How Good Was Roy Hobbs Really?
Every now and then the name Roy Hobbs from the baseball movie The Natural comes up in conversation. In the movie, Robert Redford plays a mysterious and mythical legendary baseball player who has one season of great success. After viewing the movie a debate arises questioning the stats that Roy Hobbs achieved in that single season.
One of the more common references of the theoretical stats Hobbs achieved comes from Bill Simmons who lists Hobbs as having these stats for the 1939 fictional season playing for the Knights. Hobbs, in the movie, missed part of the season due to the manager not playing him in the first month of the season. Although the stats posted below are impressive for a partial season, there is one piece of evidence that suggests Hobbs did much better.
Roy Hobbs 1939 Theoretical
Not only did Hobbs display outstanding feats of power and mysticism in his abilities to the audience, but also the other characters in the story. 3 quotes show Hobbs was something more than just a great player.
The first quote comes from Hobbs himself while speaking with Iris:
Roy: I coulda been better. I coulda broke every record in the book.
Iris: And then?
Roy: And then? And then when I walked down the street people would've looked and they would've said there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game.
This quote is the weakest of the three because it comes from Roy himself. However, he believes he would have been the best there ever was.
The second quote comes from reporter Max Mercy who the audience knows has been covering baseball for decades.
Max Mercy: Anything he wants to hit, he hits. I've never seen anything like it.
Here we have a seasoned journalist admitting he has never in his career seen anything like Hobbs before.
The final quote is the most powerful. Pop Fisher, who is the coach of the Knights, leaves behind the strongest evidence for Hobbs being much greater than what has been presented previously.
Pop Fisher: You know my mama wanted me to be a farmer.
Roy Hobbs: My dad wanted me to be a baseball player.
Pop Fisher: Well you're better than any player I ever had. And you're the best God damn hitter I ever saw. Suit up.
Pop Fisher appears to be in his 60s and most likely would have been part of baseball for 40 or more years. The movie takes place in 1939 and if the audience is to believe Pop Fisher's statement that Hobbs really was the best hitter he ever saw, then that would include being the best hitter for the last 40 years.
Considering the deadball era ended after 1920, Hobbs should have been the best hitter in the history of the game at that point in baseball. It is difficult to compare the deadball era with other eras because of the difference in rules, home runs, and poor defense. If one were to look at the great achievements of players after 1920 up to 1939 then Hobbs would have to have been better than 2 hitters to be the best hitter Pop Fisher ever saw. Babe Ruth and Roger Hornsby both stand in the way of Hobbs being the greatest.
Who Was The Best?
Since Hobbs only had one season to make experienced baseball observers believe he was the best, it had to have been an astounding season. The real 1939 baseball season had a batting average high of .399 with 35 home runs and 145 RBIs contributed by 3 different players.
To receive the triple crown award in baseball a player needs to lead in all 3 of these categories. It is a rare feat in modern baseball but had occurred 12 times before 1939 and 6 times after the deadball era and twice by the player Roger Hornsby. At a minimum, Hobbs would have had to win the triple crown, but compared to Hornsby's stats, it would have fallen a little short.
Hornsby Vs Hobbs Theoretical Stats
|Name||Batting Average||Home Runs||R.B.I.|
Hobbs 1939 Theoretical
Even though Hobbs only played a partial season he should have still created numbers that were so impressive that there could be no doubt that he was greater than the greats of the past and at the very least obtained the triple crown of the 1939 season.
Although Babe Ruth never won the triple crown, he did have a season hitting .356 with 60 home runs and165 RBIs. Breaking the 60 home run mark had been unheard of and had never been reached again for quite some time. Hobbs' home runs and RBIs in the Simmons projection almost equal Ruth's feat when you consider the shortened season, but it still doesn't make Hobbs look like the "best God damn hitter I ever saw."
Hobbs' Final Stats For The 1939 Fictional Season
The 1939 baseball season started on April 17th and ended on October 8th. We know that Hobbs started playing in about mid-May. This makes it difficult to calculate his exact At-Bats. Simmons projects the At-Bats to be 400 and that is a pretty good projection. It would be possible to sneak in another 50 At-Bats raising the home runs and RBIs further, but assuming Hobbs only had 400 At-Bats then when compared to Ruth and Hornsby and the 1939 League leaders Hobbs should post the stats below.
Hobbs would have probably had a minimum of 44 home runs to equal Babe Ruth and 97 RBIs to equal Hornsby's feat per At-Bat. So far this is pretty close to Simmons' projections. The major difference would have to be the batting average. For a player to have stood out as the best hitter ever they would have had to hit above .400 in 1939.
So to be the best hitter ever in 1939 Hobbs would have had to have a minimum batting average of .400 with 45 Home runs and 146 RBIs. This would allow Hobbs to be better than Ruth and Hornsby per At-Bats during their best while also allowing Hobbs to win the triple crown of the real 1939 season. This would be an astounding feat considering he missed a small part of the season and make him the "best God damn hitter" Pop Fisher ever saw.
Hobbs' Theoretical Stats
|Name||Batting Average||Home Runs||R.B.I.|
Roy Hobbs 1939