Those only familiar with this book from the Robert Redford film upon which it is based will find a great deal of faithfulness to the basic structure of the narrative. On the other hand, those looking for the happy ending which meets Roy Hobbes as the closing credits begin to crawl should probably prepare themselves for bitter disappointment ahead.
Roy Hobbes is traveling by train to Chicago as his story commences. Along for the ride is Sam, his manager, who has wrangled a tryout for his scouting jackpot with the Chicago Cubs. Notable passengers who happen to be on the train include a mysterious and alluring woman named Harriet Bird, Max Mercy who is one of the country’s leading sportswriters and, most notably, the most feared hitter in the American League: Walt “The Whammer” Whambold. When the locomotive is forced to make an unscheduled stop, the passengers take the opportunity to stretch their legs and hit a nearby carnival to pass the time. The Whammer is eventually informed of the existence of Roy Hobbes and makes some less than kind remarks, which stimulates Sam to bet Whambold that Roy can strike him out.
The contest is arrange and a large crowd gathers around. With each successful pitch from the young phenom, the tension and excitement builds. Ultimately, the Whammer does get struck out, but in doing so, Roy’s third strike also strikes Sam in the chest with such force that he dies later that night. The longest lasting legacy of the contest, however, is that Harriet Bird’s attention switches from Whambold to Roy.
When the reaches Chicago, Roy is surprised to get a phone call from Harriet who invites him back to her hotel room. Enticed by the woman’s smoldering sexuality, Roy eager anticipates a night of passion, but when he arrives, what he gets instead is a silver bullet in stomach from the gun pointed at him by Harriet.
Fifteen years later, Roy is now well past his prime and has signed a contract with the New York Knights, the worst team in the league. Roy is no longer a pitching sensation, but the bat made by hand and named Wonderboy is still capable of being a lethal weapon his hands. What has happened during the interim between being shot and showing up at training camp remains a mystery that Roy seems in no hurry to explain. Who he is, what he’s done, how he got there and what he is capable of bringing to the hapless team are all questions that must wait their proper time. The only person who seems to have any insight whatever is an aging sportswriters whose interest is certainly piqued by the arrival of the world’s oldest rookie, but who seems to have forgotten all about his striking out the Whammer so long ago. Neverthless, Max Mercy knows a good story when it walks right past him and he sets to finding out just who this Roy Hobbes really is.
Bump Bailey doesn’t really care all that much about Roy’s past when the his present presence makes him such an ideal target for his brand of practical jokes. Those pranks eventually develop into a rivalry that in turns has the effect of stimulating the other Knights to play better than ever before. As the season progresses, Roy falls for Bump’s girlfriend, Memo Paris, who also happens to be the niece of the team’s manager, Pop Fisher. The addition of a romantic triangle into the mix only serves to intensity the already heated competition between Bump and Roy to the point where Bump die after running full speed into the ballpark’s outfield wall trying to snag a fly ball. At this point, Roy establishes his primacy as the team’s dominant player. Bump’s death does nothing to deter Roy from running full speed after Memo, but he is rejected at every turn.
Partly in an effort to win Memo’s heart, Roy actively pursues a record-threatening hitting streak, but realizes that if he is to really have a shot, he needs more money. Asking the team’s owner, Judge Goodwill Banner, for a raise in light of his incredible performance. Instead, he gets handed a bill for the team uniforms that Bump ruined. Roy is then approached by Max Mercy with the offer to visit a bookie named Gus Sanders. When they arrive at the bar to meet Gus, Roy finds Memo with him. Roy loses a quick series of wagers with Gus and proceeds to perform a magic trip which makes Memo laugh out loud for the first time since Bailey bumped into the afterlife.
Charmed at last, Memo agrees to go with Roy for a drive. They kiss, but when he tries to steal his way to second base, she rejects him again. Later, Pops warns Roy to stay far away from his niece. Not for her sake, but because he knows Memo is not good for Roy. Almost immediately, the hitting streak turns into a batting slump. Memo continues her rejection throughout. What finally brings Roy out of his slump is the almost mystical sight of a woman in a red dress suddenly standing up in the stands as if silently communicating with him. Roy sees her, breathes in a wonderfully sweet scent and proceeds to knock the next pitch right out of the park.
The woman in red is named Iris Lemon as Roy learns following the game. They take a long walk by the lake and make love. When Iris admits to being a thirtysomething grandmother, however, Roy turns cold and rejects her invitation of love. He goes back to pining for the younger Memo whose past seems to be as mysterious as his own.
Her present is hardly an open book, either, as she is actually plotting with Gus Sands to bring Roy Hobbes down. She agrees to a date, but still rejects his desire for sex. Roy reacts by sublimating his hunger for Memo into hunger for food and overindulges himself on dinner. He comes back to Memo’s place, ready to finally get down to business by lowering his pants only to suddenly be struck with a horrific pain in his gut that ultimately causes him to lose consciousness.
When he wakes up, he is in the hospital and is visited by Memo and then the owner of the team. The Judge is there to forge a deal by which Roy will agree to throw the pennant. Roy declines the offer until the Judge make it known that rejecting the money he can make by throwing the game also carries the certainty of losing Memo to a man with money. Reluctantly, Roy changes his mind and Memo expresses exultation. Left alone in his hospital room, Roy reads a letter which has arrived from Iris. In it, she discusses her history and what has gone on in her life, but when he reaches the part where she again mentions being a grandmother, he balls the missive up and disposes of it.
The big game to decide the pennant arrives and, as promised, Roy strikes out on purpose. When a bizarre little dwarf named Otto Zipp reacts with taunts aimed at Roy, Roy fires back by aiming foul balls at the little man. As another ball flies foul, Iris Lemon stands up in the stands again, but this time she is struck in the face by the errant rawhide. Iris collapses and Roy rushes to her. She regains consciousness and begs Roy to come through for her…and their son.
Having learned that Iris is pregnant with his child, Roy changes his mind about throwing the game and is infused with a kind of hope he has never known before. The next pitch results in not just another foul, but a broken bat. Not just a bat, but Wonderboy, his homemade bat. With what seems like his entire future waiting in the balance for the next pitch...Roy strikes out again and the Knights lose the pennant.
Roy stops by the Judge’s office that night and discovers Memo and Gus in tow. Roy now literally throws the money he was bribed with to throw the game. He then takes a swing at Gus and knocks the gambler out cold. Memo chases Roy with a gun and screams how much she hates him for killing Bump. Roy disarms her and leaves, his recently newfound hope for the future lost amid a dark cloud of self-hate. As he makes his way down the stairs of the high tower in which the Judge has situated his office, every horrible act and every bad decision he ever made comes back full force to reinforce the hatred he feels for himself as well as force him to confront the inescapable defining truth of his life: he has never learned from a single mistake and never transformed a failed experience in the past into a positive outcome in the future.
When he finally hits the pavement waiting below, he is hit with yet another blow: Max Mercy has solved the mystery of the shrouded past of Roy Hobbes, including his acceptance of a bribe to throw the pennant. As his story comes to a close, there are no fireworks in the sky over the ballpark celebrating his last-minute redemption, but instead merely the tears down his cheeks which mark each step of journey toward perdition.