powered by AFI
In Washington, D.C., middle-aged real estate salesman Joe Boyd is an ardent fan of the unsuccessful Senators baseball team. Early in the season, after witnessing their defeat by the New York Yankees, Joe says he would "sell his soul for one good ball hitter." Appearing suddenly out of nowhere, Mr. Applegate, who is more commonly known as The Devil, agrees with him. Knowing that Joe has always yearned to be a baseball player, Applegate offers to make him the greatest ball player in history. Joe is skeptical of Applegate's claim to be the Devil until he realizes that only he can see him. Applegate explains that he will turn the out-of-shape Joe into a young man who can lead the Senators from seventh place, where they currently stand, to a championship victory. In return, Joe is troubled to learn, he must leave his wife Meg, but, being a shrewd businessman, he insists on an "escape clause" in case he does not like his new life. Although unused to negotiation, Applegate claims he does not want "those damn Yankees" to win again and agrees to give Joe one chance to back out of the deal at midnight on 24 September. Applegate and Joe then seal the bargain with a crossed double handshake. While Applegate gloats, Joe fetches his baseball shoes and writes the sleeping Meg a final note. Applegate then transforms Joe into Joe Hardy, a vital, twenty-two-year-old athlete. At the stadium, Benny Van Buren, the Senators' coach, bolsters the morale of his players, who are intimidated by the Yankees. Applegate and Joe arrive, asking for a tryout, but Joe finds that his old baseball shoes do not fit his new body. Borrowing another player's shoes, he impresses everyone with his amazing batting and fielding. However, when asked where he has played before, the only information Joe offers is that he is from Hannibal, Missouri. Once Joe is signed to the team, Gloria Thorpe, a sports writer, publishes a favorable article about Joe and the incident with his shoes. After seeing Joe play and reading Gloria's article, Mr. Welch, the team's owner, wants to arrange for more publicity, but Benny tells him that Joe is "strange" in that he is afraid of reporters. Gloria, although unable to interview Joe, creates a legend by nicknaming him "Shoeless Joe from Hannibal, MO." While evading questions from the press about his past, Joe leads the team to victories, aiming for the team to win the pennant before the date of his escape clause. Homesick for Meg, he rents a room from her against Applegate's will. Fearing that Joe is being drawn back to his old life, Applegate recruits his employee, the seductress Lola, to lure Joe away from Meg. Applegate explains to Lola his "mass torture plan" to build up the hopes of thousands of Senators fans, who, when the team loses the pennant, will be driven to "suicides, heart attacks and apoplexy." Lola is confident that she can "handle" Joe, but when she attempts to seduce him, he remains true to Meg. Applegate then spreads rumors about Meg and the young Joe, forcing Meg to ask Joe to move out to avoid scandal. On the 23rd of September a fan party in Joe's honor is held. While the fans are preparing for the party, Gloria, who has discovered that no one in Hannibal knows Joe, pumps them for information about him. Welch tries to calm Benny, whose team is close to winning the pennant, but who worries about Joe's recent, uncharacteristic behavior of throwing a ball into the stands at Applegate during a game. Lola has discovered that she really likes Joe and, feeling sorry for his predicament, joins the fan club and performs in the show. When Gloria approaches Applegate, who is now scheming to make Joe fail, the devil makes up "rumors" that Joe is really Shifty McCoy, a ballplayer on a Mexican team who disappeared after taking bribes to throw a game. Gloria investigates the story about Shifty, after which her newspaper prints an extra edition reporting suspicion about Joe's identity. Although Joe's fans are behind him and many blame the Yankees for starting the rumor, the baseball commission calls for a hearing. At the hearing, Gloria introduces Mr. Hawkins, Hannibal's postmaster, and other Hannibal citizens who have never heard of Joe. Applegate asks for a recess until late that evening, so that he can present a witness from Mexico who knows Shifty. Between the sessions of the hearing, Joe tells Applegate that he intends to exercise his escape clause, but is concerned that, at midnight, the hearing will still be in session. Applegate tells him to ask him to step into the next room at exactly five minutes to midnight. After Joe goes out the door, Applegate promises, "Joe Hardy" will disappear forever and Joe Boyd can resume his former life. Feeling sorry for Joe, Meg decides to help him, even if it means lying. With the support of her friends, Doris and Sister Miller, she attends the hearing and testifies that she knew Joe in Hannibal. As the visiting citizens from Hannibal know and respect Meg, her testimony vindicates Joe. However, after the hearing, Meg and others prevent Joe from leaving the room and when the clock strikes twelve, Joe becomes Applegate's permanent employee. Later that night, Lola finds a very depressed Joe on a park bench and tells him she has slipped Applegate a "Micky Finn," a sleeping potion that will keep him unconscious through the final game, thus allowing the Senators to win the pennant. When Lola tells Joe that she was "the ugliest woman in Providence, Rhode Island," before Applegate got her, Joe comments that they are "two lost souls." Deciding to "make the best of it," they go out dancing and drinking to bury their sorrows. The next day, Applegate awakens too early and arrives at the game during the seventh inning with Lola in tow. When Lola tries to leave, Applegate turns her into the one-hundred-and-seventy-two-year-old witch that she really is. Joe is running to catch a ball that will determine the outcome of the game, when Applegate turns him into his older self. Despite the handicap of middle age, Joe manages to catch the ball and the Senators win the pennant. During the elated cheering that follows, Joe sneaks out of the ballpark and the press speculates that his disappearance is due to foul play by a group of gamblers who invested heavily in the Yankees. After Joe and Meg are happily reunited, Applegate comes to repossess Joe, but having been changed back, Joe is free to refuse him. Lola, who has been returned to beauty, also beckons to Joe, but is happy for him. Frustrated, Applegate throws a tantrum and disappears, letting Joe resume his life.