By Frankie O
WATCH: Beane & Pitt discuss 'Moneyball'
Its always about the first impression. Doing what I do for a living gives me a vast database for information on anything that piques my interest. But, of course, it comes with a subjective slant. Sometimes, the more libations served, it can get overly subjective. Thus, I always try to take any information gleaned at the bar with a grain of salt. When I told folks that I was going to Oakland, the response was always, Why? Then, those whod been there gave me gritty details. It couldnt really be that bad, could it? I always had a soft spot for the city from the time of my youth. The early 70's was when my sports psychosis started to take form. I was crazy about every sports team in Philadelphia and watched and read about them as much as I could. But I couldnt help but notice all the other teams that they played. You know, the teams that actually won.
It was at this time that a kid from Philadelphia became infatuated with two teams that dominated while playing more than 3,000 miles away: The Charlie O. Finley Oakland As, who won consecutive titles from 1972-74, and the Al Davis Oakland Raiders, who after breaking hearts year after year, finally won a Super Bowl in 1976. Both teams were known as renegades, and to yours truly were larger than life. The As featured Jim Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando, Mr. October Reggie Jackson (later known as Wedgie Jackson) and Gene Tenace the Menace who came out of nowhere to become the 1972 World Series MVP.
The Raiders were my first sports obsession. At this time, the Eagles were awful, so all of the guys in the neighborhood would root for other teams also. It was usually the Dolphins or Steelers, since they won all of the time. I, of course, took the road less traveled, the one full of agony and despair (youd expect anything less?) and followed John Maddens team religiously. The first NFL game I ever went to was an Eagles-Raiders game at the Vet during that magical 76 season. To this day, Kenny Stabler is still my favorite quarterback. And, he threw to my all-time favorite receiver, Super Bowl XI MVP Fred Biletnikoff. During this time, since both teams played there, and still do, the Oakland-Alemeda County Coliseum was the place to be. Go figure, I would soon be there.
As the plane was landing, I watched out the window to the rolling hills and water below. The airport is right on the bay, and compared to the view Im used to at Midway, it is visually stunning. Getting into the cab, Im usually pretty direct with the instructions since Im always convinced that cabbies want to take their fares from the airport on the scenic route to the hotel, but this time I didnt care. Mapquest had told me there were two ways to the hotel in Berkley, and both went by the Coliseum. What a great ride.
I had time to catch up on my fantasy scores -- good -- and watch the end of the Niners-Dallas game -- bad -- in my room as I ironed my TV bartender garb (Im a man of many talents). Waiting for the shuttle to the theater to see the movie was a reunion with others I had done junkets with before. TV-types from around the country (and Canada!) mingled with the moonlighting bartender from Chicago. I was pleased to hear that they all were as excited as I was to see the movie. Trust me, this is not always the case. As we all do our research before we come, sometimes things become a little too obvious about what we are about to encounter. The references to The Social Network and The Blind Side abound as everyone is upbeat about the screening.
During the ride we are given a verbal outline of how our day should work out for Monday. Its not quite the riot-act but its close. The bigger stars have a lot going on around them and they dont get much bigger than Mr. Pitt. Our day will have twists and turns, stops and starts, but everyone will get what they came for. One very big thing working in all of our favors is that since we are the sports press we wont be asking any Brangelina questions, or asking about Jennifer Aniston and her fun issues. That is if any of us wants to come to another junket! This should make the Bradster very happy.
He neednt worry about any of us. Its all going to be about the movie. As we all exit the theater, sometimes its like poker players trying to get a tell on the others. What did YOU think? That generally happens when the movie is iffy. After a screening of the unintentional horror-flick Leatherheads starring the handsome George Clooney, there were many in the theater lobby bellowing about how awful the movie was and lamenting the fact that we would never get those wasted two hours of our lives back. Personally, I was embarrassed to think that someone saw me come out of the theater. I was way too uncomfortable to even talk out-loud about it, especially in public. After we were safely out of view of any studio execs, several of us wondered out loud if anyone at all connected with this movie realized how god-awful it was.
Theyve got to know, dont they?
That movie was so bad that six months later, when a bunch of us were checking in for the next sports-movie junket, it was all we could talk about. A guy who had missed the junket laughed at his good fortune. The person checking us in from a different studio was laughing for a different reason: He felt our pain. Seems a short time prior, the studio he was working for was making a Nicolas Cage movie. Well, his guess was that the hierarchy of the film realized what a mess that they had made (at this point Im flabbergasted: A bad Nick Cage movie?! LOL! Dont get me wrong, Im a big fan, but hes taken a few epic swings and misses). Anyway, they decide to round up a few young guys in the office for a private screening. As in private with Cage, the director and a couple of producers, all of whom are big-time in their own right.
At this point we all guess what it is and say, Oh my god, you didnt have to watch Blank-blanker in front of them, did you?
You got it, he replied. Then afterwards, we all sat in a circle as they asked us our impressions.
At this point Im going crazy just thinking about that.
What did you say? You werent honest were you? I mean, you kept your jobm right? I asked.
I still work for the same studio, he laughed. When they got to me, I was so nervous I did not know what to do. So I remembered one scene that I really liked and could honestly talk about it in a good way, then, thank god, they let us go.
You know what you are? I asked, setting up the punch-line, An enabler! They still released that piece of garbage!
Its as old as time, no matter what the business: give the boss what he wants! There would be none of those uncomfortable moments for any of us since all of us were sharing how much we liked the movie on the way out. This should make doing our jobs that much easier. Its like when Im at the bar: How hard can it be to serve someone one of the best steaks that they are ever going to have? When things are good, everybody wins!
I had spent much of my time trying to figure out which parts of the book they would leave out and which parts that they would keep or embellish. Hollywood was going to put its spin on this story. My hope was that they would not forget about the numbers side that excited geeks like me. In The Blind Side I felt that much of the football aspect of the book had been crammed in at the last minute. Example: Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy walking out of the stands and onto the practice field, in skin-tight pants none the less, grabbing young Michaels facemask, as she is being ogled by his teammates for cinematic effect and explaining to him that he has to protect the quarterbacks blind side. Im not saying, Im just saying. That movie was turned into a Sandra Bullock movie and it worked.
My hope for this film was that it could capture the tortured, manic, genius that was Billy Beane, who was a product of his entire baseball life, not just the year portrayed in the book. Billys journey though the many sides of baseball had brought him to a unique place. He was the right guy at the right time. Baseball is a game of failure. It is how a man deals with failure that will determine his fate. Billys story was not one of tidiness that could fit nicely into a box with a giant bow on top for us to open at our pleasure. It is full of the ups and downs that challenge us all. Repeatedly. And in the end he doesnt triumph in one shining moment, gaining mass adulation, just like in the real life that most of us live. Life isnt that simple. Its the reason I liked the book.
Obviously with Brad Pitt in the movie, there was going to be a lot of Brad Pitt. To my surprise, there was just as much of the formulas and numbers, the complete source of the internal debate in baseball. It gave the film balance to the riveting portrayal of a man seeking his place, within a world he loves, as much as it might not love him back, on his terms. The portrayal will spur a lot more of the anti-Billy Beane sentiment that exists in the baseball establishment, and that cant be helped. Its a great portrayal. But the movie shows that the discussion should be much deeper than that. Its not just about one man, even if that man is very interesting and is being played by one of the most famous people in the world on film.
I cant wait to meet them both and to ask them about it. Wheres my red bow tie?