Still somewhat strengthened by Iris, Roy starts fielding well, deciding against the fix. He tries to persuade Fowler to pitch better, to drop the fix as well. The Knights start doing a little better, and finally Roy is up again, with a chance to win the game. His posture and facial expression at the plate is so ferocious that Vogelman, the Pirates' pitcher, faints dead away. The Pirates send in their relief pitcher, a young, talented man who wants to be a farmer; he is only playing baseball long enough to buy a farm. Roy is prepared to do his best—three good swings—but he strikes out.

Sobbing, Roy buries Wonderboy in the playing field. He goes into the clubhouse and finds his money from the Judge. He takes it and walks up to the Judge's tower, where he finds the Judge, Gus, and Memo counting betting receipts. Roy punches Gus, knocking out his false eye. Roy dumps the Judge's money over his head, snatches the Judge's gun away, and beats him up. Memo tries to shoot Roy, but she misses, and Roy takes the gun away. Memo tells Roy that she has hated him ever since he "murdered Bump." Roy realizes that he "never learned anything from his past life" and now he has to suffer again.

A newspaper headline by Max Mercy reveals Roy's sellout. The article also contains a photo of Roy at nineteen, on the ground and bleeding from the gunshot wound of Harriet Bird. A boy turns to Roy and says, "Say it ain't so," but Roy cannot. He simply weeps.


With much blood and thunder, Roy's big league career comes to its tragic conclusion. Pop's statements about how some people seem to be cursed with a "whammy" is all too relevant to Roy's life. Despite even his own reservations, Roy continues in his single-minded desire for Memo. Unbelievably, when he thinks about life without Memo, he balks because of the "loneliness" that life would bring—completely forgetting about Iris, the woman who actually made him feel good about himself. Unlike the Perceval of myth, who eventually overcomes his youthful stupidity and infatuations, Roy never manages to rise above his own preoccupations with wealth, fame, and Memo—or more symbolically, his greed, fear of death, and oedipal desire for his mother (as critic Earl Wasserman interprets Roy's behavior). Roy's role as the hero-god of vegetative myth, a force of life and rejuvenation, is symbolized by the way the field turns "dusty" and dry while Roy deliberately misses hits. Pop begins to literally decay, scratching his hands and removing his false teeth, as Roy continues to fail.

However, after Roy's discovery that he is a force of life—he has gotten Iris pregnant—he finally understands and accepts his role in the world. There is an immense crack of thunder when he next hits the ball, but unfortunately it is too late. Wonderboy, the almost supernatural source of energy that allows Roy to hit any kind of pitch with ease, breaks under the stress Roy puts on it. In these final moments, the struggle between the realistic tone of the novel and its mythological underpinnings reaches a frantic conclusion. Why does Wonderboy break? In some versions of the Arthur legend, Excalibur breaks when Arthur unfairly uses it against the righteous Sir Lancelot, whom Arthur could not beat in fair combat without the supernatural aid of his sword. But Wonderboy breaks after Roy has decided against the fix—not before. It could be that, by having Wonderboy break, Malamud is abandoning the mythological structure of the novel entirely, leaving Roy to fend for himself in a "realistic" world. If this interpretation is correct, then it makes sense that Roy ultimately fails not because he lacks Wonderboy, but because he goes after a "bad ball," which Pop has repeatedly warned him about. With the end of Wonderboy, Roy has lost his method of channeling his ability as a natural. His crutch gone, he must rely on the same skills that any other good ballplayer must. However, the childish Roy, certain of his talent all his life, has never cultivated these abilities. Left to his own devices, robbed of his status as a mythological hero and a true Knight, Roy succumbs to a bad pitch.

However, there is an alternative interpretation of Wonderboy's destruction and Roy's failure; one that is perhaps not as pessimistic as it might first appear. Roy's failure comes at the hands of a young pitcher—aptly named Youngberry—who may represent the proper course of the vegetative-god cycle. Just as Roy struck out the Whammer at the age of nineteen, Youngberry strikes out Roy. Roy's time has come; he has seen himself as the Whammer before, and now his time has passed. It is notable that, in a broad sense, the novel takes place within a single seasonal year, beginning in early spring with the nineteen-year-old Roy's trip to Chicago, then his early-summer joining of the Knights fifteen years later, through to autumn and then to late autumn, when the trees are dying and the vegetative cycle enters its "death" stage. But the next cycle is preparing to begin, with this new young player striking out ("killing") the old, so that he may take the old player's place the following year. This new symbolic god has dreams of his own—he wants to own a farm, and is only playing baseball to make enough money to buy one. Youngberry offers hope where Roy does not. The young pitcher dreams of "golden wheat fields" and is not interested in setting records or in the game of baseball at all: he is almost unaware of his talent. All Youngberry lacks now, as Roy did, is recognition of his responsibility to the fans—which hopefully will come in time. For Roy, however, it is too late. His time as a cyclical hero-god is over, and he has failed to use the time as best he could. Unlike Perceval, Roy does not achieve the "Holy Grail" of the pennant race. He makes the right decision only when he no longer has the power to act upon it. He even "kills" the fertility goddess when his errant foul hits Iris in the face. But his son is in her womb, and even in the face of defeat, Roy is a force of life.