Moneyball — The Movie?

Reports are that Brad Pitt and director Steven Soderbergh are planning to team together for a motion picture adaptation of author Michael Lewis’ best-selling book.  Apparently Soderbergh is in negotiations to direct, with Pitt to play the role of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.

I’ll be the first to say I loved reading Moneyball when it first came out — the look it gave at the inner workings of  the pennant-contending A’s and how they were put together was a easy, informative read;  it’s a book I’ve recommended to all my friends who are baseball fans, and even to some who weren’t.

But a movie?  Am I the only one who doesn’t get it here?  As much as I liked the book, I never once found myself saying, “I can’t wait until this gets to the big screen!”  How much excitement is there really going to be in watching Pitt/Beane crunching walk and strikeout numbers, gushing over Scott Hatteberg and lusting for Kevin Youkilis, and working out in the bowels of Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum while bitching about Miguel Tejeda’s lack of selectivity at the plate?

At least Beane gets to say he’s getting portrayed by Brad Pitt.  I bet he never saw that coming when he was a struggling major league outfielder.  As huge a baseball fan as I am, and as much as I appreciate Beane’s contributions to the sport, and as much as I loved reading Lewis’ book, you can count me out so far as shelling out theater prices for a ticket.  When it inevitably finds its way to HBO, I’ll check it out then instead.  I could be wrong, but I think the box office potential for this ranks somewhere around the baseball potential Beane gives to high school players — Pitt’s star power notwithstanding.  Now if Angelina Jolie can somehow secure a role, maybe I’d be a little more excited.

Definitely a first round fantasy pick -- if you know what I mean

Definitely a first round "fantasy pick" -- if you know what I mean

One final note — it’s been a while since I read Moneyball, but in looking back at some of the more highly-profiled players in the book, I find it interesting that Beane and company’s thoughts on player potential was about as hit-and-miss as you’d expect you’d see from teams not using the Sabermetric method of player evaluation.  Beane’s fascination with Kevin Youkilis (“The Greek God of Walks”, as he’s known) is well-noted, and he certainly has ended up a productive major league slugger.  But as great as the A’s brain-trust thought they did with their 2002 draft — and the book suggests that they thought they absolutely cleaned up —  looking back seven years later, the results weren’t bad, but they were far from spectacular.

The team’s top two selections, Nick Swisher and Joe Blanton, both turned out to be serviceable major leaguers — but neither elevated themselves to star status;  Blanton was a solid, unspectacular #3-#4 starter during his time in Oakland, and Swisher was no better than an average slugger who put up three decent seasons for the A’s before Beane shipped him off to Chicago.  The best of the team’s remaining 11 selections was Mark Teahen, who never played a game for the A’s (he was dealt to Kansas City for Octavio Dotel in the three-way deal that sent Carlos Beltran to the Astros in 2004).  Other highly hyped A’s selections like Jeremy Brown and Brant Colamarino either never made the majors or had only a cup of coffee with the big club.

Meanwhile, several of the examples given in the book of  “bad drafting” (particularly potential picks who fit the description of what Beane believed were riskier high school players) have matched the accomplishments of the A’s selections, if not exceeded them.  B. J. Upton is already one of the most exciting young stars in the game, and his performance in the AL Championship Series last season looked like his coming out party in becoming one of the game’s most valuable players.  His teammate Scott Kazmir, while still erratic, has the tools of a #1 starter, and at only 25 years old, he’s already won 47 games for the Rays.  And Prince Fielder has a 50 home run season already under his belt, making him the youngest player in Major League history to accomplish the feat.

While it’s true that Beane and the A’s didn’t have the opportunity to select any of the three above players (all had been selected already by the time the A’s had their first pick at #15 overall), anyone who’s read Moneyball would probably agree that, even if Upton, Kazmir, and Fielder had been available when the A’s selected, Oakland would have likely passed on all of them — and clearly, that would have been a mistake.

I’ve always been an admirer of what Beane has accomplished over the years with the limited budget he’s had to work with in Oakland, and I’m certainly a believer in using the deep statistical analysis found today around the game as a way to judge a player’s success (and to predict any future success).  However, there’s no magic numerical or statistical formula that can be used to predict tomorrow’s stars today that doesn’t still have a significant margin of error attached.  I’m guessing that’s not exactly the fairy-tale ending you’d expect Moneyball: The Movie to have — though we’ll see if Pitt and Soderbergh manage to rewrite it along the way.

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