Moneyball Movie Hits Home with Indians
By Kevin Schneider
A film announced this week as a 2012 Academy Awards Best Picture nominee gives a not-so-accurate glimpse into the Indians’ past but also an entertaining look into the business side of Major League Baseball.
Actor Reed Diamond plays Mark Shapiro, the Indians general manager who gets outmaneuvered in 2002 by Billy Beane, the A’s general manager and focus of the movie. Brad Pitt deserves his rave reviews for capturing the superstitious, egotistical, and dark – yet bold – Beane.
Shapiro, now Indians team president, was actually the Tribe’s assistant general manager, under John Hart, during the movie’s focus year of 2002. That year, the low-payroll A’s shocked experts by making it to the American League Division Series. Shapiro acknowledges the work as a quality film but not a true portrayal.
“This film was difficult for me to thoroughly enjoy because I am extremely close to the story and the liberties that Hollywood has to take in order to condense a complex subject into 90 minutes are great,” Shapiro wrote in an e-mail response. “However, I thought the acting and overall story were super.”
Shapiro has praised Pitt’s performance as Beane, who Shapiro knows well. Pitt is an Oscar best-actor nominee. Unlike the film, though, Beane hasn’t visited Shapiro’s office. Director Bennett Miller’s film, now available on DVD, captures Shapiro’s team denying numerous Beane trade requests there.
Then later, Shapiro appears to get played by Beane, who eliminates the Indians’ trade partners and forces Shapiro to ship situational lefty Ricardo Rincon to the A’s. The movie then shows Beane celebrating with fictional statistical guru Peter Brand, played by Superbad star Jonah Hill, up for a best supporting actor award next month.
Moneyball balances Beane’s high moments like the Rincon trade and the 20-game winning streak, with lows, accentuated by dark lighting and shadows that show Pitt deep in the A’s clubhouse. Viewers get plenty of peaks into the Beane ego Tom Hamilton has referred to during Indians radio broadcasts.
Shapiro wrote he didn’t see the point of objecting to the film, though he reviewed the script. He added the financial landscape for his team has changed since then more than Oakland’s.
“It has changed dramatically for the Indians and not very much for the A’s,” Shapiro wrote. “Since that season we have often had payrolls below theirs.”
Indians general manager Chris Antonnetti has said the Tribe payroll will increase this season. In 2011, the Indians had a roughly $49 million payroll. Baseball-reference.com estimated the A’s 2011 payroll at $54.9 million.
Brand’s character, a statistical guru Beane hires away from the Indians after that trade inquiry at Shapiro’s office, is based on Paul DePodesta, who now works as the Mets vice president of player personnel and amateur scouting. DePodesta started as an intern with the Indians after graduating from Harvard.
In a recent interview with MLB network, DePodesta remembers fondly a “dynamic” Cleveland front office with lots of resources, including money coming from sellout crowds.
Sure, the film dives into statistics, such as the A’s 2002 payroll of $40 million versus the Yankees payroll of $114 million. These figures flash on the screen as the film starts with real footage from that 2002 ALDS, which the Goliath Yankees won.
Luckily, the script mixes in some humor. As the A’s debate options for replacing Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon one scout casts doubt on a cheaper possibility: “He’s got an ugly girlfriend.”
Someone at the table of old guys asks, “What’s that mean?”
“Ugly girlfriend means he has no confidence,” the scout replies.
While the A’s didn’t make it past that first round of the 2002 playoffs, their story might help Moneyball win on Feb. 26. Moneyball is up against eight other movies, including Oscar favorite The Artist. The 84th Annual Academy Awards will air at 8 p.m. on ABC.
The film now can be viewed at second-run theaters or rented at Blockbuster Express or Redbox kiosks. Redbox patrons can use redbox.com to find a location with Moneyball available and can reserve it online for $1 and pick it up at the kiosk, through January. It’s available at Redbox kiosks for $1.20, if not previously reserved.
Those wanting to go deeper into Billy Beane’s transformation of the A’s can buy the book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis; it inspired the movie. A new paperback sells for $9.72 on Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. Used copies sell from $5.69, plus shipping. Thriftbooks.com offers the hardcover version used for $9.67, including free shipping.