Friday, April 6, 2012
Roy Hobbs: The Life Story of a Natural
What if The Natural was a true story?
And by "The Natural," I mean the movie. Not the book. Someday, in my other baseball-themed blog, "Uncle Mike's Musings," I play to do a Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Bernard Malamud for Having Roy Hobbs Strike Out. And a Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame the Filmmakers for Changing the Ending of The Natural.
The following is based on the movie, and is mainly my own speculations of what Roy's life was like from birth to 1939, aside from those few scenes of his boyhood, that fateful couple of days in 1923 leading to the shooting in the Chicago hotel, and those amazing 4 months with the 1939 New York Knights, the movie's stand-in for the Giants, even if they were, more or less, competitively analogous to the 1930s "Daffiness Boys" Brooklyn Dodgers.
Imagine Randy Newman's epic score coming up...
Roy Hobbs: The Life Story of a Natural
Roy Edward Hobbs was born May 11, 1904 in Mitchell, South Dakota. His mother, Louise, died when he was a toddler, and his father Ed, who taught him how to play baseball, died when Roy was 13. Ed suffered a heart attack under a tree on the family farm.
That night, a thunderstorm resulted in a lightning bolt striking that tree and splitting it open. Roy chopped some wood from that tree and used to to produce a baseball bat, which he christened "Wonderboy."
As a teenager, Roy pitched eight no-hitters in high school and American Legion baseball, and was perhaps the greatest hitting prospect the State of South Dakota has ever produced. He also began a relationship with Iris Gaines, who lived at the next farm over.
In 1923, at age 19, Roy received a tryout offer from the Chicago Cubs. He told Iris about it, proposed marriage to her, and they spent the night together.
Taking the train to Chicago, he met Walter Wambold, the Philadelphia Athletics slugger known as "The Whammer"; Max Mercy, nationally-syndicated sports columnist; and Harriet Bird, a woman later discovered to have shot and killed two famous athletes, who had, at this point, set her sights on the Whammer.
A bet between Mercy and Sam Simpson, a former big-league catcher who had scouted Roy for the Cubs, resulted in a faceoff between Roy and Wambold in a field next to a county fair in Nebraska, where the train had made a refueling stop, and Wambold had shown off his hitting stroke, while Roy showed his pitching form by throwing baseballs at milk bottles, knocking them over with pinpoint control. When the at-bat took place, Roy struck the Whammer out on three pitches.
Getting onto the train, a kid ran after Roy and asked him his name. Roy answered, and tossed the boy a ball. Roy would never see that ball again, but he would see that boy. (Cue the creepy foreshadowing music!)
Harriet then turned her attention to Roy, and in Chicago, she invited him up to her hotel suite. She shot him, and then killed herself. Because of this shooting, Roy never made it to his tryout, and spent the next two years in and out of hospitals, recovering from his wound.
Unknown to Roy, Iris gave birth to his son, whom she named Edward after Roy's father. He would, like Britain's King Edward VII and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, be nicknamed "Ted."
Roy went on to play for several amateur and minor league teams in the late 1920s and all through the 1930s, but, for years, his weakened physical condition prevented him from playing at a level that would gain a scout's notice.
Return to Baseball
Finally, in 1939, playing in western New York for the Hebron Oilers, he gained a contract with the New York Knights. This team had been known as the New York Giants until first baseman Hal Chase caused a great scandal by "throwing" the 1917 World Series to the Chicago White Sox, a harbinger of the even bigger scandal two years later when the 1919 Series was thrown by the White Sox, who should have known better, to the Cincinnati Reds. The 1917 scandal forced the resignation of Giants manager John McGraw, who left baseball and died a broken man in 1934.
By the mid-1920s, the team, renamed the Knights, had fallen behind both their fellow National Leaguers, the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the American League's New York Yankees, making them the third-most-popular team in New York. This was especially the case after the Yankees, whose slugger George "Babe" Ruth was first said to have borne a physical resemblance to Wambold, then well surpassed Wambold's feats, outdrew the Giants at their home, the Polo Grounds, and affronted Giant management told the Yankees their lease would not be renewed. This was a terrible mistake, as the Yankees built Yankee Stadium, and the loss of Yankee rent nearly forced the Giants/Knights into bankruptcy.
Broadway showman George M. Cohan, long a Giant fan, bought and renamed the team in 1924, and saw Pennants that McGraw's Giants could have won go to other teams: 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1937 and 1938 by the Cubs; 1919, 1922 and 1923 by the Reds; 1920 and 1924 by the Dodgers; 1921, 1925, 1927 and 1933 by the Pittsburgh Pirates; 1926, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1934 and 1936 by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Cohan nearly bankrupted himself building a new home intended to better compete with Yankee Stadium than the bathtub-shaped Polo Grounds. Cohan sold the Knights and Knights Field to the team's manager, Glenn "Pop" Fisher, in 1926, shortly after the ballpark's completion.
Like Roy, Fisher grew up on a farm, and was told by his mother that he should have stayed a farmer. Instead, he grew up to be a baseball player, a first baseman with the 1900s Pittsburgh Pirates, a teammate of Honus Wagner. But after managing the team for a few years, he was unceremoniously fired, and, as manager first of the Philadelphia Phillies and then the Knights, could often be heard, sometimes muttering, sometimes yelling, "I hate losing to the Pie-ritts!"
Fisher didn't want Roy, then 35 years old, telling him, "Mister, you don't start playing ball at your age, you retire." But Philip Banner, a former federal judge to whom Fisher had to sell a stake in the team to keep it afloat during the Great Depression, gave Roy a chance. After an impressive show in batting practice and outhustling starting right fielder Bartolomew "Bump" Bailey, Roy became the team's starting right fielder, a path that became easier after Bailey crashed into the right-field wall to make a catch, hitting his head and suffering a fatal injury.
Bailey's girlfriend was Memo Paris, who also happened to be Fisher's niece. But she was two-timing Bailey with Gus Sands, a well-known gambler with ties to Judge Banner. Sands was one of the reasons Banner left the bench: A crony of President Warren G. Harding, who had appointed him to the federal bench, Banner was found to be crooked during the Administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (which was ongoing at this time), and was told there would be no prosecution if he left the bench and found another avocation. The ill financial fortunes of the Knights allowed this.
The purchase agreement between Banner and Fisher stated that, by the end of the 1939 season, if the Knights won a Pennant, Fisher could buy Banner's shares in the team back; if they hadn't, Banner would buy out Fisher, and Fisher, who would be 64 years old by that point, would be out as part-owner and manager, and likely out of the game, with no major league team willing to hire a manager who had gotten to that age without ever managing a Pennant winner.
When Roy defied his age and the predictions of most baseball watchers to become one of the top hitters in the game so soon after his arrival at Knights Field, Banner was concerned that he might come up on the short end of his agreement with Fisher. He enlisted Sands and Memo to help him stop Roy.
Memo seduced Roy, and as their affair move on, his hitting fell into a slump, and so did the team: Once appearing as if they would challenge for the Pennant, the Knights dropped back into the second division.
All the while, Roy had to deal with another distraction: Max Mercy, whose nationally-syndicated column has become bigger than ever, was trying to figure out where he'd seen Roy before. He offered Roy $5,000 -- equal to Roy's annual salary from the Knights and about $80,000 in 2010 money -- for his story. Roy refused, knowing that if the general public knew about Harriet Bird and the Chicago hotel, he'd be finished as a baseball hero.
The combined slump of Roy and the Knights turned around one game in Chicago, at Wrigley Field, the ballpark Roy once thought he would make his own. Iris had her first chance to see Roy play in the majors, and he saw her in the stands. On the next pitch, he hit a drive that shattered the clock on the Wrigley scoreboard.
The next day, he battered Cub pitching for four home runs, only the fifth time that had happened in the major leagues to that point. After the game, Roy and Iris caught up with each other at a nearby coffee shop, each explaining what had happened to the other. Iris told Roy she had a son. She did not say that Ted was also Roy's son, only that "His father lives in New York."
The 1939 Pennant Push: Shooting Out the Lights
Coming back from Chicago, Roy kept hitting the ball rather than Memo's apartment, and the Knights went on a tear. With three games left in the regular season, they were three games ahead of the Pirates, the very team that had once wronged Fisher. They needed to win just one more game to win the Pennant.
But at a party hosted by Memo, Roy fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. He was poisoned, and his stomach was pumped. Only then, despite all his surgeries in 1923, '24 and '25, was the silver bullet fired into him by Harriet Bird found and removed. He was told that the lining of his stomach was so badly damaged that any further attempt to play baseball would cause internal bleeding, and he could die.
The Knights lost the next three games. A Playoff for the Pennant was necessary. Roy was visited in the hospital by Memo, who told him he mustn't play. He was visited by Judge Banner, who offered him $20,000 -- about $320,000 in 2010 money -- to play his usual game in the field, but not to hit the ball at all; in other words, to throw the game and the Pennant. Banner also told Roy that "a key man" had been put on the take as a fail-safe.
Memo and Iris also visited Roy, Memo to tell him that he should take the money, throw the Pennant, and then run away with her somewhere and let the scandal blow over; Iris to tell him that she and Ted would be at the Playoff game.
Roy decided he had to play, and the next day, that memorable October 2, 1939, he went up to Banner's office, where Memo and Sands were waiting, and gave the envelope full of cash back.
"Correct me if I'm wrong, Hobbs," Banner said, "but we had a deal."
"Consider yourself corrected, you fat, corrupt son of a bitch," Roy said. "We were never going to have a deal."
(When the film version of Roy's story was made, the producers wanted to keep a PG rating, so certain scenes, including those of Roy in bed with Iris and Memo, were cut or scaled back, and the profanity significantly reduced, so that the Roy character simply said, "No," not his actual words.)
It was then that Memo, having pulled a gun out of Banner's desk, fired it. Unlike Harriet Bird, however, she couldn't bring herself to try to kill Roy, instead shooting at the floor. Only then did Roy see the similarties between the brunette Harriet, now dead 16 years, and the blonde Memo.
He got another blast from the past, as Sands told him something he'd heard from his father as a boy: "You've got a great gift, but it's not enough." What Ed Hobbs never said, Sands added: "I think you're a loser."
But Roy knew something no one else in the room did, and said, "After tonight, win or lose in the game, everyone in this room will be a loser in some way. But all of you more than me." And he left to suit up for the game.
In the top of the fourth, Paul Waner hit a home run to put the Pirates up 2-0. It was then that Roy realized that pitcher Al Fowler was Banner's "key man." Roy came in from right field to tell Fowler not to do anything else to purposely lose the game. Fowler, noting that Roy was already 0-for-1, said, "I'll start pitchin' when you start hittin'." But, suitably chastened, he settled down, and the scored remained 2-0 Pittsburgh into the bottom of the ninth.
By this point, Roy was 0-for-3. Shortly before that inning, Iris had handed an usher a note to give to Roy, explaining that Ted was his son as well as hers. With this knowledge, and the Knights attempting a last-ditch rally that put men on first and second with two outs, Roy stepped to the plate for the last time in the game -- and, for all he knew, for the last time in his career. He represented the winning run, but if the Pirates were to get him out, they would win the Pennant.
To relieve, the Pirates brought in John Rhodes, a 26-year-old fireballing lefthander from Nebraska, who had won 18 games for them. Rhodes stared in at Roy, knowing full well who he was. Roy recognized Rhodes as well: He was the boy that Roy had tossed the ball to from the train at the county fair in Nebraska in 1923.
The count was run to 2-and-2, when Roy hit a foul ball that split his bat Wonderboy. He received a new bat from the Knight batboy, Bobby Savoy. By this point, Roy's bullet wound was bleeding through his jersey.
Rhodes threw a fastball right down the pipe, and Roy slammed it high into right field, where it crashed into the light standard on the roof of Knights Field, shorting out the electricity and winning the Pennant. For the first time in 22 years, the Knights were National League Champions, and Pop Fisher had his first Pennant as a manager.
The Fireworks After the "Fireworks"
With the win, Judge Banner's share of the Knights reverted to Fisher. With Roy expected to be either unavailable or partially incapacitated, and Fowler in their pockets, Banner and Sands had wagered heavily on the Pirates, thinking them a sure thing, placing the bets with Sands' friends in organized crime, and were financially ruined.
By the morning of the Playoff, columnist Mercy had uncovered the truth about Roy's background, including the shooting in Chicago. He had threatened to reveal it. But, loving the game as he did, he decided to wait until after the World Series.
The Series was a wipeout as, with Roy declared absolutely unavailable by his doctor, the New York Yankees swept the crosstown Knights in four straight. It was the first time the teams had met in games that counted.
It was after the World Series that things happened quickly. The morning of the Playoff, Roy had gone directly from the hospital to the office of the New York District Attorney, Thomas E. Dewey, with what he knew about Judge Banner. Although a fellow Republican, Dewey was willing to prosecute Banner. Rather than reveal what he knew about Roy in 1923, Mercy agreed to assist Dewey with the prosecution, in exchange for Dewey looking the other way on some misdeeds of Mercy's.
Banner was banned from baseball for life, not that it mattered anyway. He was indicted, then jumped bail by getting on a ship to Havana, Cuba. By the time the ship docked in Havana, Banner was dead. His death was ruled a suicide, but questions linger. Gus Sands' death, at the Half Moon Hotel in Brooklyn's Coney Island three years later, was definitely due to "lead poisoning."
Sands never married, and is believed to have had no children. Banner was a widower, and left a son who was then a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Robert Bruce Banner worked on the Manhattan Project in World War II, and continued his nuclear research thereafter until his death in 2002 at age 84. He was able to restore his family's reputation to an extent, but did not like to be reminded of his father's role in the Teapot Dome and 1939 Pennant race scandals, telling a sportswriter who was writing a book on the latter in 1952, "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Retirement and Return
Shortly after the new year of 1940, Roy and Iris were married back in Mitchell. Figuring his playing days were done, Roy remained with the Knights as a coach and hitting instructor.
When World War II arrived, Ted, then 18, enlisted in the U.S. Navy. In 1943, Ted was wounded in a Japanese attack on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Enterprise. He received a medical discharge early in 1944, and felt well enough to play baseball in amateur leagues that summer.
By that point, with more and more men going into the service, major league teams were desperate to find talent wherever they could: Men over age 40, teenagers, players previously given up on as not good enough. The Washington Senators signed Bert Shepard, a pitcher who'd lost part of his leg after being shot down flying a strafing run over Germany, and he pitched one game. The St. Louis Browns signed Pete Gray, an outfielder who'd lost an arm -- not in the War, but in a farming accident as a boy.
The Chicago Cubs felt desperate enough early in 1945 to offer contracts to both Roy and Ted. The team doctors checked Roy out thoroughly, and determined that his stomach had healed enough that it wouldn't be an impediment to playing baseball again. But he was 41. Would he have anything left? And would Ted, now 21, be ready for the major leagues? Roy was put in left field, and finally began to play for the team that offered him a tryout 22 years earlier. Ted became the Cubs' catcher.
After a tough race, the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals out for the Pennant by three games. Roy, who had batted .350 with 44 home runs and 106 runs batted in with the '39 Knights, had enough left to bat .302, hit 24 homers and drive in 72 runs. Ted batted .282 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs, a good performance for a catcher or a 21-year-old rookie. But the Cubs lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers.
By that point, the War was over, and Roy retired as a player for good. Pop Fisher brought him back to the Knights as the new manager, and he held that job until 1948, when Pop died, and the team was inherited by, of all people, his only living relative, his niece, Memo Paris.
Now married and a housewife living on Long Island, she never forgave Roy for leaving her. In a discussion with the recently fired manager of the crosstown Brooklyn Dodgers, Leo Durocher, she complained that everyone thought Roy was a nice guy, but that he really wasn't. Durocher told her that Roy may not have been nice to her, but that he was nice to just about everybody else, and that was the problem: The Knights were all nice guys, and that was their problem. "Nice guys finish last," Durocher said.
Memo fired Roy, hired Durocher, and, strangely, changed the team's name back to the New York Giants. She even moved them back into the Polo Grounds, which had been kept in business by staging prizefights and football games since the Knights left after the 1925 season. Competitively speaking, hiring Durocher and moving back to the Polo Grounds, with its short foul lines, was the right move, as the Giants won a thrilling Playoff for the Pennant in 1951, against their crosstown rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers, with Bobby Thomson playing the role of Roy Hobbs. But, essentially, Memo was getting revenge: Revenge on Roy, revenge on Pop, even revenge on Judge Banner. By changing the team's name, moving out of Knights Field, and firing Roy, she was doing her damnedest to erase every last vestige of the New York Knights.
After losing the 1951 World Series to the Yankees, the Giants won the whole thing in 1954, sweeping the Cleveland Indians as Willie Mays made the most famous defensive play in sports history, known as "The Catch." Mays, appearing on TV nearly every day of the season, made a lot of fans treat Roy and the other earlier Knights stars as relics of a black-and-white, radio-and-newsreel era. This was compounded by the Giants' move to San Francisco after the 1957 season, casting not just the Knights name but the entire history of the New York franchise of the National League into a bygone era that could never be brought back.
Ted Hobbs remained with the Cubs until the 1961 season, when team owner Philip K. Wrigley's managerial rotation, which he called the "College of Coaches," messed the team up tremendously. He asked Wrigley to leave him unprotected in the expansion draft, hoping to be selected by one of the two new teams, the New York Mets, who would play their first two seasons at Knights Field on Manhattan's Upper West Side before the opening of Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadow, Queens.
Instead, Ted was selected by the Houston Colt .45's, and had to play in the south Texas heat for three years before the Astrodome opened in 1965. That year, with the team's name changed to the Houston Astros, was Ted's 18th and last in the major leagues. (He had missed the 1952 and '53 seasons as he was called back into the Navy during the Korean War; having been wounded in World War II, he was made a Master Chief Petty Officer and an instructor, remaining stateside.)
Roy was invited to the Mets' home opener in 1962, the Knights Field farewell in '63, and the Shea opener in '64. It hurt him terribly to see the Knights/Giants moved and the old ballpark demolished. With Ted hired as a Mets scout, and a coach on the "Miracle Mets" team of 1969, Roy was invited to throw out the first ball of a World Series game. He was invited back to Shea for a World Series first ball ceremony in 1973, but by the time the Yankees started winning Pennants again in 1976, he decided he was too old to make the trip east.
A reunion of the '45 Cubs at Wrigley Field in 1975 was his last time in a big-league ballpark. He remained on the South Dakota farm until his death on March 18, 1986. He was 81 years old, and was laid to rest next to his parents at a nearby cemetery. Iris joined him two years later.
Ted Hobbs remained a Mets scout through their glory years of the 1980s, and is one of the few people connected to both their 1969 and 1986 World Championship teams. His son Robert did not join the family business, deciding not to play baseball beyond high school. Instead, he went to law school, entered politics, served in the South Dakota State Legislature, and was elected Governor in the Democratic landslide of 2006 and re-elected in 2010. Governor Rob Hobbs is a "prairie populist" in the mold of George Norris, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Tom Harkin, Tom Daschle and Paul Wellstone. His son Teddy played hockey at the University of North Dakota, and now plays for the NHL's New Jersey Devils.
In 1977, shortly after graduating from the University of Chicago School of Law, Rob wrote a book about his grandfather: The Natural: The Tragic, Heroic Story of Baseball Legend Roy Hobbs. He joked that it should be made into a movie, with "a Robert Redford type" playing his grandfather. It took years for the film to get out of "development hell," and was released in 2010, as The Natural, with the following playing the leads:
Roy Hobbs: Matt Damon
Iris Gaines: Julia Stiles
Memo Paris: Blake Lively
Pop Fisher: Wayne Knight
Harriet Bird: Winona Ryder
Judge Banner: William Shatner
Max Mercy: Christopher McDonald
Gus Sands: Tommy Lee Jones
Thomas E. Dewey: Ben Affleck
Walter "the Whammer" Wambold: Ryan Hurst
John Rhodes: Haley Joel Osment
On May 11, 2004, a statue of Roy Hobbs was dedicated in downtown Mitchell, on what would have been his 100th birthday. Although having played just two seasons in the major leagues makes him ineligible for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, several items connected to his career are in the Hall's Museum in Cooperstown, New York, including the uniform he wore the night of the 1939 Playoff, the bat Wonderboy (glued together after being broken in the Playoff), and the "Savoy Special" bat he used to hit the Pennant-winning home run.
The Natural was released on May 11, 1984, and since we know Roy was 35 in 1939, I settled on a birthdate of exactly 80 years before the movie. I was thinking Nebraska as a birthplace and hometown, but Roy told Gus, who guessed that State, "That's not where I'm from." Since John Rhodes is said to be from Nebraska, that made a South Dakota origin possible as a result of the train trip. This contradicted my second choice of a home town for Roy, Dyersville, Iowa, where Field of Dreams was filmed. I settled on Mitchell because that's also the hometown of George McGovern, which would get under the skin of conservatives.
Roy is probably younger, maybe 10, when his father dies, but 13 was the age Natural author Bernard Malamud was when his mother attempted suicide. It's been speculated that this colored Malamud's outlook on life, and may be why he had Roy lose in the end -- even though he was trying to win.
The film's script seems to say that Roy's last team before the Knights was the "Hebrew Oilers," but that doesn't make sense: A baseball team made up of Jewish oil-rig workers? There is a town near Buffalo, where the movie was filmed, called Hebron, pronounced "HEE-bron," as opposed to the West Bank city pronounced "HEBB-ron," and I'm presuming for this bio that "Hebron" is correct.
In the film's credits, the Judge is listed as simply that, "The Judge." In the novel, he is "Judge Banner," with no first name mentioned. I don't know why I named him "Philip," but I couldn't resist making his son a physicist named "Bruce Banner," who, in this version, may or may not have actually gone on to become The Incredible Hulk.
Why is the pitcher who gives up the Pennant-winning home run the kid Roy tossed the ball to from the train in 1923? Come on, look at the faces of the combatants: Rhodes clearly remembers Roy as something other than a current celebrity, and Roy sure looks like he recognizes Rhodes.
In RL, the 1939 National League Pennant was won by the Cincinnati Reds, by 4 1/2 games over the St. Louis Cardinals. The New York Giants, the team whose place and uniform colors the Knights took (red, white and blue at the time, not the more familiar black and orange they adopted in 1947 and have kept ever since, from New York to California), finished fifth out of eight teams, 18 1/2 back, having won Pennants in 1921, '22, '23, '24, '33, '36 and '37.
The TTL-Knights' opponents in the '39 Playoff, the Pirates, finished sixth in RL, 28 1/2 back, despite narrowly missing the Pennant the year before against the Chicago Cubs. The Reds went on to be swept in the World Series by the Yankees, but won the Series the next year against the Detroit Tigers. Although the Dodgers would win seven Pennants in their remaining years in New York City, the Giants would only win two more in theirs, 1951 and '54.
Everything in the lives of the characters after October 2, 1939 (the day after the last day of the RL-1939 regular season, when a Playoff for the Pennant, if necessary, would have occurred) is my own invention, although it certainly appears in the final scene as if Roy, Iris and Ted were then united in one family.
It has, however, been suggested that the wheatfield they're shown in at the end isn't what actually happened, but rather that Roy, having collapsed and died after hitting his home run (foreshadowing Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, which came out 23 years later), experienced what would, to him, be Heaven.
If Roy (unknowingly) leaves Iris pregnant in the summer of 1923, that means Ted is born around Opening Day in 1924, which makes him old enough to enlist in the opening months of World War II. Being a Trekkie, I chose the RL-WWII aircraft carrier Enterprise as his ship. (In 1961, the current, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with the name was launched, and is scheduled to be retired in 2013; a new carrier with the name is already scheduled to be built.) It was either that or PT-109, John F. Kennedy's ship which was attacked on August 2, 1943, which would have fit the timeframe allowing Ted Hobbs to come back to baseball in 1945.
March 18, 1986 was the day Malamud died, so it seemed like a fitting day to lay Roy to rest.
As for the actors in TTL's version of The Natural: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are very much baseball fans in RL, Boston Red Sox fans, and wrote this into the film that introduced most of us to them, Good Will Hunting, in which Damon and Robin Williams discussed the legendary Game 6 of the 1975 World Series.
It's easy to forget now, because we still think of Damon and Affleck as young guys, because that's how we first saw them. It's why we think of Drew Barrymore as a kid and Eva Longoria as grown-up, even though they were born the same year: Drew is actually 4 weeks older. Although we think of Dewey, who went on to be elected Governor of New York in 1942 and nominated for President in 1944 and 1948, as "old" because we only saw him in black and white, in 1939 he would have been almost exactly the same age as Affleck was when this movie would have been made in late 2009. And Damon would be a little older than Roy in the bulk of the movie -- 39 as opposed to 35 -- Redford was 45, and Damon comes a whole lot closer than Redford to being taken seriously as a 19-year-old in 1923.
Christopher McDonald had previously played two Yankee legends: Broadcaster Mel Allen in 61*, and Joe DiMaggio in The Bronx Is Burning. As an actor, he's no Robert Duvall, but I can definitely see him playing Max Mercy.
Tommy Lee Jones had previously played Ty Cobb in Cobb, and I have no qualms about giving him Darren McGavin's role as Gus. Ryan Hurst, who could pass for the Babe (and therefore for Joe Don Baker as the Whammer) had appeared in a sports-themed movie, albeit football: Remember the Titans.
Julia Stiles is a Met fan, and seems to have the kind of wholesomeness that would make us take her seriously as a simple farm girl, as opposed to Blake Lively in the Kim Basinger role of Memo. Winona Ryder is a San Francisco Giants fan, and I can see her channeling her "teen angst bullshit" from Heathers to play Barbara Hershey's Harriet.
Wayne Knight was older than Wilford Brimley was when the RL movie came out. The same year, 1984, Brimley was in Cocoon, and a film critic called him "51 but he can pass for old." And Robert Prosky, the original film's Judge, was younger than Shatner, but the chance to put The Captain in, playing a character as pompous as Denny Crane in The Practice, struck me as a great idea.
Why Haley Joel Osment as the pitcher who gives up the big home run? I needed an actor of the right age (he'd have been 21 when it was filmed), and besides, with most of the characters (but, possibly, not his own, he'd have been approaching 100 years old) being long-gone by 2009 if they'd been real, he would once again be seeing dead people!