd just has to love OBP machine Dave King, “The Kid Who Batted 1.000.”

    • Dan Shea says:

      You’d have to ignore the fact that the kid was slathered in performance-enhancing chicken fat salve. Or was that Pretzels?

  44. …and his son throws like a girl

  45. Brandon Conway says:

    Wonderful article. Made me smile the whole way through

  46. dennis sanderson says:

    The Natural is my favorite BB movie, Ray was unbelievable(literally) but I’m sure the old-timers out there would agree that if Chip Hilton had ever made it out of college and Bronc Burnet out of high school they both would have made the top 50.

  47. I have to admit that reading this was more interesting than watching the movie was.

  48. Ty Sellers says:

    Information on his big league career is nearly impossible to find, but for my money Sylvester Coddmeyer III is a top ten player. When he was right he ONLY hit homers. Talk about getting the Bonds treatment…

  49. Dennis McCulloch says:

    No shoeless Joe Hardy? No Guffey McGovern? No King Kelly?

  50. kb says:

    I liked the Roy who was seriously considering the offer to throw the game, changed his mind at the last second, then struck out anyways with the pennant winning run on base. But then that Roy played for the Hebrew Oilers, not the Heber Oilers.

  51. Gessge Gssege says:

    I wish Joe’s research into Roy Hobbs’ remarkable career had uncovered why, during that famous game in Chicago where he broke the clock, the Knights were hitting in the bottom of the inning.

    • Bill Caffrey says:

      They weren’t. It was most certainly the top of the 9th. This is a myth born of slightly confusing editing and people misunderstanding the presence of reporters on the field as indicating that it was a walk-off HR.

  52. Clayt says:

    Hobbs was all right. But I’d take Willie Mays Hayes and Pedro Cerrano over him. Maybe even Ricky Vaughan…

  53. Gareth Owen says:

    I’ve been pouring over Retrosheet, and I think I’ve found a precedent for someone hitting the cover off the ball. The game is in June 1888, at Mudville.

    In the bottom of the ninth, Jimmy Blake came up with a man on first and two out. (This was before the sabremetric fetishisation of OBP, and out-machine Flynn – a pudding, by contemporary accounts – was hitting second for his ability to get a bunt down). Blake, according to Ernest Thayer*, “tore the cover off the ball”. On this day, it was ruled a ground rule double.

    *brilliant reader DeWolf Hopper reads this brilliantly

    Anyway, the opposing pitcher was pitching to the score, and Mudville lost, 2-1. Henry Wiggen took the loss, Jack Morris the win. Jesse Orosco got the save.

  54. […] series gets better and better. Note entry #57: Roy Hobbs. Sheer […]

  55. JohnnyU19 says:

    What exactly explains the Internet obsession with lists? I enjoy these columns but the last thing I care about is where Joe (or anyone else, for that matter) ranks Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk or Bugs Bunny among all-time players. The rankings literally mean nothing, and mine would be no different. Purely subjective, arbitrary, biased, etc. Why not just do a series on great players and tell their respective stories, without assigning an arbitrary ranking to them? You’re strength is story-telling.

  56. JohnnyU19 says:

    By the way, I had Hobbs at #63.

  57. Michael Green says:

    If you’ve never read Jerome Holtzman’s No Cheering in the Press Box, you’ve missed a jewel, and Al Horwits out of Philadelphia tells the story of the player the sportswriters invented, Bingo McCaffery, and all of the games they would play about him, including the Alaskan semi-pro team he ended up with: the Nome Yessims. Bingo had quite a career, but I haven’t double-checked his WAR.

  58. lesley says:

    thanks for sharing his history. its really wonderful

  59. dpack says:

    Hi Joe! Love this blog.
    I love what you did with the story of Roy Hobbs!
    I am actually writing a research paper based on the novel. May I have permission to use your blog as a source?

    PS: I loved the movie, have seen it tons of times, and I also loved the book. Even though it was a pure downer that Roy never got it together in the book……I too would have loved to see a sequel to the movie….a second bad named Wonder Boy, Jr.! Awesome!


  60. dpack says:

    and that should have been second “bat”! Late night typing is not my thing…

  61. Dave Zin says:

    Read the book by Malamud
    – a different legacy, a different story

  62. Ben says:

    reading this again two years later I remember what a great moment this was. Joe’s decision to include this piece shows that the baseball 100 was something much more inspired than just a normal ranking, having more to do with telling the remarkable story of baseball.

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