Decoding 'Moneyball': Does the Pitt pic line up with real life?
"Moneyball" was the highest-grossing new release of the weekend, with Michael Lewis' bestselling book about the unorthodox method of player analysis known as sabermetrics translating into a hit at the multiplex.
But some moments in the Brad Pitt baseball drama might puzzle even the most devoted fans of the real-life tale.
Who was that uncredited man who played stingy A's owner Stephen Schott? What happened to Beane's second wife, who was supposed to be played by "Cold Case" star Kathryn Morris? And just what was the song Pitt's Billy Beane and his daughter sang (not featured in the book, incidentally). Our handy guide for non-sabermetricians. [Warning: Spoilers below]
The female equation. In real life, Billy Beane has a second wife, Tara, with whom he has twins. But in the movie he comes across as a solo divorcee. Director Bennett Miller actually shot four scenes with "Cold Case" star Morris as Tara, and the movie even test-screened with those scenes included. But Miller and Sony wound up cutting all of them from the final film (though Pitt's Beane, oddly, still wears a wedding ring). The studio declined to comment on the move, though we can understand why they'd get slashed--showing Beane as a lonely divorcee makes a redemption story a lot more compelling.
Schott to hell. A key scene in the film has Beane lobbying the A's owner for a larger payroll. Schott turns him down unceremoniously, in a moment that sets much of the plot into motion. But you won't see the owner in the credits. So who is the mysterious miser? Bizarrely, he's Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, whom Miller decided to cast to lend more authenticity to the role of an executive. Those who have it in for the polarizing Kotick, though, might make some hay of the choice: In his day job, Kotick has angered some game developers, and prompted lawsuits, with his controversial management decisions.
The joy of discovery. To watch the movie without reading Lewis first, you'd think Billy Beane stumbled upon sabermetrics when he met Paul DePodesta between the 2001 and 2002 seasons, which is also when he lost stars Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to free agency (and had to find a new, lower-cost approach). In reality, Beane hired DePodesta back in 1999, while the high-priced stars were still very much on the team.
Maybe more important, sabermetric practices didn't suddenly come to the A's with Beane just before the 2002 season--they had already begun to be implemented in 1995 under previous General Manager Sandy Alderson. Oh, and Jason Giambi's brother Jeremy, the ne'er do well who the movie says Beane brought to replace the athlete's slugging sibling in 2001? He was already on the team with his brother.
Strummin'. Admit it -- you had post-traumatic hipster flashbacks when Beane's daughter began playing that indie-pop ditty on the guitar. What is that song that's trying too hard to sound like the Moldy Peaches' contribution to the "Juno" soundtrack, you wondered? It's called "The Show" from an Australian singer-songwriter named Lenka--and was recorded, incidentally, long after the 2002 in which the film takes place. Beane may have been a baseball visionary, but his daughter was a prophet.
Streakin'.Why is the 20-game win streak the A's mounted in the summer of 2002 the high point of the movie instead of, you know, the playoffs? Because for all the feelgood underdog vibes in the film, the A's actually lost in a five-game divisional series that year--the exact same thing that happened to them the year before. That tempers the happy ending just a bit. (To his credit, Miller at least included the postseason in some fashion, in a kind of postscript scene.)
Brand DePodesta. Former Beane right-hand man Paul DePodesta, the numbers geek who shook up the A's (and then shook down the Dodgers), is depicted by Jonah Hill as ... Peter Brand. Why did pretty much everyone, from Beane to Scott Hatteberg, allow their names to be used, but DePodesta balked? Is it privacy--or just geek-inspired weirdness?
DePodesta answered the question in an interview with Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke. "I remember thinking how unforgiving it might be to have someone else portray you to the rest of the world," he said. "It could be great, but it also could be very unnerving, and once I read the script and realized it was a piece of fiction, then I saw no reason for my name to be attached to it."
Photo: Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in "Moneyball." Credit: Sony Pictures