A few weeks ago, I "live-blogged" a Kevin Costner vehicle, For Love of the Game. Why I would torture myself -- let alone, you -- like that, I don't really remember. Nor do I know what possessed me to live-blog Moneyball, which was released last week on DVD (et cetera).
But I've done it.
A recommendation ... If you haven't seen the movie and would like to, stop reading immediately and instead give your dog a massage (dogs love massages). If you've seen the movie but haven't read the book, read the book. And if you haven't seen the movie or read the book, see the movie first and read the book immediately afterward.
Got all that? And if you've seen the movie, the below might be for you...
00:27 The first thing we see on the screen is a Mickey Mantle quote:
It's unbelievable how much you don't know about the game you've been playing all your life.
00:34 Stock footage of the Athletics losing to the Yankees in Game 5 of their 2001 Division Series. In the midst of this, superimposed on the screen are the Yankees' and Athletics' payrolls: $114,457,768 for the Yanks; $39,722,689 for the A's.
It never appears in the movie, but remember the subtitle of the book: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. We haven't met a single character yet, but we're already being set up for an underdog story.
02:59 Figure sitting in the stands in a dark stadium. It's Brad Pitt! As Billy Beane, holding a transistor radio. Turning it on. Turning it off. Turning it on. The Yankees finish off the Athletics, 3,000 miles away in the Bronx. Turning it off.
04:15 Billy's sitting in his truck in the Coliseum parking lot. Still holding that radio. Turning it on. Turning it off, as the Yankees celebrate in their clubhouse. Looming above Billy, on the stadium's exterior: banners celebrating Jason Isringhausen, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon. Billy, who to this point has shown no emotion even as his team's season has ended so painfully, now abuses his radio, throwing it out the window and then stomping it to death. So yeah, he really does care; he's not Spock.
05:12 Billy's driving across the Bay Bridge for a meeting with A's owner Steve Schott. And we're entering the worst part of the movie. Some movies start with a bang and have trouble finishing. Moneyball has the opposite problem. The first hour is really all about setting up the last hour. Like the first movie in a comic-book superhero franchise. But setting up means, in this movie as in many others, a number of scenes that don't ring true.
Is this really the first time Billy's told Schott that Isringhausen, Giambi, and Damon will be departing the A's for bigger money? I doubt it. Is this really the first time Schott's told Billy that he can't have any more money? I doubt it. But you might get the impression from this scene that Billy and Steve have never talked about the club's financial picture before.
07:29 Billy's on the phone with somebody out a player. Another phone rings, and he answers. It's Johnny Damon's agent, "Scott", who informs Billy that "Dan" has topped Oakland's offer; if Billy can't beat it, Damon's leaving for the Red Sox. Billy says they had a deal. Scott says they have a deal ... if the A's will spring for $8 million.
Of course, "Scott" is Scott Boras, and we can't help smirking when Billy says, "Congratulations, asshole, you win" and hangs up. Damon's gone.
08:28 Hey look, it's an invented scene!
In Michael Lewis's book, one of the more memorable passages describes the A's draft room, with a bunch of old-time scouts talking about players' ugly girlfriends, and "throwing a Milo on him" and Billy saying, "We're not selling jeans here."
Well, there's no room for the draft in the movie. The draft, such a big part of the book, isn't even mentioned. But the scouts and the traditional mindset must be addressed. So in the movie, Billy's in a room with some scouts and they all try to figure how to replace Jason Giambi. And so they're actually talking about professional players instead of amateurs, but using the same words from the book: five-tool ballplayer, good face, throws the club head at the ball, etc.
And of course Billy asks the uncomfortable question: "If he's a good hitter, why doesn't he hit good?"
Anyway, there's a lot more of this and Billy loses his patience. He drops an f-bomb, even. And we meet Moneyball's first villain: Grady Fuson.
12:38 Flashback, as a graphic tells us this kid hitting line drives in batting practice is Billy Beane, 1979.
13:35 Billy's in Cleveland for -- as we learn a moment later -- a meeting with Indians general manager Mark Shapiro and a platoon of his underlings. Now, you know and I know that a GM looking for a left-handed relief pitcher (Ricardo Rincon) isn't going to fly all the way to Cleveland in the dead of winter to talk trade. This scene exists for one reason: so Billy and Shapiro's assistant -- Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill -- can "meet cute".
See, Billy keeps coming up with trade ideas, and Shapiro keeps shooting them down ... and it's clear that Shapiro's shooting them down because Brand, standing in the back of the room, doesn't approve.
Beane won't leave empty-handed, though. After the meeting, he tracks down Brand and we've got the beginnings of a beautiful relationship.
People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players; your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs. You're trying to replace Johnny Damon. The Boston Red Sox see Johnny Damon, and they see a star, who's worth seven-and-a-half million dollars a year. When I see Johnny Damon, what I see is ... an imperfect understanding of where runs come from.
The guy's got a great glove. He's a decent leadoff hitter. He can steal bases. But is he worth the seven-and-a-half million dollars a year the Boston Red Sox are paying him? No. No.
Baseball thinking is medieval. They are asking all the wrong questions. And if I say it to anybody, I'm ostracized; I'm a leper.
Now, I will mention in passing that while Damon had not been worth $7.5 to the A's in 2001, he was just having an off year; over the next four seasons he was worth roughly $42 million while the Red Sox paid him $31 million. But we've now learned (in the movie) that Peter Brand has a unique take on things, which is exactly what Billy's looking for.
21:28 Billy's on a plane, reading. And I believe he's reading an old, self-published Bill James Baseball Abstract.*
This will not be the first reference to Bill James in the movie. Far from it.
* I believe Billy did eventually track down those old Abstracts, but not until a few years later when I got him in touch with a specialist in old baseball books.
21:55 Another flashback to when Billy was a high-school phenom. Two Mets scouts talking to Billy and his parents about his five tools. Billy sits silently while the scouts explain that he must choose between being the Mets' future center fielder and going to Stanford.
23:46 Middle of the night. Billy calls Peter, asks if Peter would have drafted Billy in the first round. Peter says no, he looked up Billy, and would have drafted him in the ninth round. Which of course is silly, because Paul wouldn't have been able to look up the scouting reports on Billy and there wouldn't have been any stats to consult.
Billy tells Peter he's been "bought" by the A's. Which of course is silly. It's true, though, that Paul DePodesta did work for the Indians before getting hired by the A's.
24:42 Peter shows up at the Coliseum for his first day on the job. At that exact moment, the Isringhausen, Giambi, and Damon banners are being taken down. Billy arrives, welcomes Peter. There's a cute little bit where Peter presents a sheaf of player evaluations. Billy had asked for three. Peter's done 47. "Actually 51. I don't know why I lied just then."
Soon, after Peter's all set up with his computers and video monitors, he gives Billy a sabermetrics lesson. He's figured out what sort of run differential the A's need to reach the playoffs. He's written computer code for projecting player performance. More shots of old Baseball Abstracts.
It's about getting things down to one number. Using stats the way we read them, we'll find value in players that nobody else can see. People are overlooked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws: age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cuts straight through that.
Billy, of the 20,000 notable players for us to consider, I believe that there's a championship team of 25 people that we could afford, because everyone else in baseball undervalues them. Like an island of misfit toys.
Peter introduces Billy to submarine pitcher Chad Bradford.
29:37 We meet Art Howe, who tells Billy he can't manage the A's with a one-year contract. Howe is played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who is terribly miscast. Hoffman has shaved his head for the role, but neglected to grow five inches or lose 30 pounds. It doesn't bother me that he doesn't look like Art Howe, though; what bothers me is that he looks absolutely nothing like a man who played in the major leagues for 10 years and stayed in shape afterward.
Howe might have been something of a cartoon character in the book, but both the script and Hoffman's portrayal do a disservice to both Howe and the movie.
31:25 Billy and the scouts together again. They're trying to figure out how to replace Jason Giambi. Billy explains that they won't find another Giambi or Damon, but they might be able to find three players who can duplicate the on-base percentage they lost. There are some cute bits with Peter Brand.
The three players? Jeremy Giambi, Jason's little brother. David Justice. Scott Hatteberg.
The scouts, led by Grady Fuson, are on the verge of open rebellion. Especially Grady. In the last shot of the meeting, Ron Washington pointed out that none of those guys plays first base. Billy tells Wash he'll have to teach one of them. But which one?
36:42 Cut to the interior of a modest home. Scott Hatteberg is sitting on his couch. He seems pensive. His wife's in the dining room. She seems to be paying bills and worrying. The phone rings. It's Billy. He's outside. And he's got Ron Washington with him. Billy comes in and tells Scott if he wants to play for the A's -- who seem to be the only interested team -- he'll have to learn to play first base.
39:48 Billy arrives at the front door of an incredibly expensive house -- completely unlike his somewhat dingy home -- overlooking the ocean. He's here to pick up his daughter, who's not home. This leads to a terribly awkward conversation with his ex-wife's new mate, played by Spike Jonze as a gay man. It's not apparent to me why
42:13 Billy and his daughter, Casey, are fooling around in a music store. To this point, Moneyball has been a good movie. Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill have both been amusing and endearing, especially together, and we're pulling for them.
But this, a scene that doesn't last even two full minutes, is where Moneyball begins to establish itself as a movie that's probably going to be nominated for an Academy Award. Casey sits down with a guitar, and hums along with a tune she's picking on the strings. She's too shy to sing, but Billy reassures her and asks, "Would you sing a little for your dad? Right here in the middle of the store?"
And she does sing, a little bit of this song:
It's taken 44 mostly amusing (but occasionally off-kilter) minutes, but now we know Billy Beane. We know he's stuck in the middle. We know he's crazy about his daughter. We know he's still coping with his failure as a young baseball player who all the scouts raved about. Now that we know him, we can really root for him to win.
44:12 Another flashback, hammering home the idea that Billy failed as a player. This time he's in the majors, playing for the Mets and striking out. Then he's striking out while playing for the triple-A Tidewater Tides. Throwing a temper tantrum with the Twins. Striking out again, this time with the A's. And throughout, Tim McCarver's voiceover ... "Few scouts can go into the mind of a young man, and determine whether he's really confident about what he can do..."
46:10 Sabermetrics porn!
We hear Peter Brand, while looking at grainy footage on a monitor: "Billy, that is Kevin Youkilis. That is the Greek God of Walks. That's my hero. That mans gets walked more than anybody in baseball except for Barry Bonds."
There is basically no reason for this little bit in the movie, except to excite people like me and you. Because Youkilis, while a wonderful presence in the book on which this movie is based, doesn't really matter in the movie at all.
Billy doesn't say a word about Youkilis or even acknowledge Brand, before Grady Fuson appears in the doorway and asks for a word. He's not happy. Now, what exactly a scouting director is doing having this conversation with the general manager in (probably) February is not readily apparent. And of course this particular conversation never took place.
There are two villains in this movie: Grady Fuson and Art Howe. Oddly enough, the character played by the Academy Award winner comes across as utterly ineffectual. But this version of Grady Fuson, while wildly inaccurate, is actually compelling and has something to say. Does he represent the old school? Absolutely. Is he a reactionary? You bet. But there is at least a kernel of truth in what he says. Does the movie acknowledge this, however subtly? I think so, but I might be projecting.
After running through a litany of old-school thought, Fuson says, "This is about your shit, isn't it? Twenty years ago, some scout got it wrong, and now you're gonna declare war on the whole system."
Don't get me wrong; Billy gets the better of this argument, both at the moment and in the movie, generally. But I think we've spent much of the last 48 minutes establishing that this is about Billy's shit. At least a little bit.
I don't know. I sorta like this Grady Fuson. And I like the real Grady Fuson -- who Billy fires in this scene, but works for the real Billy at this very moment -- even more.
52:49 Opening Day in Oakland. A local TV reporter is walking around the clubhouse, asking semi-rude questions to all the misfit toys. A fan is wearing an Eric Chavez t-shirt. I believe it's the only mention of Chavez, the MVP candidate, in the whole movie. David Justice discovers that a soda pop in the clubhouse costs a dollar. Which is obviously an invention of the filmmakers, and one of the last false notes (as opposed to inventions) left.
54:20 The players have cleared out of the locker room. Except for one: Chad Bradford, who's praying. Billy and Peter walk through the clubhouse, and Chad wants to say thanks for the opportunity. Billy's nonplussed, but it gets even better...
Chad: Sir, I just want you to know, I'm going to be praying for you and your family.
Billy (uncomfortably): No problem.
Heh. This ain't The Blind Side.*
* It's not exactly what happened, either. Bradford says to Billy that he'd never gotten a shot in the big leagues before. But before joining the A's, Bradford had pitched 48 innings for the White Sox in parts of three seasons. Also, in the movie he doesn't join the A's until 2002, at Peter Brand's behest. But Bradford actually came to the A's in a trade prior to the 2001 season, and spent a small chunk of that summer with triple-A Sacramento. Granted, the A's were the first team to give Bradford the innings in the big leagues that he deserved.
56:36 Game's on. Billy's on the treadmill. Peter texts him -- texting, in 2002? -- that Carlos Peña's playing first base instead of Scott Hatteberg. Uh-oh.
57:28 Billy's in Art Howe's office. He wants to know why Howe played Peña instead of Hatteberg. An impasse is reached. Howe asks Billy if he's got anything else.
Billy: Yeah. I would have rather seen Bradford than Magnante.
Art: Bradford's a righty.
Billy: I don't care about righty-lefty.
Art: I do.
I don't believe this is completely invented. I believe Billy did want Bradford used against left-handed hitters more often in 2002 than Art Howe preferred. However, it's absolutely true that Bradford -- like nearly every other submarine pitcher in history -- was significantly more effective with the platoon advantage. In both 2002 and '3, his two best seasons with the A's, Bradford destroyed right-handed hitters and barely survived against left-handed hitters.
Art Howe should have cared about righty-lefty, at least in Bradford's case. Granted, for the first half of the season Howe's lefty options -- Mike Magnante and Mike Venafro -- were not attractive. But even those guys, throwing luck out of the equation, were roughly as useful against left-handed hitters as Bradford. In retrospect, it's not completely obvious that Hatteberg should have been playing instead of Peña, or that Bradford should have been facing left-handed hitters instead of Magnante and Venafro.
59:12 TV clip of A's losing again. Billy's parked in the middle of a giant parking lot on Oakland's waterfront. It's not clear that Billy's actually listening, but Grady Fuson's on the radio, saying "moneyball" won't work. Then, another voice that isn't Joe Morgan's but sounds suspiciously like Joe Morgan:
Not Joe Morgan Exactly: Billy Beane has built this team on the ideas of a guy named Bill James, who wrote an interesting book on baseball statistics. The problem is that Bill James never played, never managed. He was in fact a security guard at a pork-and-beans company ... He's tried to come up with a new approach. My hat's off to him. It won't work.
1:00:13 Billy and Pete are in Billy's office. Billy tells Pete he wants him to "go on the road with the team." Pete doesn't want to go, says that Billy doesn't go on the road. Billy explains that he "can't develop personal relationships with these guys. I gotta be able to trade 'em, send 'em down, sometimes cut 'em."
Then we get an amusing little bit where Billy tries to teach Pete how to cut a player.
Pete does go on the road with the club, and has an uncomfortable moment with David Justice.
1:03:40 Billy's at the airport to pick up Casey. Meanwhile, the A's are losing again and they're now 20-26, well in last place. More radio voice-over, with everybody calling for Billy Beane's head.
1:05:21 Another visit to Steve Schott's office. This time Pete's along. It's just too early, they tell Schott, to get a good read on this team. By July they'll be right back in the middle of things.
1:06:28 Bill sitting in a dark room, watching the A's on TV. An Athletic is thrown out trying to steal second base. Cut to view of hallway. Chair comes flying from office door, shattering a framed photo on the opposite wall.
Funny thing. Before the movie came out, I assumed that Billy Beane throwing a chair would be one of the film's central events, just as it's one of the most memorable events in the book. But in the book, it happens -- or rather, is said to have happened -- when the A's drafted Jeremy Bonderman with their first pick in 2001. But of course that doesn't work in the movie, because a) there's not a scene about the draft, and b) in the movie, Billy doesn't get religion until after the 2001 season. So he throws a chair here, instead. And it's a throwaway scene, probably forgotten before the credits finish rolling.
1:06:38 Another endearing scene between Billy and Casey. All heart. She's worried about him getting fired. He tells her to stop going on the Internet. And watching TV. And talking to people. "If you lose your job," she asks, "will you have to move away?"
1:08:04 Billy's in his office, shaving. Peter comes by with one word: "Peña." Billy flips his desk over, then goes to visit Art Howe in the dugout. He wants "Dye in right, Justice DHing, Peña on the bench, Hatteberg at first, and anyone but Mags first out of the pen."
Howe says his lineups are designed so he can "explain them in job interviews next winter."
Now, in real life Hatteberg did play almost every day through the first two months of the season. But he was not playing first base; he was DHing. And with Hatteberg DHing, there wasn't really room in the lineup for Justice and Dye and Jeremy Giambi. Which I assume is the point; while Peña would of course have some good years, at that moment there was a reasonable argument that he was, among those five 1B/DH/LF/RF types, Peña was the worst hitter. At that moment.
Anyway, Howe doesn't play Hatteberg at first base. Also, on TV we get a brief shot of Miguel Tejada's back. It's just my guess, but I think we saw the Chavez t-shirt on Opening Day and the shot of Tejada so the filmmakers might evade the charge that they completely ignored Oakland's superstars.
Oh, and the A's lose again.
1:10:22 After the game, Billy's walking past the A's locker room. He hears something, and stops. Goes into the clubhouse, and finds that everyone's having a great deal of fun. Especially Jeremy Giambi. Billy grabs a baseball bat, and hammers the shit out of somebody's boom box. Asks Giambi if losing is fun. No answer. Asks again. "No." But Giambi doesn't really seem particularly shaken by this incident.
On his way out, Billy throws the bat and breaks more stuff, and turns over a big Gatorade jug. We're getting really close to the turning point in our story. After more than an hour of dispassionate Billy Beane, who is concerned solely with the numbers and doesn't want to get involved with the players, we've just met the passionate Billy.
1:12:30 To this point, we've seen a lot of Billy Beane, just thinking. Sitting in the stands by himself, thinking. Sitting in his parked truck, thinking. Driving around, thinking. But not doing anything. Until now. He's driving, and thinking. But suddenly he's driving fast, and jamming on the brakes. And driving fast, and jamming on the brakes. And then he stops and says to himself, "Yeah."
Billy shows up at the Coliseum the next morning, sometime in early June, and he's clearly energized. Within the space of a few minutes, and against the counsel of Peter Brand, Billy trades both Jeremy Giambi and Carlos Peña; Giambi (apparently) because he's not a good guy in the clubhouse, and Peña because now Howe will have to play Hatteberg at first base.
In real life, Billy did trade Giambi, and he did trade him because of his behavior; at the time, Giambi was actually one of Oakland's best hitters (and did even better after joining the Phillies). And of course he traded Peña, too, and that's essentially when Hatteberg took over as the Athletics' every-day first baseman.
Also, in real life these trades happened not on the same day, but roughly six weeks apart: Giambi on the 22nd of May, Peña on the 5th of July.
Back in the movie, Billy tells Art Howe he has to play Hatteberg, because Peña's been traded. Billy tells Giambi he's been traded. And he finishes the morning with a lame pep talk in the clubhouse. But this signals the new Billy, as he and Peter now spend a fair amount of time interacting with the players. Sometimes they're talking about getting into good hitter's counts or whatever, but the point is that players are people, too. And Billy finally gets Dave Justice, the club's only real veteran, on board.
1:27:34 The A's have won seven straight! And Billy takes a walk through the clubhouse and the weight room -- just like they used to do in The West Wing! -- and offers words of advice or encouragement to half a dozen players (including Tim Hudson and Eric Chavez, but we hear only their nicknames).
1:28:56 Fast-forward to the end of July and the trade deadline. Billy covets Ricardo Rincón, Cleveland's left-handed relief pitcher. What follows is an amusing series of phone calls involving Mark Shapiro, Brian Sabean, Steve Phillips and Steve Schott. This was one of the most entertaining bits in the book, and it's one of the most entertaining bits in the movie.
1:34:35 Billy tells Mike Magnante he's getting released. At the time, Magnante had a 5.97 ERA, and the A's needed the roster spot. Which was sort of a shame, because Magnante was just a few days short of 10 years of service time in the majors, which would have given him a bigger pension. It's rough.
Oh, and in real life? According to the book, Billy called Art Howe and told Art to tell Magnante he was finished.
1:36:00 The Streak. Introduced in the form of a montage, which fittingly enough opens with John Mabry doubling to give the A's an 8-7 lead over the Tigers in this game, Oakland's 12th straight win. Fittingly, because among all the things that went well for the A's in 2002, Mabry might have been No. 1.
See, John Mabry really couldn't hit. Not much, anyway. He'd come to the A's from the Phillies in the Giambi trade, and he'd come simply because the A's needed somebody for Giambi's roster spot. Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta certainly didn't expect Mabry to do anything, except perhaps make a few plays in the outfield. But after joining the club, Mabry somehow batted .275/.322/.523 in 211 plate appearances, and (most oddly) drove in 40 runs.
There are various voice-overs from various broadcasters, suggesting that there's really no good explanation for Oakland's incredible streak. We also get brief clips of the 1927 Yankees and -- when the A's reach 17 straight wins -- of the 1931 Philadelphia Athletics. Lots of Chad Bradford (the movie version). Billy Koch finishing a save. Miguel Tejada with a game-winning hit. (See, we don't completely miss the stars in this movie.)
1:38:54 Graphic: September 4, 2002. The A's are going for their 20th straight win, and a new American League record. Billy's driving around again. His ex-wife calls. She's proud of him. Casey gets on the line, and tells Billy -- who is supposedly driving to see a minor-league somewhere -- that he has to go to the game. He turns his truck around and heads to the Coliseum.
In real life, if you're interested, Billy really was planning to miss the game that night and instead see the Visalia Oaks play in Modesto. But according to Michael Lewis, the team's marketing department convinced Billy that he just had to be in the stadium if the A's broke the record. So he stayed, and watched part of the game with Lewis.
You know what happened in the game, right? Tim Hudson started, and the A's quickly built an 11-0 lead. Nobody blows an 11-0 lead. But they did, and the story is told using a convincing mixture of actual and staged footage. The Royals start scoring and keep scoring. Mike Sweeney hits a three-run homer and it's 11-10, then Luis Alicea hits a little bloop single in the top of the ninth and it's tied.
Hatteberg hadn't started, but Howe tells him to pinch-hit for Eric Byrnes. You know what Hatteberg did. Without what Scott Hatteberg did ... well, I'm not saying Michael Lewis wouldn't have written a great book, or that the filmmakers wouldn't have made a really good movie.
Anyway, this few minutes of game action is certainly the best that's ever appeared in a theatrical film. Some of it's real, and what's not real looks real. We see movie Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) doing what he does, but we also see video of real Scott Hatteberg doing what he does. We see movie Jason Grimsley, and real Jason Grimsley. And it's all quite seamless and perfect.
1:52:20 It's the last game of the Division Series, and Minnesota's Eddie Guardado retires Oakland's Ray Durham on a pop-up to end it. Voice-over from faux Joe Morgan:
What the Minnesota Twins exposed is that the Oakland A's were fundamentally not a sound baseball team. I mean, they had a flawed concept that started with the general manager and the brain trust over there thinking that they could reinvent baseball. You can't approach baseball from a statistical bean-counting point of view. It's won on the field with fundamental play. You have to steal, you have to bunt, you have to sacrifice, you have to get men in scoring position, and then you gotta bring 'em in. And you don't do that with a bunch of statistical gimmicks. Nobody reinvents this game.
Lights go down in the Coliseum...
1:53:20 Billy at home, pensive. I've not noted most of these moments, but if there's one recurring motif throughout the movie, it's Billy's pensiveness. Even with Peter Brand around, Billy seems alone in this endeavor, one man against the world.
Which of course is sort of the very definition of a hero.
1:54:22 Billy arrives at Fenway Park. Lovely shots of Fenway. Nicely played scene with movie John Henry, who says my favorite exchange in the movie:
Henry: Steve told me he's offered you a new contract. So why did you return my call.
Billy: Because it's the Red Sox. Because I believe science might offer an answer to the Curse of the Bambino. And because I hear you hired Bill James.
Henry: Yeah. You know, why it took so long for someone to hire that guy is beyond me.
Billy: Baseball hates him.
I hope you'll indulge me for a moment ... In the fall of 2002, I received an e-mail from John Henry, asking me for Bill James's phone number. Bill has always been a private sort of fellow, or at least that's how I think of him. So I e-mailed him, and asked if I could give Henry his phone number.
Bill's response: "Any time a billionaire asks for my number, give it to him."
Of course, Henry hired Bill James. I was granted an exclusive on the story, and -- I discovered this just a moment ago -- Henry gave me this quote: "I don't understand how it took this long for somebody to hire this guy."
Was Henry's line in the movie adapted from the line he gave me in real life?
I don't know. But I'm embarrassed to admit that it's gratifying, just a little bit, to consider. And perhaps you can understand why it's not easy for me to objective about Moneyball. Though I really am trying.
Anyway, enough navel-gazing. Back in the movie, Henry has some more stuff about how baseball resists change, and he gives Billy a small piece of paper that contains a financial offer to become the Red Sox's new general manager.
1:58:55 Billy's back in the Coliseum. He's pensive. Shocking, I know. Billy shows the Red Sox's offer to Pete, who says, "That makes you the highest-paid GM in the history of sports."
2:01:52 Billy's still despondent about losing to the Twins and doesn't want to look at video, but is cajoled into joining Peter in the video room ... Where Peter shows Billy a clip of Jeremy Brown.
You probably know the story of Jeremy Brown, because he played a minor but memorable role in the book.
I won't give away what happens in the clip -- which was, by the way, staged for the movie but looks utterly realistic except Jeremy Brown is perhaps just a bit too fat -- but I will tell you that a) watching this scene again made me cry, maybe because I'm terribly sleep-deprived but maybe not, and b) one of the best Billy-Peter exchanges in the movie happens right now. I won't give that away, either.
2:04:45 Billy's driving (yes, again). He pops a CD into the stereo. It's Casey. She says, "Let me know if you change your mind and stay in California," which I guess is the only reference in the movie to the fact that Billy actually did accept John Henry's offer, which at the time was widely reported. "If not," Casey says, "you were a really great dad."
Then Casey sings, the same song she sang in the music store. Billy's eyes. He's not crying, but he might as well be. Cut to graphic saying Billy turned down the Red Sox's offer. Casey changes the chorus of the song to
You're such a loser, Dad
You're such a loser, Dad
You're such a loser, Dad
Just enjoy the show.
The first time I saw Moneyball, that ending got me. Now, watching it for the third time, it gets me again.
I like Moneyball. I like it a lot. It works as pure entertainment because Brad Pitt is compelling as Billy Beane, and because of the relationships between Billy and Peter Brand, and between Billy and Casey.
Surprisingly, it also works for a baseball nerd like me. The bits about Kevin Youkilis and Jeremy Brown and holy moley all the references to Bill James seem gratuitous in a sense ... but gratuitous in a good way, because they seem to exist purely to please me. And maybe you, if you're reading this.
It's essentially impossible to jam all the good stuff from a great book into a two-hour movie. But these guys came just about as close as anyone could.