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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Moneyball, the movie... and my night as an extra

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book that was published in 2003 by Michael M. Lewis in which he takes a long look at Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane's radical approach to selecting players in the annual draft and to finding undervalued players available for trade. Beane tosses traditional statistics such as stolen bases, runs batted in, and batting average out the window in favor of statistics such as on-base percentage and slugging percentage. This unique approach to fielding a winning team led the 2002 Oakland A's to an amazing won-loss record of 103-59, second only to the New York Yankees with a 103-58 won-loss record. (The Yankees did not have to make up a game, as they would still have had the home field advantage even if they had lost the 162nd game.) What makes the 2002 A's so amazing is that they did it on approximately 1/3 of the payroll, $41 million as compared to $125 million, of the free spending Yankees. Since the book came out, at least 9 other major league ball clubs have hired full time analysts and have taken up this approach.

Now the book will become a movie. Hollywood being Hollywood, the movie has not been without its share of controversy. Steven Soderbergh replaced David Frankel as director. Soderbergh was replaced by Bennett Miller after Sony took issue with Soderbergh's script revisions, which placed the movie on the shelf for a while. The original budget of $60 million needed to be pared down to $47 million, necessitating pay cuts (gasp!) for Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), and presumably Jonah Hill (Paul DePodesta) and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe), as well. Miller and Sony have moved past all this and started filming this year. Last week, filming was taking place at Oakland Coliseum.

Someone in an on-line music discussion group that I am a member of posted that extras were being sought to play the parts of the fans while the movie was being filmed. I'll root for the A's as long as they're not playing the Red Sox, and despite the fact that these were unpaid roles, and as I have the time these days, I decided to sign up and head down to Oakland, about a 145 mile round trip from Sonoma. I got lucky and landed a spot on one of the swing shifts, no early morning or graveyard shifts for me.

I arrived early and found myself near the head of a huge line of what appeared to be every last A's fan in the San Francisco Bay Area, all 1000 or so of them. (That subject would be a whole 'nother post.) It was a bit boring at times, as we had been told we would probably have to 'hurry up and wait' a couple of times. More Hollywood for you. We had been moved from one part of the stands to another several times in order to recreate a full stadium, (not that the A's ever have one.) Fans who dressed up in colors with hats and other over-the-top A's regalia were recruited for prime seats. I found myself sitting near some very knowledgeable baseball fans, including some who had actually been to the game that was being reenacted on film that night. One even had her scorecard from that game. We were told ahead of time to bring warm clothes as it was very cold the night of the actual game. The game being filmed was part of the 20 game win streak that propelled the A's to win the AL West Division in 2002.

I had to sign a couple of pieces of paper with all sorts of legalese on them, including a non-disclosure statement which basically states that I will not write or discuss anything that had to do with the details of the game that was being filmed that night. Anything I write in this post will be available in public records available on several web sites. If I do reference a game in this post, I will not disclose if it was (or was not) the game that was being filmed, but any good baseball fan could probably figure it out anyhow. Despite stern warnings from the set crew that cameras would be confiscated if being used, I saw a few taking shots, and saw a flash go off on the other side of the field from where I was sitting at the time.

I was first directed to sit behind the 1st base side dugout. I was about 5 rows back and sitting behind some well dressed A's fans. Good sign, I thought. Maybe I will get lucky and be seen when the movie comes out. The group I was with moved about the stadium from behind the dugout, to behind home plate to right field to behind the dugout again but closer to home plate this time. I think this may have been the best seat I had all night. I was directly in line with the camera and the batter, Jermaine Dye, that is, the actor who was portraying Dye. All the retakes made it seem like he had 3 golden sombreros in one night. Tejada made about a dozen errors at short, too. It got to the point that the actors portraying the ballplayers would run off the field backwards in what seemed like a jab at Hollywood directors.

There was free parking, some free food (hot dogs) and drink (no beer, though- what's a ball game without dogs and suds?!), and a raffle ticket. There were only 2 prizes awarded: a paid walk-on extra role, and a flat wide-screen TV. Furthur prizes of A's tickets were available to anyone staying past 2 am. (Anything to get A's fans to a game.) One batter started fouling off ball after ball into the seats above 3rd base, and of course I was on the 1st base side. I'm sure those balls are already up on eBay.

Someone in the back yelled out, "Billy Beane ruined baseball!" He didn't sound old enough to be an old school, cigar chompin', tobacco chewin', hard drinkin', road weary, older than dirt scout who had maybe over the years signed a dozen names you could actually remember.

Most of the 1000 or so I estimated that were there for the baseball, but there were many who were there to hopefully get a glimpse of Pitt, Hoffman, or Hill. I heard of no reports of a Seymour sighting. I did hear one of Pitt, but I didn't see him, not that I cared. Jonah Hill was seen several times and spoke to the crowd a few times with either a megaphone or a wireless mic through the PA system. Every time he was noticed you could hear this collective, teenage "OMG!!! It's Jonah Hill!!! I love you, Jonah!!!" Personally, this cult of personality and celebrity worship makes me want to vomit. This also extends to athletes and musicians, too, but again, a whole 'nother post.

The baseball part of the night gets an A, the Hollywood part gets a C-.

Look for me when the movie comes out. I'll be the guy wearing an A's hat.
Fenway West 08.03.10

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