Adapted from Bernard Malamud’s novel and directed by Barry Levinson, a superlative baseball pitcher is shot by a woman, but sixteen years later he makes a come-back as a right fielder who hits homeruns.
A boy catches a baseball in a meadow. Roy pitches to his dad who coaches him.
Roy sees his father collapse on the ground and runs to him.
At night Roy looks out the window at the rain and lightning.
Roy is making a baseball bat, and he names it “Wonderboy.”
A few years later at night Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) throws a stone at the window in the room of Iris Gaines (Glenn Close). She comes out, and they play and talk. He says he has never been on a train before. They embrace, and she says she loves him. He wants her to marry him and says he will send for her. They kiss, and she says it is all right.
On a train the Whammer (Joe Don Baker) talks to sports-writer Max Mercy (Robert Duvall). Sam Simpson (John Finnegan) introduces himself to Max, and he knows the Whammer. Sam says he has a pitching prospect named Roy Hobbs. He says he pitched eight no-hitters. Sam brings Roy over and introduces him to them.
Sam and Roy get off the train. Harriet Bird (Barbara Hershey) watches the Whammer batting for the fans, and Max says he was the best ever. Roy wins prizes throwing baseballs at milk bottles. Sam offers a bet that Roy can strike out the Whammer in three pitches. Max suggests they go across the railroad tracks.
Max measures the distance to the pitching rubber and sets the rules. Sam tells Roy to show him what he can do. Harriet is watching. The Whammer lets the first pitch go by, and Max calls it a strike. Max moves back and says he looks wild. The Whammer swings and misses and accuses him of throwing spitballs. Sam talks to his pitcher. At sunset Roy pitches a third strike. People gather around Roy.
Roy runs and gets back on the train, throwing a ball to a kid. On the train Harriet introduces herself to Roy. Max tells Sam he wants to do background on his boy. Max invites them to breakfast and promises he can do wonders for the boy.
Harriet and Roy are talking at a table, and she asks if he ever read Homer. She says he wrote about heroes and gods. Roy says he is going to break every record in the book. He hopes to be the best there ever was. She suggests there is something and asks if he has a girl. She holds his hand and says goodnight. He asks her to come and watch him play, and she says yes.
Sam and Roy are walking through the train station and are going to a hotel.
In his room Roy answers the phone and talks to Harriet. He goes to her room and asks how she knew he was staying at that hotel. She covers her face with a veil and asks if he will be the best ever in the game. He says yes, and she shoots him with a pistol.
Sixteen years later the Knights are playing in New York. Manager Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) wishes he had been a farmer. Their pitcher Fowler walks a man, and the coach Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) comments. Fisher takes a drink of water and spits it out. He complains to Red the water is not fresh. Roy Hobbs walks from the tunnel into the dugout and introduces himself to Fisher as his new right fielder. Fisher says he is old enough to retire, not be a rookie. Fisher asks if he played organized ball, and Roy says he just came back. He used to play in high school. He says he has a contract and shows it to Fisher who says he is getting $500. Roy asks if Carson is his chief scout. Fisher says he does not have the authority, but Red says he does. Fisher sends him to get a uniform.
Roy asks the doctor for number nine and has his bat in a case. The Knights come back to the locker-room and get dressed. Roy meets Bump Bailey. Max Mercy asks his name and shakes hands with him. Red tells Roy he has a room in the Ellicott Hotel, and he asks him to meet him to eat and talk. Doc gives Roy a cap and welcomes him to the majors.
In the hotel elevator the blonde Memo Paris (Kim Basinger) gets in, and Roy says they are not moving. He presses a button. The blonde kisses Fisher and says she is meeting Bump. Fisher introduces his niece Memo to Roy. She asks his position, and Fisher says he just arrived. He says right field, and she says that is Bump’s position. Fisher says he is not sure where he will play. They walk off, and Red asks Roy if anything is wrong. He says he is not used to hotels.
In the dining-room Roy says he was with the Oilers for two weeks. Red says he read Scotty’s report. He asks why he did not play when he was younger, and he says he did. He admits he gave it up, but his mind was always on the game. He decided to give it another try. Red says Pop gave his heart and soul to the game but got trampled on. Roy says it took him sixteen years to get there. They agree the food is good.
The Knights come out on the field, and Fisher tells Hobbs to sit this one out. He tells Red he is not going to play him ever. In the game the Knights do not play well, and they lose games by large margins.
The team listens to a psychologist lecture them about losing as a disease. They lose again and have to hear the lecture again and again. The psychologist asks them to imagine they are on a ship at sea. Roy gets up and leaves and does not stop when Fisher calls him back. The Knights lose again, and Fisher tells Hobbs he is sending him down. Roy asks if he plays by the rules. He refuses to be put to sleep by a hypnotist. He says he came there to play ball. Fisher calls him back and tells him to be at batting practice tomorrow. Roy says he has been every day.
The next day during batting practice Red asks Roy if he is ready. Roy hits the first pitch over the fence and the second one too. The pitcher challenges him, and he hits another home run. He keeps hitting, and Fisher asks to see his bat. Red says he was not bad. Fisher asks where he got the bat, and Roy says he made it at home when he was a kid. It has a lightning bolt on it because he used wood from a tree that was struck by lightning. Fisher says he can use it and sends him into the outfield.
In the game the right fielder Bailey drops a fly ball. The Knights get a man on, and Fisher takes Bump out of the game. Fisher tells Hobbs he is up. Bump refuses to apologize and finally sits down. Hobbs gets his bat as storm clouds gather. Hobbs takes a strike. On the next pitch he knocks the cover off the ball which goes over the fence. Lightning strikes, and it begins to rain as he circles the bases. The umpire asks to see the ball, and they find it is a collection of string.
In the tunnel reporters ask Pop about his knocking the cover off the ball. They ask where they find him and ask how old he is.
As the ground crew covers the field during the rain, the Judge (Robert Prosky) talks to his chief scout Carson and asks him who he is and where he is from. In the locker-room Roy tells the bat-boy to get a piece of lumber they can work on together to make a bat.
Outside Max offers to buy a beer for Roy. He says Hobbs looks familiar and asks where he is from.
Iris comes into a little restaurant and orders a coffee and a donut. Al talks about Roy Hobbs and his “Wonderboy” bat.
A newsreel reports how the commissioner had the bat weighed and declared it legal.
Fisher talks to Bump and gives him one more chance.
In the next game Bump is doing well. He tries to catch a fly ball and breaks through the fence and is hurt. A newspaper reports the funeral of Bump Bailey, and a plane drops his ashes over the baseball stadium.
Hobbs is at bat and hits a long homerun. After the game a player admires his bat and tells him that his father gave him a military insignia similar to the lightning bolt.
The next day Olsen has lightning on a patch on his uniform, and he bats well during practice. The fans and players sing the “Star-spangled Banner.” The Knights play well and go on a winning streak. Baseball cards are printed, and Hobbs in on the front of Life magazine. Max asks how someone from nowhere could play so well.
In a cinema Iris watches a newsreel about Hobbs as he signs autographs.
Red tells Roy that he thinks Pop is jinxed. He says if he can win the pennant this year, he can win back what he lost. Pop and Red talk during practice. A player asks Roy to pitch him one. A train whistle is heard as Max watches. Roy pitches a strike. Red asks Pop if he saw that.
After the game Pop tells Roy that the Judge wants to see him. He offers to go with him, but Roy says he can handle it. He goes in the office and comments it is dark. The Judge asks where he is from, and Hobbs says around. The Judge says he used to be frightened of the dark, but he has disciplined himself against that fear. Hobbs says one can’t see in the dark. The judge calls that a canard or a prevarication or a lie. The Judge says the finances have been reversed since he started playing. The Judge asks if he cares about money. Hobbs says he will play to win whether he gets more money or not. He says he won’t let him steal the club from Pop. The Judge gets angry, and Hobbs says it will be a team effort. On his way out he turns on the lights. Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) comes in and says he is not as greedy as Bump, but they will get him.
Outside Roy tells Max to leave him alone. Max tells him that Sam Simpson died, and he tells Roy the rumors about him. One was that he even killed someone. Max asks him for the true story.
At night in a hotel Max takes Roy to meet Gus Sands in a restaurant. Gus says he bet against Roy today and lost. Gus says he will make it back when Roy does not do so well. He says he can tell how much money Roy has in his pocket right now, and they bet $100. Gus says he has $10. Roy counts his money, and he has $9.37. Roy says that is good, and he owes him; but Gus calls it even. Roy pulls coins out of Memo’s ears, and he asks her to dance. Gus asks Max for information on Roy. While dancing he says he likes looking at her. She says she has a car, and he asks about Gus. She says she will tell him that Roy made him disappear.
At the beach Memo and Roy talk. She feels like they met before. She asks about him, and he says he has secrets. She asks where he learned magic. He says he picked it up like he did baseball. He asks about Gus. She says Bump introduced them, and he picked her up when she was down. She has known a million guys, but she says Roy is not like Bump. She says Gus gives her things she never had. She asks if that is wrong. He says not if she understands the risks. She kisses him and asks him to touch her. They kiss some more.
Fisher in the lobby of the hotel sees Hobbs come in late with Memo. She goes to her room, and Pop says he could fine him. He asks how long he has been seeing her. He warns him that she is bad luck. Roy asks him not to worry about him.
Hobbs strikes out and goes into a slump.
Memo comes into a room where Roy is in bed. She says she was with Gus and removes her clothes. Hobbs strikes out and is seeing Memo. Pictures of them appear in newspapers. One night he wakes up from a bad dream, and Memo asks what is wrong. She says she touched him on the wrist where he has a scar.
The Knights are still in a slump. Fisher sees Roy kiss Memo goodbye, and they leave on a road trip. Iris reads they are playing at Wrigley Field, and she goes to the game. Hobbs strikes out. Fisher suggests he try another bat, but Roy says it is not the bat. Roy looks in the stands and comes up to bat in the ninth inning. After two strikes, Iris stands up, and he sees her. On the next pitch he hits a homerun, breaking the clock. He looks for her as they take pictures with flash bulbs. In the locker-room he receives a note from the nice lady.
Roy goes to a little restaurant and sits down at a booth with Iris. He asks if she is married, and she introduces Hobbs to Al. They order lemonade, and she says she is not married. She asks, and he says no too. He says it is hard to believe she could get away for so long. He did not feel like settling down. He asks if she goes to many games. He is glad she came. She says they are not kids anymore, and he asks if he is different. He says she is much different. He thought he saw her once in a train station. She says she used to look for him in crowds, but then she stopped. She asks what happened to him. He says his life did not turn out the way he expected. She says she has to go, and she gets in a cab. He asks her to come to the game, and she says she can’t. He asks her to come, and the cab drives off.
Roy answers the phone in his room, and Memo says she is in her room thinking of him. The Judge is in her room. She congratulates him for winning and urges him to get some rest. They say goodnight and hang up. The Judge says that was cute and asks if she is in control.
In the next game Hobbs hits four homeruns. After the game Iris sees him, and he asks her to walk with him. He tells her how he met a woman on his way to Chicago. He was in a hospital for a couple years, and they told him he could not play ball. He did not have money and lost his confidence. He asks how long she has been in Chicago. They go into her apartment, and she makes him coffee. He asks if she sold her farm, and she says no. He says good; it is home. He sees a baseball and a glove. She says it is her son’s, and he means the world to her. He says he would like to meet him, and she says he will be home soon. She says his father lives in New York. She thinks he needs his father now. He agrees a father can make all the difference. She embraces him and puts her head on his shoulder. She says he has to catch his train and tells him to go. She asks where they are going next, and he says Boston. He is sorry he missed her boy, but she will tell him Roy Hobbs was there. She looks out the window as he walks away.
The Knights are playing well again and move up from fourth to third. The Judge says Hobbs is making the situation more difficult to predict. The Knights move into second place. Hobbs hits a homerun, and the Knights are tied for first. After the game they celebrate with beers. Fisher tells them to knock it off and says they have to win some more games. He tells them to go home, knock off the booze, and get some sleep.
Roy tries to call but gets no answer. Max answers his phone and says he will pick him up.
Roy meets Memo at a party in her place. She asks if he likes her dress, and he says he does. She dances with another man who calls him “Grandpa.” Gus welcomes Roy home and asks how he is doing. He says he dug himself out of his hole. He asks Gus how the Judge is treating him. Gus knows that Memo is crazy about him. He says they can profit from these little chats. Roy tells him not to bet against him, and Gus says he already has. Roy says he is standing too close and walks away. Gus tells Iris that he misjudged her boy and says he does not like being disappointed. Roy is given something to eat by Memo, and he thanks her. Roy sings along with other men by a piano. He starts feeling bad and collapses. He asks where Pop is, and he asks Gus to get him out of there. Memo watches him go.
A newspaper reports that Hobbs was rushed to the hospital. Dr. Newman asks how he is feeling today. Roy notices they lost three in a row. He asks if he can play tomorrow. The doctor tells him his stomach is damaged. He shows him a silver bullet-head and says it was in his stomach for years. If he stops playing now, it could heal properly. If he plays, his stomach could blow apart and kill him.
Iris is listening to the sports report on the radio as she works in the kitchen.
Memo comes to visit Roy in his hospital room. He says it was a great party. She sits down and says she heard Gus and Max talking about how if he played Monday it could kill him. He says it is lie; it would be his last game. She asks if he is trying to kill himself. He says the doctor is making it worse than it is. She suggests they go away together. She asks why he is doing it. He says it is all he has left. Then he can walk away. She asks him to walk away now so that they can see each other more. She says Gus will stake them to a lot of money if he skips the playoff. She says he knows how it is, and he agrees he does.
At night lights are turned on in the stadium, and Roy says he wants to take a few practice swings. Max is there with a camera, and Roy hits one that causes him to drop his camera. Roy hits another at him and falls down. They help him walk and are going to take him back to the hospital.
The Judge visits Roy in his room and says he is going to give him a bonus. He says financially he could do better by not winning. He offers Roy $20,000 even though he is in no shape to play, but it would be insurance. The Judge shows him police photographs taken fifteen years ago when he was shot and lying on the floor. The woman’s dead body was photographed in the street. He says it was suicide. The Judge says he has a contingency plan, tosses him an envelope, and goes out.
The Knights players stand around his bed and joke with Hobbs. He wishes them well, and they leave. Max sees Iris coming and talks to her. He asks her who the woman in the street was. He asks if there was a love triangle. She walks on, and he says he will try to keep the story from breaking. Iris visits Roy, and he says the doc says he has to quit baseball. She asks why, and he says some mistakes we have to keep paying for. He says he did not know the girl on the train. She asks if he liked her, and he admits he did. He asks why he didn’t see it coming. She says he was so young. He says things turned out different. He lived with the idea that he could have been the best in the game and broke every record. She asks what that would mean. She believes we have two lives—the life we learn with and the life we live after that. She says he will be remembered, and he has influenced many young boys. He asks why she stood up in Chicago, and she says she did not want to see him fail. He says he loves baseball. He asks if she is going to the game tomorrow, and she says yes. He asks if her son is with her. A nurse comes in, and Iris says she has to go.
Before the game Fisher scratches the name of Hobbs from the line-up.
In his office the Judge tells Gus that after the game he wants Pop Fisher out of there. Roy comes in and sees Memo is there too. He tosses the envelope of money on the Judge’s desk and says he is going to hit away. The Judge says he thought he could rely on his honor. The Judge threatens him with his past, and Gus says he likes the action. Iris fires a pistol and tells Roy she hates him. He takes the pistol out of her hand and says she was right that they had met before. Roy tells him to have Max draw them a picture. Gus says Roy is a loser. Roy tosses the gun on the floor and walks out. Memo is upset, and Gus says to relax; they are $20,000 richer.
In the locker-room Pop talks with Red, and Roy says there is nothing like a farm. Pop says his mother told him he should be a farmer. Roy says his dad wanted him to be a baseball player. Pop says he is the best he ever saw and tells him to suit up.
In the dugout Roy talks with Max who says they come, and they go. He says he makes and breaks players like him. Roy asks Max if he ever played ball, but he says he makes it more interesting to watch.
The game begins, and Hobbs goes out to right field. In the first inning he makes a good catch. Roy comes up, and fans chant his name. He swings and misses and takes a strike. Then he strikes out. Pittsburgh gets two runs on a homerun. Roy calls time out and comes in and tells the pitcher to give him the real stuff. Pop comes out and asks what is going on. He tells them to play ball. Hobbs strikes out again. Iris gets up and tells her son she will be right back. She tells an officer that she needs to get a message to Hobbs. The note is passed to a policeman who hands it to a player in the dugout. He gives it to Roy who reads it. He stands up and looks into the stands. He paces back and forth. In the last of the 9th it is still 2-0. The Knights get two men on base, and Hobbs comes up. He takes two pitches, and the manager brings in a left-handed pitcher. Hobbs fouls off a pitch that breaks things in the press-box. Roy swings and misses. Hobbs hits one down the line that goes over the fence but is foul. The batboy shows him the bat is broken. Roy asks him to pick him out a winner. He brings the “Savoy Special” they made. The umpire asks if Roy is all right, and he nods. Fans are yelling for a homerun. Roy connects, and the ball hits the lights above the stands in right field, causing electrical fire-works. Roy jogs around the bases as sparks come down. The Judge and Memo are disappointed. Iris smiles.
In a meadow the son of Iris and Roy play catch as Iris watches.
This baseball story has elements of fantasy and is also a parable of forces of darkness against those of light. Though the novel ends with Hobbs striking out and the Knights losing, the movie makes audiences feel better with a dramatically happy ending.