Sunday, March 30, 2014

Don't Make a Scene: Moneyball

The Story:  Today is opening day for the 2014 season for Major League Baseball in the U.S.  For that occasion, here's a look at one of the best films about The National Passtime, that being the brilliant and too-little seen Moneyball.

Moneyball started out in chaos.  Brad Pitt was producing and starring and Steve Soderbergh was directing the project, imagining it as a sort of hybrid docu-drama, with a script by Oscar-winner Steve Zailian (Schindler's List).  It wasn't coming together (it's tough to get smart, non-mainstream movies made—Spielberg's Lincoln barely found a distributor and very nearly went straight to television), and the combination of a box-office unfriendly subject—baseball—and the unusual approach, led Sony to bench the film less than a week before production was set to start.  The frustration for all involved must have been huge.  Soderbergh chose free-agency and pursued other interests; Pitt stayed, Bennett Miller brought in as director, and a new script by Oscar-winner Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) was commissioned and delivered, making it a straight dramatic film with no interview segments.

In Moneyball, Oakland A's Manager Billy Beane (Pitt) learns a valuable lesson about responsibility creep, and his own job.  Responsibility creep is when folks take on more than their own responsibility and start giving "flat tires" to other members on the team by running over them. Coaches coach, scouts scout. And managers manage.  And they manage not just the players who are going on the field to be handled by the coach, but they also handle the backroom dealings...including the dealings with their own people.  Here, the A's have to regroup after losing their star players to other teams, but with no money to attract star players to sign with them.  While other teams (like the New York Yankees) have deep pockets in which to attract players, teams like the A's, with no such assets, are left to scramble for what's left, which does not lend itself to winning ball-games and making money, which might make acquiring players easier.

That's the concept behind Moneyball—how to build a winning team with a limited budget—and this scene between Beane and his talent scouts (all played by real scouts, by the way, led by former player Ken Medlock as Grady Fuson) spells out the basic problem, and the resistance by "The Old Boys' Network" to do anything beyond Standard Operating Procedure.  It is technical, but rather brilliantly dramatized, as the entire film is, to keep audiences on top of the problems and interested in their outcomes.  Our presentation may be a tough slog, as what's in the film follows the structure of Zailian and Sorkin's script, but with its edges sanded down to what's in the finished film.  Deletions are crossed out, and additions or ad-libbing is added in green.  Green like diamond-grass.  A redundant section of the script, which goes into more detail about solving the problem (a little early) while reinforcing things already mentioned in this scene, was excised and noted in red.

I highly recommend this movie.  The biggest resistance to it is "I don't like Brad Pitt."  No excuse.  He's terrific in this, playing a flawed character, with a combination of haggard determination lit up by scenes of desperate brio.  And he's aided by a fine cast that includes Jonah Hill (first time I was impressed with his work), Philip Seymour Hoffman (in a performance of brilliant passive-agressiveness), and Robin Wright.  There's even a funny cameo by director Spike Jonze.  Watch it.  It's a smart movie about adults playing kids' games.  On and off the field. 

The Set-Up: Damon's out. Giambi's out.  Isringhausen's out.  The Oakland A's have no chance of repeating their playing in the post-season for 2002 unless they can replace their star players with new blood—new blood that can deliver. The A's owner has told General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) there will be no more money for players, and he has to "make do" with what he has.  For Beane, that's like telling him he won't win any games this year, which is unthinkable. There has to be a solution to building a winning team for the least amount of money.  He gets no help from his veteran team of scouts for ideas.

Play Ball! 


MATTY I like that they got a little hair on their ass....
Billy and his scouting department - ten men older than him - all former players and tobacco chewers still, each with his own can of Copenhagen and wastebasket - sitting around a large underground cinder block "war room" whose most extravagant appointment is a Mr. Coffee. Two large white-boards dominate a wall, covered with magnetic strips with players' names on them.
On the left board - every player in the A's organization. On the other, even larger board - every player that may be of interest to them from the other organizations. It's the most complex chess board you will ever see. But what can be easily discerned are the obvious holes in the A's team - the star players they are about to lose - their names set apart from the positions they're vacating: Jason Giambi (1B), Johnny Damon (CF), Jason Isringhausen (RP).  
GRADY Alright, guys... we had a great year. We won 102 games and we only came a buck short in New York. Now the bad news... we've got three big holes to fill. (THEN) Let's start with who we like for Giambi. We'll go around the room. Who you like, Matty?
BARRY He looks like Mantle or Mays, quite frankly, he's got a baseball body...
GRADY FUSON Matty, who d'ya got?
KEOUGH I like Geronimo. 
(approval from the OTHER SCOUTS) 
KEOUGH  Guy's an athlete. This guy is big...
KEOUGH and talented.  
GEORGE Six foot four.  
PITTARO Top of my list.  
POTE Clean cut, good face.  
ARTIE Good jaw. He's the real deal.  
GEORGE Five tools, good lookin' ball-player.  
BILLY Can he hit?  
KEOUGH He's a tools guy.  
BILLY Can he hit?  
KEOUGH He's got a great beautiful swing, right Barry?. Natural swing 
BILLY So you're saying he can't hit.  
KEOUGH He can hit.  
BARRY The ball explodes off his bat.  
ARTIE A lot of pop comin' off the bat.
POTE He throws the club-head at...
ARTIE It's exciting. When he hits it sounds like he's droppin' a firecracker at his feet.  
PITTARO Down in the pisser you can hear that sound.  
BARRY Sounds like Mays, Mantle, Aaron...  
BILLY That's not what I asked. I asked can he hit.  
KEOUGH He's a good hitter.  
POTE ...the ball and when it connects, it—he drives it, it pops off the bat, you can hear it all over the...
POTE ...ball-park.
BARRY A lot of pop comin' off the bat.
ARTIE a lot of effort.
BILLY If he's a good hitter, why doesn't he hit good? 
PITTARO He is a good hitter!
KEOUGH Minor leaguer. He needs a little work. He'll be able to hit. He could be a great hitter. He'll be ready.
BILLY Right... we put him up against big league competition and suddenly he'll be able to hit. Yeah.  So, he's going to be ready when we put him ...
BILLY ...up against big-league arms.
BARRY Could be a great hitter.
BILLY I don't think so.
BARRY He's gotta play.
GRADY This kid needs some at bats.  You give him 400 at-bats, he's gonna get better.
BARRY He can play.
 GRADY He's hit everywhere along the line.
BARRY He's one of our guys.
Billy puts his coffee cup down on the table with a loud snap. There's an uncomfortable silence.
Grady moves on -- 
GRADY Ok, let's move on...
GRADY Artie, who do we like?  
Billy backs off, incredulous as the scouts prattle on -- 
ARTIE I like Perez. He swings like a man. He's got a classic swing. It's a real clean stroke.
KEOUGH He swings like a man who swings at ...too much.  
BARRY I dunno. He can't hit the curve-ball.
ARTIE Well, there's some work needs to be done. I admit it. He needs to be reworked a little
BARRY Yeah, there is.
ARTIE But he's noticeable.  
GRADY He's notable?  
ARTIE No, he's noticeable. You notice him
KEOGH He's got an ugly girlfriend.  
BARRY What's that mean?  
KEOGH Ugly girlfriend means no confidence.  
BARRY Alright. That's true. Okay.
PITTARO Aw, you guys are full of it. 
PITTARO I agree with Art. Artie is right.  This guy's got an attitude. An attitude that's good. 
PITTARO I like the way he walks into a room. Kid's so confident I mean, he's the kinda guy, he walks into a room and his dick gets there two minutes before he does.  
GEORGE Passes the eye candy test. 
GEORGE He's got the looks, he's ready to play the part. He just needs some playing time.  
KEOUGH I'm just saying... 
KEOUGH ...his girlfriend's a 6 at best.  
BARRY Billy, if you want to talk about another Look...
Billy has had it.  He starts to make talking gestures with his hand and starts to whisper with a rasp.
BILLY Lahlahlahlah...
BARRY ...if we're tryin' to replace Giambi, this guy could be it.
I agree with you.
BILLY Lalahlahlahlah-lah.
Enough. Billy raises a book above the table, drops it with a dull THUD... 
GRADY Damn, Billy. Was that a suggestion, Billy?
BILLY Guys, stop. You're just talkin.' 
BILLY Talkin' lahdelahdelah.  You're talking like this is business as usual. It's not.
GRADY We're trying to solve the problem, here, Billy.  
BILLY Not like... 
BILLY ...this, you're notYou're not even looking at the problem. 
GRADY We not only have a very clear understanding of the problem we now face, but everyone in this room has faced similar problems countless times before.  We are very aware of the problem.
BILLY Okay. Good. What's the problem?  
GRADY Look, Billy.
GRADY We all understand what the problem is... 
BILLY Okay. Good.  What's the problem?
GRADY The problem is that we've lost 3 key players that we now have to replace.  
BILLY Uh-uh. Nope! What's the problem?  
PITTARO The problem is... 
PITTARO ...the same as it's ever been it always is; we've got to put a team together with what we've got.  We've gotta replace these guys with what we have existing.
BILLY Nope. What's the problem, Barry?  
BARRY We've got 38 home runs to replace, 120 rbi's, 47 doubles...
BILLY (Makes a buzzer noise) AAA-aa.  Okay, stop. The problem we're trying to solve is.,.. that this is an unfair game.
BILLY There are rich teams and there are poor teams,
BILLY Then there's 50 feet of crap and then there's us. 
BILLY It's an unfair game. 
BILLY And now we've been gutted. We're organ donors to the rich. The Red Sox took our kidneys and the Yankees... 
BILLY ...took our heart. And now I'm listening to the same old shit about having a good body nonsense and being a tools guy like we're selling jeans here.  Like you're looking for Fabio. 
BILLY We've got to think differently.
BILLY We're the last dog one to at the bowl. 
BILLY You know what happens to the runt of the litter? 
BILLY He dies.
GRADY Billy, that's a very touching story and everything, but I think we're all very much aware of what we're facing here.
GRADY You have a lot of experience and...
GRADY ...wisdom in this room.  Now...
GRADY need to have a little bit of faith and let us do the job of replacing Giambi.
BILLY Is there another first baseman like Giambi? (BEAT) Is there?  
Everyone mumbles "no." 
BILLY And if there was, could we afford him?
Everyone mumbles "no." 
BILLY Then what the fuck are we talking about, then? 
BILLY Then stop looking for one because what we'll surely wind up with is the McNuggets version of Giambi.  

22. 22.  

GRADY Look, we're gonna find 25 guys, put `em through player development, teach `em how to play Oakland A baseball. This is no time to push the panic button. This is the way we've been doing it for 150 years. Let us do our job.  

BILLY If we try to...
BILLY like the Yankees in here, 
BILLY ...we not going to be able will lose to...
BILLY to play with them ...the Yankees out there. 
GRADY Boy, That's that sounds like fortune cookie wisdom to me, Billy.  
BILLY No, it's just regular wisdom that's just logic. 
POTE Who's Fabio?
ARTIE He's a shortstop-
ARTIE a shortstop from Seattle.
GRADY Look, this is no time to push... 
GRADY ...the panic button.
GRADY Billy, our scouts are going to find players, our player development is going to develop 'em, we're gonna teach 'em how to play Oakland A baseball.
BILLY Guys, we...
GRADY With all due respect, we've been doing this for a long time.
GRADY Why don't you just let us be responsible for replacing Giambi with who we know who can play.
GRADY Okay, Billy. Clearly you have something on your mind.  
BILLY Bill James.  
ARTIE You're not serious?  
PITTARO We're not playing fantasy baseball, Billy.  
BARRY Those aren't new ideas, they disproved that years ago.  
GRADY Bill James was a night security guard at the Stokely Van Camp Pork and Beans Factory.  
BILLY He thinks differently than anyone in baseball.  
GRADY He's not in baseball. He's in pork and beans.  
23. 23.  
BILLY Don't attack the man, attack the argument.  
PITTARO (to the room) I think he just won the argument. Chuckles.
BILLY What if we've been wrong this whole time about what ingredients manufacture a win? What if this whole time we thought it was the chicken that made the chicken soup taste good when really it was the onions that made the chicken soup taste good? Onions are a lot cheaper than chicken, you see what I'm saying? POTE I don't have the first idea what you're saying.  
BILLY We gotta start over. We gotta rethink this thing. We gotta look where others aren't looking.  
GRADY With all due respect, we've been doing this for a long time.  
BILLY That doesn't mean you're doing it right. Do you watch nature docs? You know what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies. I'm open to any solution, as long as it's not what the other guys are doing. (THEN) Now, I'm going to Cleveland to poach an outfielder named Brandon Garcia --  
TBD SCOUT Hold on -- You're going to Cleveland for a double-A guy?  
GRADY Billy, I've seen Garcia. He's got a bad body. It's not a pretty sight.  
PITTARO Kid wears a large pair of underwear.   
24. 24.  
KEOGH That is a big boy.  
GRADY He's not just big, but kind of doughy. A fleshy kind of body.  
BILLY Oh, you mean like Babe Ruth.  
SCOUTS (UNISON) He's no Babe Ruth.  
PITTARO When he walks, Billy, his thighs stick together. There's enough friction there to start a bonfire.  
KEOGH If you saw him, I'm telling you, you wouldn't want to go to Cleveland.  
BARRY Billy, can I make a suggestion? If you could get Ricardo Rincon... he'd be worth the trip to Cleveland.  
GEORGE That would solve our left handed reliever problem. Unanimous approval from the scouts --  
BILLY Really?  
BILLY I should get Rincon?  
SCOUTS (UNISON) Definitely.  
BILLY Okay. I'll also come back with Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb. And who would like a FabergĂ© egg? Guys, you aren't hearing me -- in what universe can we afford Rincon? 
I'm asking you guys to look at this game differently than you've ever looked at it before. I'm going to Cleveland. (MORE)  
25. 25.  
BILLY (CONT'D) And when I come back, I want you to tell me something I don't already know. I want to question everything. We've got to rethink this game. 

As he exits --  

BILLY And Grady? Nobody cares about a 102 win season.
Billy storms out.  
KEOUGH What's a Fabergé egg?


Words by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin

Pictures by Wally Pfister and Bennett Miller

Moneyball is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.