This interview is an abridged version of one conducted by Gino Caputi for his blog Fabulous Film & Friends.
Gino: George, welcome. Congratulations on the forthcoming launch of your novel, TIME BLINKED.
George: Thank you, Gino.
Gino: Do you want to give a quick synopsis of your book or should I?
George: Why don't you do it?
Gino: Okay. TIME BLINKED tells the story of Robert "Bobby" Young, a high school baseball phenom, who during a promotional home run contest, gets caught in a mysterious rippling time and finds himself at bat against the 1975 Oakland A's in an exhibition game, where his towering 550-foot game winning smash sets off a chain of events that not only alters major league baseball history, but threatens Bobby's very existence on Earth. It seems to me that we get a very detailed look inside the locker room and outlook of the 1975 Philadelphia Phillies. I understand the Phillies are going to be changed to the Quakers. Tell us about that.
George: It was motivated by a couple things. One of them was creative. Time travel sometimes involves an alteration of reality. What I wanted to do was look into the Phillies' past, figure out why they had such an obvious team nickname, mascot name, whatever you want to consider the Phillies. It turns out they were originally the Philadelphia Quakers. I have an alternate reality where the Philadelphia Quakers had never ever been to the World Series.
I felt it made for a better book that this extremely more abundant franchise gets this transcendent player dropped in their mitts, like Roy Hobbs in The Natural. He turns the team around not only by his singular talent, but also by his singular attitude where he just will not accept any form of defeat. He essentially wills a team which had really given up in its 92 years of history without ever winning a world championship.
Bobby is the difference maker. I thought it was a more compelling story using the Quakers and again, a slightly alternate history to the Phillies, who, believe me, were never a successful franchise maybe until about the mid-70s when the book takes place.
The second reason has a legal component to it. While I was perfectly willing and this goes to my 35 years as a line producer, perfectly willing to take the chance on possibly having litigation, which might possibly go to court and might possibly not turn out in my favor, I was going to stay with the Phillies and the actual roster. But the publisher did not think that was the wisest move. We agreed that the alternate reality made for a better book.
Sometimes these happy accidents are things that you have to be open to. I'm glad I was. It's not vastly different. There are just a few more things about the now Philadelphia Quakers that I think are going to be of interest to not only baseball fans, but also fans of sports books and fans of The Natural in general. There's a mystical quality to Philadelphia Quakers, and I did want to exploit that as well.
So, your protagonist is named Robert "Bobby" Young and he has a brother named George. Does that sound like anybody you know?
My brother Bobby was a phenomenal athlete. He's one of these people who could pick up a sport and just play it exceptionally well, baseball being one of them. But my brother, by his own admission, did not get a very good coaching at the high school level and also was a bit of a headcase. But he was an incredible athlete. I initially had based a character on him and then I thought, "You know what? It's him."
At some point, I inserted myself at the very beginning of the book and at the very end of the book. At the very end, it is a question of whether Bobby is going to make it back to 2020 or if he even wants to. But yeah, the two of us are real characters in the book. Again, I'm only at the beginning and at the end. My brother is, of course, the lead character throughout the entire novel.
So, let's get into The Natural. It's all about Roy Hobbs, a young baseball wunderkind whose prodigious talent gets him a tryout for the Chicago Cubs. Once in Chicago, however, he is beset by horrific tragedy at the hands of an alluring but fanatical woman. Returning to the game 16 years later and still possessing an amazing talent, Roy helps lift the hapless New York Knights to League Championship victory. Yet throwing roadblocks in his path are a quartet of schemers who seek to either tear down, exploit, or bask in his glory all for their personal gain.
Malamud's book is well-crafted and does not play into, as the movie does, the Hollywood ending. It shows the moral and physical complexity of your basic human being in Roy Hobbs and also in some of the other secondary characters that Roy interacts with throughout the book. He is a deeply flawed individual despite his considerable athletic talent. I think you remember at the beginning of the book as opposed to the movie when he engages in the pitching door with The Whammer, who I'm assuming is Babe Ruth.
He injures the very scout who has found him, plucked him off of a farm, and is taking him to a big league ball club to pitch for them. He's a player with a phenomenal arm, initially Roy Hobbs as a pitcher. But during this home run pitching contest with The Whammer, Roy injures Simpson, the scout, and injures him to the point where the poor gentleman passes away.
So, Roy is just a cursed character. I think Malamud develops him so completely throughout the novel and then Hollywood took it. I think you and I had discussed earlier about their inability to saddle Robert Redford, a veritable golden boy of Hollywood, especially in the '80s with a role where he would not turn out to be the "hero".
A little background on Bernard Malamud's inspiration for Roy Hobbs. Eddie Waitkus, the Cubs' first baseman. A woman named Ruth Ann Steinhagen, Cubs superfan, as we would call them today, was so upset that Waitkus was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies that she lured him into a hotel room in Chicago and then shot him. He barely survived.
So, that's where Malamud got the inspiration as well as from Shoeless Joe Jackson and prodigies like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. Redford, for sure, paid homage to Ted Williams with number nine on his jersey. Now, I read the book in high school, but even before that, I read the first section of the book in a baseball literature anthology I had.
You can imagine my surprise when I read the book in earnest and Roy Hobbs in the book is nothing like Robert Redford. Yeah. I've gone back and forth on this, but I prefer the movie. I love the movie. I just watched it last night and I love it. I think it's a beautiful movie about baseball. Robert Redford's taciturn performance, I accept it. He's playing Gary Cooper type. He's the epic hero. Fine, it's his choice and I like it. I think it works in the movie as executed.
Well, yeah, it's a movie that if you talk about the craft... I don't think there's a bad scene, a bad piece of dialogue, a bad bit of art direction in the entire film. It's also brilliantly paced and I'm thinking, "Okay, you've got baseball, but it's a backdrop."
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