The filmmakers scouted the country for a stadium to use in game scenes. They needed something nondescript with a pre-World War II feel, and found it in Buffalo's War Memorial Stadium. The stadium, built in 1937 and demolished in 1988, had a shorter distance down the right field line than is shown in the movie. The stadium had been renovated prior to filming, which could explain the extra hundred feet displayed on the right field wall.
While the story is an adaptation of the book by Bernard Malamud, the plot has been changed for movie to be more "uplifting". Several characters and symbols are heavily influenced by the writings of Homer and Greek mythology: - the line, "Have you ever read Homer?" Roy Hobbs = Odysseus. He is trying to "find his way" (home). Max Mercy = Vulcan, God of Fire and Forging. He can "make or break you", and is always seen in red or brown clothing. Pop Fisher = Zeus, King of the Gods. His uniform is #1, and both the oak tree and lightning bolt à la the Wonderboy bat, are his symbols. The Judge = Hades, God of the Underworld. He is always in the dark, a.k.a. death, and the dead are "judged" in the underworld. Memo Paris = Kalypso, a sea nymph who had an affair with Odysseus and held or distracted him from returning home. Kalypso means "I will conceal" in Greek. Gus Sands = the Cyclops. Gus has the one strange eye. Iris Gaines = Penelope, wife of Odysseus. Roy's true love, from whom he was separated for sixteen years, while she raised their son. - Hubris = when Roy states his goal is for people to say, "there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in this game", this is what the Greeks considered to be hubris, and for that, a person would often suffer turmoil.
Hobbs breaking the scoreboard clock with a home run was inspired by Bama Rowell of the Boston Braves doubling off the Ebbets Field scoreboard clock on May 30, 1946, showering Dixie Walker with glass. Though he'd been promised a free watch by Bulova for hitting the company's scoreboard sign, Rowell had to wait until 1987 to receive it.
The patches on the left arm of the Knights' uniforms are special patches commemorating the centennial of baseball, which was celebrated in 1939. This confirms the Knights' season to be the 1939 season.
The bat that bat boy, Bobby Savoy, gives Roy, is called the "Savoy Special". The Savoy Special was a brand of beer in the 1930s, and was made by the United States Brewing Company. This bat is currently in the collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and is displayed along with Roy Hobb's jacket in an exhibit titled "Baseball and the Movies".
While Darren McGavin had a major supporting role as the bookmaker Gus Sands, he received no credit. In the recent retrospective documentary on the Special Edition DVD of this movie, Robert Prosky (the Judge) claimed that McGavin was cast late in the picture, and would have received a lesser billing than the other stars. As a result, McGavin chose to go uncredited. Prosky noted that McGavin wound up "drawing more attention to himself" as a result.
Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams' single goal while playing baseball was for people to say, "There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived" (a sentiment echoed by Roy Hobbs in this movie). Like Williams, Hobbs wears number 9 on his uniform, and Williams and Hobbs hit home runs in their last career at-bats. According to Roger Angell of the New Yorker, Redford modelled his swing on Williams'. Angell added that Redford plays so authentically, "you want to sign him up".
Author Bernard Malamud based his baseball tale on the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table seeking the Holy Grail. The name "Roy" means "King", and Roy takes his bat, Wonder Boy, from the oak tree that was struck by lightning, just as Arthur pulls the sword from the stone. Pop Fischer is the wounded Fisher King, though in this story, it is Roy who has the wound that will not heal. There is the Lady Without Mercy, who gives Hobbs the wound. He rallies the "Knights" of the Round Table to be the best in the land. The original Malamud story has the tragic conclusion that better reflects La Morte d'Arthur.
The second film released by TriStar Pictures. It was supposed to be the first, but they felt that baseball movies don't do well. So instead, Where the Boys Are (1984) was released first, in April, and this movie followed in May. Director Barry Levinson said this during an appearance on Costas at the Movies (2013).
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson was also an inspiration for the character of Roy Hobbs, particularly Jackson's connection to the Black Sox scandal. This can been seen when the Judge attempts to bribe Roy to throw the game. Also, like "Shoeless" Joe, Hobbs has a special name for his bat.
Iris' (Glenn Close's) initial appearance at the ballpark was carefully presented to give her the appearance of a guardian angel. For filming purposes, they waited until a clear day when the setting sun would be just at the right spot in the background, so that it would shine through her translucent hat and make it appear as a halo around her head.
Newspaper copy on-screen doesn't match the accompanying headlines about Roy Hobbs and The New York Knights. The text contains stories about bass fishing, horse racing, funeral services for White Sox owner Charles Comiskey, a fan of the New York Giants, and a sports column about General John J. Phelan, who was Chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission in the late 1930s.
When Roy Hobbs first joins the Knights, mid-season, the equipment manager declines to give him a uniform with number 11 on it, asserting that the number 11 is "bad luck", and Hobbs winds up with number 9. There is no specific curse or jinx baseball recognizes about the number 11, but the sixteenth century scholar, Petrus Bungus, said that the number 11 "has no connection with divine things, no ladder reaching up to things above, nor any merit." Rather, he concluded that the number 11 was stuck between the divine numbers 10 and 12, and therefore 11 was pure evil, and represented sinners.
Inasmuch as the bulk of the story takes place in 1939, the hotel technology must be questioned. Nearly every elevator in the United States prior to 1950 had to have an operator. While it's true that automatic elevators existed in the 1930s, they proliferated slowly, due to objections from organized labor, in the form of strikes by the elevator operators' unions. Thus, fully automatic elevator cars would have been a rarity, even in New York City.
In 2001, Bill Simmons from ESPN Magazine compiled Roy Hobbs 1939 rookie season stats, taking cues from the movie, and his line would've looked something like this: Games Played -115, At Bats-400, Runs-92, Hits-140, Home Runs-44, Runs Batted In-106 Batting Average-.350. Hobbs struck out eighty-five times, and walked seventy-five times. Roy was thirty-five-years-old in his rookie season.
While the movie owes a lot to Malamud's book, the film takes many liberties with it. Characters are changed, combined, and created. Most of the best lines in the movie come from the book, but are often spoken by different characters. Roy is a much more complex character, who is less black and white. Many fans of the movie consider it the rare film that is better than the book, upon which it is based.
Although big league baseball players at the turn of the twentieth century sported long hair, handlebar mustaches, and pork chop side burns, it had changed by the time of this story. The strict edict of the day from the Commissioner of Baseball required a player to possess a clean shaven countenance. This continued right up to the early 1970s and included everyone; even the Black and Latin American prospects were compelled to comply, and yet, Manager Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley) and coach Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) both sport thick walrus mustaches.
During one highlight montage toward the end, Hobbs slides into home and is called "safe" when the catcher drops the ball. Photographers come onto the field to take pictures, and the next newspaper shows the Knights are one game back of first place. The article printed above shows a picture of a regatta race with the caption "Harvard winning the Grand Challenge Cup in England yesterday". Harvard did win the Grand Challenge Cup in 1939, which is further confirmation that this takes place in 1939. the other years they had won were 1914, 1950, 1959, and 1985.
Among images in a montage of Roy's growing fame, we see copies of Life Magazine being printed with Roy's picture on the cover. The magazine is dated August 14, 1939. The actual issue of Life Magazine published that day had a photo of baby, child actress Sandra Lee Henville.
This movie may also have been inspired by the story of Alex "Red" McColl, a pitcher who made his Major League debut at the end of the 1933 season with the Washington Senators at the age of thirty-nine. He'd retired eleven years earlier after a lengthy career in the minors. He started four games in 1933 and pitched the next season before retiring, with a lifetime record of 4-4.