The Moneyball Lineup
Meet the key players behind the new movie about the Oakland A’s.
Melinda Sue Gordon
I’m a huge film buff and a die-hard baseball fan. So, for me, the new movie Moneyball is the cinematic equivalent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—a delicious combination of my favorite pastimes. Plus, the film is set right here in our backyard. I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a movie since The Empire Strikes Back.
Of course, you don’t have to be a film geek or a hardcore A’s fan, or live in the 510 or 925, to be excited about Moneyball. Based on author Michael Lewis’ 2003 best-seller, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the film brings an incredible lineup of talent to the screen, with red-hot stars Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman, who teamed up with Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin. Together, they tell the amazing story of the 2002 Oakland A’s through the eyes of the team’s charismatic and controversial General Manager, Billy Beane, who defied the conventional wisdom of baseball by using innovative statistical analysis to spot hidden talent.
The film hit theaters in late September. But before you rush off to your neighborhood movie house, check out this roster of key players that brought this blockbuster project together.
Age: 49 //// Position: oakland a’s general manager
Billy Beane and Brad Pitt have been in touch for more than three years, ever since the Hollywood A-lister decided to make Moneyball into a movie. “Since he latched on to the project, he’s been extremely committed,” says Beane, who is uncomfortable calling Pitt by his first name. “I can’t stand to hear myself referring to a famous guy like that on a first-name basis. Not that he’d mind. He’s the most down-to-earth guy you could ever hope to meet. We’ve been able to spend quite a bit of time together. He brought his kids and his significant other (actress-director Angelina Jolie) over to our house in Danville for a backyard barbecue, and they could not have been more comfortable.”
Beane says that the experience watching his story become a Hollywood movie has been much different than the one he had being the focus of Lewis’ best-selling book back in 2003. After the book was released, Beane was the subject of unfair criticism by a number of baseball analysts who said he, not Lewis, had written the book as self-aggrandizement. In the afterword to Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Lewis says that Beane first read the book only a month before its release—and that Beane was concerned that Lewis had portrayed him as a “maniac.”
Not that the Moneyball book experience was all bad for Beane. According to people who know Beane, Lewis accurately portrayed the general manager as passionate and innovative, showing how he had gained wisdom from the disappointments of his playing career in the Major Leagues. (Beane had been a highly touted prospect whose pro career with the Mets, Twins, and A’s was plagued by injuries.) Lewis’ revelations of Beane’s methods not only influenced other teams to change their approach to the game, it helped put Beane on the national speaking circuit.
And now, Beane is about to experience Moneyball all over again, this time as a movie. He isn’t as worried about the cinematic version. “I’ve seen the film, and it is quite a bit different than the book,” Beane says. “I’m certainly not going to complain about being portrayed by Brad Pitt.”
Beane does not see his Hollywood moment as something that will change his East Bay lifestyle, even a little. “I love life in the Bay Area because people here love their sports but in context to other things that are important,” says Beane, adding that he is still very content with his dream gig as a Major League Baseball executive who gets to wear shorts and flip-flops to work.
WEB EXTRA: To read an extended Q&A with Billy Beane, go to diablomag.com/beane.
Age: 48 //// Position: Director 1.0
It is interesting to note how difficult Moneyball’s journey from page to screen was. The original director was Steven Soderbergh, the Oscar-winning filmmaker behind Traffic and the Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen films starring Pitt. Soderbergh’s vision for adapting Lewis’ book was to mix dramatic re-creations with documentary sections about Billy Beane’s life and career, featuring interviews with real scouts, players, and family members. The original screenplay for Moneyball, by veteran screenwriter Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), with revisions by Soderbergh, begins with a note that says a significant part of the film would come together in the editing room due to the unique approach.
It’s difficult to say how Soderbergh’s Moneyball experiment would have played, but one thing is certain: Executives at Sony Pictures were uncomfortable pouring millions into the project. Just days before principal shooting was supposed to begin in 2009, Sony fired Soderbergh and pulled the plug on the film, sending shock waves through Hollywood.
Age: 50 //// Position: Screenwriter
After Soderbergh’s departure, Moneyball’s producers turned the original story over to veteran screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, The West Wing), who collaborated with Steven Zaillian on a new treatment. The new script appears to be far less experimental than Soderbergh’s version, but Sorkin’s strengths as a storyteller should be a huge asset to Moneyball’s appeal to mainstream audiences.
It was Sorkin’s work on last year’s Facebook movie, The Social Network, that efficiently transformed a confusing tale about computer geeks into a gripping drama that perfectly captured the online Zeitgeist. The Social Network also gave Sorkin his first Academy Award, for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Oakland A’s groundskeeper Clay Wood and VP of Stadium Operations David Rinetti pose with Brad Pitt.
Age: 47 //// Position: Star
One look at the poster for Moneyball and it’s obvious why Sony Pictures put up $47 million to make the movie. Looming just above the title, in giant type, is the name Brad Pitt.
Pitt is one of the rare Hollywood stars who can make any movie he chooses. His recent successes in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglourious Basterds, and The Tree of Life—all wildly different projects—showered him with critical acclaim and box-office pay dirt. So, what drew him to Moneyball?
“Brad was very excited about Moneyball’s story,” says Oakland A’s VP of Stadium Operations, David Rinetti, who hosted Pitt at the Coliseum. “Brad spent a lot of time with Billy, and his work paid off. I got to watch him on set, filming a scene where he is working the phones on the trade deadline. He had so many of Billy’s mannerisms down; it was amazing to see him capture the performance so perfectly.”
During filming of the East Bay sections of Moneyball, Rinetti says the film’s producers were concerned that the star would be hassled by paparazzi, but there were no incidents. “This is Oakland. It’s pretty laid-back,” says Rinetti.
Rinetti says that despite Pitt’s high profile, the actor is completely unassuming. “He came up to me one day and asked if it would be OK if he took his kids to practice hitting in the A’s batting cage,” Rinetti recalls.
While Pitt has been a huge star for the past decade-plus, 2011 could be his best year as an actor. His stoic performance in The Tree of Life, the Palme d’Or winner at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, is getting Oscar buzz. If Moneyball comes together as well as The Blind Side (also based on a book by Michael Lewis), Pitt’s main competition in next year’s Best Actor race might just be the man himself.
Age: 44 //// Position: Director 2.0
Bennett Miller might not have been the first choice to direct Moneyball, but he may be the perfect person to helm the inside story of the A’s uniquely brilliant general manager.
Each of Miller’s previous movies focuses on eccentric genius main characters—including author Truman Capote, whose chilling 1966 book, In Cold Blood, remains one of the greatest achievements of journalistic literature. Miller received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director for Capote, and the 2005 film also provided a Best Actor Oscar for Miller’s childhood friend, Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Lesser known than Capote, but equally fascinating was Miller’s debut, The Cruise. This documentary study of New York City tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch, a motormouthed savant with an unprecedented knowledge of the city’s history, is a spellbinding study of untamed genius. Put it in your Netflix queue.
Age: 47 //// Position: Stadium ops
When Moneyball’s production team came to Oakland to film last summer, the A’s Vice President of Stadium Operations, David Rinetti, found himself in the somewhat surreal position of assisting in re-creating some of the club’s greatest moments, such as game 20 of the A’s historic winning streak. Ironically, Rinetti had missed that game the first time around.
“I happened to have planned a
trip to Europe that month and was
in Florence the day the A’s won the 20th game,” Rinetti recalls, sighing. “The next day, I was in Rome, and picked up a USA Today and read the headline ‘A’s make history in front
of 55,000 fans.’ Then, I went to see the Sistine Chapel, and all I could think was, ‘I missed it.’ ”
When the film’s production team arrived in Oakland in late July 2010, Rinetti spent a grueling week
overseeing regular stadium operations while the A’s played during the day. He then had to find his second wind for the night-long shoots, which featured thousands of extras and a production crew.
Rinetti took pride in making sure the Coliseum looked great and ran smoothly. “I’ve worked here for 31 years and have probably spent more time in this building than anyone else,” says the Pleasanton resident. “I was very proud to have this major motion picture come to our house, right here in Oakland.”
Rinetti spent quite a bit of time in Pitt’s presence, driving the star around the stadium in a golf cart and guiding him through the Coliseum’s front offices and back corridors. Rinetti was able to avoid being starstruck throughout the entire process. Almost.
“On one of the last days of shooting, our groundskeeper, Clay Wood, and I were going to take a picture with Brad on the pitcher’s mound,” says Rinetti, laughing. “Brad asked, ‘Is it OK if Angie [Jolie] is in it?’ I was answering ‘Sure!’ before he even finished the question.”
WEB EXTRA: Go to diablomag.com/moneyballextras for photos and stories from Diablo readers who were extras in the film.
Rising star Jonah Hill plays Billy Beane’s assistant.
Age: 50 //// Position: Author
Berkeley author Michael Lewis has an uncanny knack for finding the most fascinating character to focus on while writing about a larger issue. His 2010 book, The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine looked at the recent housing and credit financial crisis through the eyes of investors who made millions by betting against the market. For 2006’s The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, Lewis found homeless football prodigy Michael Oher and the affluent Memphis family that took him in. The book went on to inspire a smash hit film that won Sandra Bullock an Academy Award and became the highest-grossing sports drama of all time.
Lewis hit upon another great character in Beane. He portrays Beane as a hot-tempered visionary with a beautiful mind for shaking up baseball’s lethargic traditions, and his assistant Paul DePodesta, as a Harvard business grad who was fascinated by the sabermetric analysis of baseball statistics. (DePodesta’s character has been renamed Peter Brand in the movie, one of a few fictional liberties that the film version of Moneyball takes). Lewis demonstrates that by assembling a team of players whose statistical productivity exceeded marquee value, the A’s could compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, with just a fraction of their big-market budgets.
While some of Lewis’ critics argue that he gave too much credit to Beane and DePodesta’s scientific theories for the A’s success without crediting the team’s talented pitching staff, Lewis unquestionably shows his A-game as a reporter. Scenes in which Lewis observes Beane wheeling and dealing with other general managers at the Major League Baseball trade deadline provided the ultimate definition of the expression “inside baseball.”
“Part of Michael’s genius is that he just became one of the guys very quickly,” says Billy Beane. “As well as he writes, he’s just as interesting in person, and he was able to blend right in.”
While Lewis found a perfect subject to study, he also picked the exact right time to be a fly on Beane’s wall. The 2002 Oakland A’s did amazing things with a tiny budget, including winning an American League–record 20 consecutive games. Those of us who took BART to game 20 against Kansas City especially can appreciate the excitement Lewis conveys of the 55,000-plus crowd enjoying baseball history being made on Dollar Dog night at the Coliseum. It’s the kind of underdog story that makes movie producers drool.
“Hollywood is very good at taking credit for your ideas,” Lewis said, with a laugh, in a recent interview with food writer Michael Pollan held at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman plays former A’s manager Art Howe.
Philip Seymour Hoffman
age: 44 //// position: actor
Veteran actor Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Art Howe, the former A’s manager who led the club to the playoffs from 2000 to 2002. Howe was a favorite at Diablo: He and his wife, Betty, were featured on the cover of our December 2000 issue for their community service efforts. It will be interesting to see how Hoffman, who doesn’t physically resemble Howe, plays the role. We’re betting he nails it. The husky actor won a Best Actor Oscar for his mesmerizing take on the physically diminutive writer Truman Capote.
“Hoffman is a genius actor,” says costar Stephen Bishop. “I paid very close attention to Philip. Every take, he would do something a little different. It was like being in an advanced acting class.”
Local film buffs should note that Hoffman has been spotted around the East Bay while filming The Master for director Paul Thomas Anderson. The film follows a religious leader building a Scientology-esque following.
Age: 42 //// Position: Actor
In re-creating the 2002 A’s team, Sony Pictures had to cast actors who could play baseball and perform dramatically. During the audition process, Moraga-raised actor Stephen Bishop felt confident that he should get the role of outfielder David Justice, who finished his career in Oakland after stints with the Braves, Indians, and Yankees.
“Long before I got into acting, I was drafted by the Atlanta Braves. Justice took me under his wing. We looked so much alike that he used to tell people I was his younger brother,” says Bishop. “I told the casting director, ‘There is no one on Earth who can play David Justice as well as I can.’ ”
Bishop cherished the opportunity to combine his loves of acting and baseball, particularly during scenes filmed at the Coliseum. “I grew up going to A’s games, getting there early for batting practice. So, hanging out with all the extras was a blast. I told them, ‘I’m one of you: I’m an A’s fan!’ ”