Awesome Exclusive Interview: Billy Beane Talks Moneyball
The Oakland A's General Manager talks about the book, movie, and his backyard barbecue party with Brad Pitt
Photo by Michael Zagaris
Danville resident and Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane is the behind-the-scenes star of the East Bay’s baseball team, and he is soon to be forever associated with mega-movie star Brad Pitt. Pitt, of course, portrays Beane in the new movie Moneyball, which comes out Friday, September 23.
I caught an early screening of director Bennett Miller’s movie and it is just terrific—an entertainment and insightful film that takes audiences on a backstage tour of Major League Baseball through the eyes of Beane and the amzing A's of 2002. Sure, there are some Hollywood embellishments along the way (the A’s never charged their players for sodas in the locker room), but overall the film is a fairly faithful adaptation of Berkeley author Michael Lewis’ fascinating 2003 bestseller Moneyball: the Art of Winning an Unfair Game.
I caught up with Beane just before the film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival to talk about his Hollywood moment, and the events leading up to the movie.
Hi Billy, thanks for talking to Diablo. I wanted to start with some questions about the book. In the afterward to Moneyball, Michael Lewis says that you did not read the book manuscript until a month before it was released. He also writes that you were worried that you were portrayed as a “maniac.” Can you reflect on your first reaction to reading the book?
Well, I read it about ten days before the excerpt ran in the New York Times Magazine. As for the maniac comment, I was most worried that my mom was going to read it and then kill me because of all the cursing.
I quickly realized that the book wasn’t really a biography about me, he was taking the most intense situations from his reporting and writing about those. It wasn’t even really a baseball book—it was a business book.
I just reread the book for the first time since it came out. I was amazed by Lewis’ reporting, particularly in scenes where you are wheeling and dealing on the trading deadline. How was he able to have that kind of access without being in the way?
Part of Michael’s genius is that he became one of the guys very quickly. As well as he writes, he is every bit as interesting in person. He was a great guy to be around, and just became one of the guys during that season. We enjoyed Michael’s company, and I still do.
Another thing to remember is that, originally, the reason Michael was writing about us was for a business article in the New York Times. Then, it was going to be a magazine article, and then, halfway through the season, he told us it was going to be a book.
When the book came out, some book reviewers and baseball analysts inaccurately reported that you authored or co-authored Moneyball. How frustrating was that?
I tried not concern myself with those comments. That criticism was much more myopic that what we were experiencing—we were just trying to survive and succeed.
Also, what we were doing was not some kind of grand scheme to try to change the way things are done in baseball. So I did not really worry about what people had to say. If I could write as well as Michael Lewis, I would be on an island right now working on my next book. And it would not be my autobiography. The term autobiography is so narcissistic, and I would never write something like that in the middle of a career. It would have to be something much later, when you actually have some wisdom to share.
Now that the movie is about to come out, are you having any anxiety about your cinematic portrayal?
I’ve seen the movie, and the only thing I will say about the film is that it very different than the book.
Once again, comparing it to the book experience, I really did not know I was going through an experience with the book, until it happened. Seeing the movie come together is a very different experience, much larger in scale. I’m certainly not going to complain about being played by Brad Pitt.
Let’s talk about Brad Pitt. Back in 1991, he had one of the most famous starmaking entrances in film history when he showed up shirtless in Thelma and Louise. So think back: When you saw Thelma and Louise, when Pitt came on screen did you think, “That guy should play me in a movie!”?
(Laughs) I can’t say that went trough my mind at the time.
What were your first impressions of him when the project got started? What did he tell you about his approach to playing you?
I could tell right away that he’s a great guy. And, a really intelligent guy; very, very bright. He had no specific requests about research, he just has a real sixth sense about the little details that he wanted. It was not as surreal as you might think, he sort of fit right in, and I never saw him in any star struck way.
Still, he’s one of the most famous people on the planet, chased by paparazzi when he goes out, and all that. What were the most interesting experiences that you shared?
I did see the paparazzi thing, once, when we were together in Los Angeles. It was very strange. Another time, he brought a couple of his kids and his significant other over to our house in Danville for a backyard barbecue. I was a little concerned, for him, that something might happen. But nothing did—Brad and his family just blended right in to suburban Danville. I should say Brad Pitt—whenever I hear myself calling him Brad I try to add Pitt, because I hate the sound of my voice when I hear myself using the first name basis. Not that he would mind, again he is such a down-to-earth guy.
Speaking of Danville, I was re-reading an interview you gave to Diablo in 2008, in which you said that the great thing about life in the East Bay is that people love sports but know that there are other important things in life. Is that still accurate, after going through this whole Hollywood experience?
I would echo that three times. There’s a healthy perspective here, there’s no shortage of love for sports, but it is not the be all end all. My neighbors have accomplished far more than I have. My wife is from Danville, two of my kids were born here. My older daughter still refers to it as “out in the country,” which makes me laugh.
A couple more questions and then I’ll let you get back to your business. First, what is your favorite baseball movie?
One of my two favorites is Field of Dreams. I remember seeing it in San Ramon, when I was playing for the A’s. And I love The Natural, it’s a great baseball movie.
Finally, if you were to go to dinner and a movie in the East Bay, which restaurant would you go to, and which theater would you go to watch Moneyball?
I would go to either Café Esin or Bridges in Danville, and then over to the Blackhawk Cinemas to see the movie, just because it’s the closest to home. But don’t count on seeing me in the theater!
People would love it if you stood outside the theater and asked what they thought of the movie as they were coming out.
(Laughs) How creepy would that be? That would be a little too creepy and narcissistic.