Books | January 13, 2023 1:51 pm

The Novel That Inspired a Classic Baseball Movie Was Almost Lost Forever

The long road to "For Love of the Game"

Kevin Costner in "For The Love Of The Game."
Kevin Costner in "For The Love Of The Game."
Ben Glass 1999 Universal Studios/Getty Images

When you look at lists of the best baseball movies of all time, you’ll probably come across director Sam Raimi’s 1999 For Love of the Game before too long. The film stars Kevin Costner — who’s often well-represented on baseball movie lists — along with an impressive supporting cast that includes John C. Reilly, Kelly Preston, Brian Cox, Jena Malone and J.K. Simmons.

In a 2000 interview, Raimi discussed what had drawn him to the project. “I was simply moved by the screenplay. It was moving and simple and I love baseball,” he said. That screenplay was based on a short novel of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Shaara — but the novel in question came dangerously close to never being published at all.

In an article for The Athletic, Cody Stavenhagen explored the circuitous route that the novel took to be published. The article describes how, in the aftermath of Shaara’s death, his son Jeff and his ex-wife Helen went through his papers and found an unpublished novel, then titled Billy Boy.

The elder Shaara sounds, shall we say, temperamental. “Knowing the kind of guy he was, if he got really disgusted with something, he’d throw it in the trash,” Jeff Shaara told The Athletic. The novel was published in the early 1990s, and was adapted a few years later — a film that, Stavenhagen writes, “features some of the best pure baseball action of any movie in the genre.”

Much as every player in a game of baseball has a story to tell, so too does every fictional account of a baseball game. The path For Love of the Game took to publication is particularly indicative of that.