By Janie McCauley, Associated Press
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)--Billy Beane considers “Moneyball” a success for the simple fact Brad Pitt plays Oakland’s innovative, volatile general manager.
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“Listen, it’s Brad doing it, how am I going to complain?” Beane quipped Monday.
The new movie focuses on the 2002 edition of the small-market Athletics and a thrilling 20-game winning streak. Ultimately, Oakland lost in the first round of the playoffs.
These days, the A’s are no longer winning regularly, Beane is far from the genius he once was considered to be—and he might even be headed to the Cubs to replace Jim Hendry.
Pitt was drawn to the film despite his thoughts that “economics and sabermetrics are not exactly nail-biting stuff.”
Beane and Pitt were together again Monday for an outdoor news conference in the outfield at the Coliseum. They spoke ahead of Monday night’s premiere at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland.
Fans lined the streets a couple of hours before the premiere to catch a glimpse of Pitt, other actors and former and current players along the red carpet—which, in this case, featured a makeshift diamond with green bleachers and the warning track as the route. Chants of “Let’s go Oakland!” greeted them.
With no game Monday, players and coaches dressed up for their night off from work. A three-game series with reigning AL champion and first-place Texas starts Tuesday.
Scott Hatteberg and the actor who played him, Chris Pratt, stuck together. Hatteberg praised Pratt for capturing him perfectly, down to his every mannerism before stepping into the batter’s box.
“We were separated at birth,” joked Pratt.
“Moneyball,” adapted from the 2003 best seller by Michael Lewis detailing Beane’s unconventional methods and management style in running a ballclub, opens nationwide Friday.
Pitt insists he enjoyed portraying Beane, down to the GM’s temper, junk food consumption and habitual dipping.
“That came pretty easily. I grew up with a little dip,” Pitt said, smiling. “I just felt a kinship with the Billy I read and the Billy I met.”
Pitt praised Beane’s fashion sense and dancing skills while also noting, “We have a terrible professional baseball player—I’m just kidding.”
The actor stuck with the troubled project through a hiatus and switches in directors beginning with Steven Soderbergh and ending with Bennett Miller. Pitt indicated that leadership changes were necessary because of the unique story that “had its own verve and life to it.”
“I really got taken with Michael’s book. I couldn’t let it go,” Pitt said. “I saw an unconventional story … where guys were in pursuit of something and wouldn’t let it go at any other cost.”
While Pitt’s baseball career was short-lived, and his father stopped watching games in the house growing up after the sport “priced the working man out” of attending games, he sure enjoyed being on the behind-the-scenes side of the sport.
“I feel a bit romantic about the A’s,” Pitt said. “My relationship with baseball was cantankerous at best. I’ve got a crap arm. It ended with 18 stitches (pointing under his left eye).”
“Moneyball” is a drama taking a close-up look at the ’02 A’s and the story how Beane ran the low-budget team based on statistics and some fortunate luck.
“It was very nostalgic to me to some extent,” Beane said of recalling those days. “They did a great job with the 20-game streak. It brought back a lot of emotion for me. They really captured what was going on, and that was one of the best parts about it.”
That time included an acrimonious relationship between Beane and manager Art Howe, who is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Still, the timing is somewhat strange now: 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada(notes) is out of baseball at the moment following his release by the Giants earlier this month, ’02 AL Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito(notes) has been a disappointment across the bay with San Francisco since signing a $126 million, seven-year deal before the 2007 season, and Oakland is headed for a fifth straight year without a winning season or playoff berth.
The 2002 club made one of four straight trips to the playoffs by the franchise.
“I think this was a really peculiar moment in sports history, where there was an intellectual advantage to be had and they seized it,” Lewis said Monday.
In the movie, then-assistant GM Paul DePodesta’s name has been changed to Peter Brand—played by Jonah Hill—and he is the Yale-educated, number-crunching expert and economist.
Tejada said he planned to see the show, looking forward to watching Pitt as Beane.
“That will be nice—he’s a good actor,” Tejada said. “I’ll go and take my kids.”
Said San Diego skipper Bud Black: “I’m in. I’m going to go. I’m going to pay.”
Pitt, sporting a shaggy hairstyle and facial hair, wore a tan V-neck sweater and tan slacks Monday and looked small sitting in a director’s chair next to Beane in the ballpark’s upper deck.
“I like Billy but I’ll tell you what, he’s not that good looking,” Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia joked a while back. It was Scioscia’s wild-card Angels and not the A’s who won the World Series in ’02.
Beane bucked the baseball trend of relying on the common trio of statistics — batting average, home runs and RBIs for hitters; wins, losses and ERA for pitchers—and instead turned to hard numbers over subjective scouting to fuel his team’s successful runs in the early 2000s.
His staff helped transform what became known as the stats revolution, a complete overhaul from the early days of the basic boxscore.
“I think it takes an incredible realism to get out of the box,” said Pitt, who admitted he never knew “it’s not a level playing field.” As far as Pitt knew, the best team won—payrolls and salaries aside.
All but absent in the movie: catcher Jeremy Brown, one of the central subjects in Lewis’ book. Brown retired before spring training in 2008 at age 28.
The 5-foot-10, 226-pound Brown, whose bulky frame and high on-base percentage made him the kind of player Beane sought, was selected 35th overall in the 2002 draft out of Alabama.
He played five games in the big leagues, all in 2006, and had two doubles and a single in 10 career at-bats.
Whether all of this generates interest from the moviegoing masses—or only the hardcore fans—Beane and Pitt aren’t sure. The actor hopes “Moneyball” has similar staying power to that of Beane.
Does Pitt have any advice for the GM on how to turn around his club’s fortunes?
“Hey, man,” Pitt said, “I just play one on TV.”
Take a look at pictures from the star-studded premiere below (courtesy of Drew Altizer photography):