Moneyball – The 2002 Oakland A’s
Moneyball, the movie that was based on Michael Lewis’ bestselling book of the same name, chronicled the success of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team. It centered around General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and his assistant Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) trying to take on the juggernauts of Major League baseball with a payroll that was one of the lowest in the league. The movie began with the end of the 2001 postseason, one that had seen the A’s take a commanding two-game lead in the best of five American League Division Series against the Yankees, only to see New York storm back and win the final three to move on to the American League Championship Series. During the offseason, the Yankees signed Jason Giambi, Oakland’s best player, to a mammoth contract while Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen, two other integral players, left for Boston and St. Louis, respectively. Despite losing two key players, the A’s owner Steve Schott refused to increase payroll for the following year.
The movie intertwined scenes outside of the ballpark to show how Beane arrived at his situation. The first was a series of flashbacks showing Beane as a young ballplayer who was faced with the decision to either go pro by signing a contract with the New York Mets (who had drafted him in the 2nd round after taking Daryl Strawberry in the 1st round with the 1st pick overall), or to attend Stanford University. He chose to take the money and signed with the Mets. Despite being a hot prospect, Beane was never able to find success at the Major or Minor League level and ultimately washed out of the game as a player. In his mind, Beane promises to never let money influence a decision in his life ever again.
Back to present-day, Beane is faced with a conundrum. A solution is presented during a chance encounter at a meeting with Mark Shapiro, the General Manager of the Cleveland Indians. During that session, he meets Brand, who is working as a player analyst for the Indians, crunching numbers on various player statistics. Brand impresses Beane with his analysis of players and he when he returns to Oakland, calls up Brand to offer him a job with the Athletics.
Together, the two of them set out to evaluate players and the game with a radically different approach. Using Brand’s stat-heavy approach analyze players, they identify creative ways to replace Giambi’s offensive production. They know that they cannot find one player within their budget that is like Giambi, but think that maybe they can find three players who collectively can come close to duplicating Giambi’s numbers at a fraction of the price. They also realized that for as much offense as Giambi provides, he probably also costs them a few runs because of his poor defense. Combined, they can reduce the impact of losing a player like Giambi by finding players that fit a certain offensive and defensive statistical profile. Three of these undervalued players are Scott Hatteberg, who is coming back from an injury, David Justice, who is on the downswing of their career, and Chad Bradford, who is a submarine-style pitcher that induced a lot of ground balls.
There was immediate resistance to this philosophy on two fronts. First, the long-time scouts in the organization resent Beane for bringing in a young interloper with his newfangled computers and fancy stats; they believe in the old-fashion way of scouting, which is to watch how a player performs on the field and to see how big his heart is. Second, manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is dead set against playing the players that Beane brings in. He put Carlos Pena in the lineup regularly over Hatteberg and uses Mike Magnante over Chad Bradford.
Predictably, the A’s started off very badly and Beane becomes more and more frustrated with every loss that Howe is not following his plan. Before the season is completely lost, Beane trades Pena and Giambi and releases Magnante, which leaves Howe with no choice but to play the players that Billy wants.
During the team’s struggle on the field and Billy’s struggles with his staff, the movie cuts over to Billy’s personal life. Despite his being divorced, he had a decent relationship with his ex-wife, Sharon and is a devoted father to his daughter, Casey, who worries that her dad will be fired from his job because the team is losing so much.
After Billy forces his hand with the trades, Oakland goes on a winning streak starting August 13th 2002. They rip off win after win and climb into first place, tying the American League record with 19 consecutive victories along the way. The movie climaxes with their September 4th, 2002 game against the Royals. Instead of watching the game to see if the A’s will break the record, Billy decides to drive to an A’s minor league game to scout players. However, after listening to the A’s build an 11-0 lead by the end of three innings, Billy decides to turn his car around and head back to the stadium. In the 4th, the Royals score 5 runs to make it an 11-5 game. After Billy arrives at the stadium, the Royals score 5 more runs in the 8th, then tie the game up 11-11 at the top of the 9th. At the bottom of the 9th, Howe calls up Hatteberg to pinch hit. In some form of poetic justice, it’s Hatteberg, the player that Howe refused to play, who hits a walk-off homerun to break the record and set a new American League mark with 20 consecutive wins.
The movie winds down showing the A’s losing in the first round of playoffs for a third consecutive year. However, Billy’s regular season success shows the league that his approach to the game can be a successful model. Boston, the hometown of Bill James, the progenitor of the statistical approach to the game that Brand and Beane follow, tries to recruit Billy to be the next General Manager of the Red Sox. John Henry, the team’s owner, flies Beane to Fenway Park and presents him with an offer that would make him the highest paid GM in the game to run a team where the sabermetric model would be fully embraced. Billy returns to Oakland and although the idea of building a team using statistical models and a seemingly unlimited budget was tempting, he ultimately decides to turn down the offer.
Contributing author: Michael Griffin
Moneyball – Real Life, Reel Life
- The movie portrayed Pena as the A’s best player and hitter when he was traded. In reality, he was not – he had a .218 average with 7 homers before the trade and was actually in the minor leagues when he was sent to Detroit.
- The movie largely ignores the Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, who were HUGE in the A’s success that year – Zito even won the Cy Young that year after rolling up a 23-5 record.
- Peter Brand was a fictitious character, a stand-in for Paul DePodesta, who didn’t want to be associated with the movie. DePodesta was also with the Oakland A’s team well before ’02. However, it was true that DePodesta’s first baseball job was with the Cleveland Indians (starting in 1996). He spent spent three seasons there an advance scout for two years and in his final month with the club, he was appointed Special Assistant to General Manager John Hart. In 1999, he joined the Oakland Athletics organization as an Assistant to General Manager Billy Beane.
- Howe was not the surly, pudgy manager that Hoffman portrayed
him as being. He was actually a tall, lanky, affable man. He has also openly expressed his anger on how he was portrayed in the movie.
- Bradford joined the A’s starting the 2001 season, so it wasn’t his first chance like he says in the movie. He was also used more often during the season than the movie indicates – 75 apperances, 75.1 innings pitched, and a 3.11 ERA.
- The movie suggests that the A’s looked to replace Jason Giambi’s production through a collection of players (Hatteberg, Justice, etc) but in reality, Miguel Tejada’s MVP season had more impact (34 home runs and 131 RBIs).
- Jeremy Giambi was shown in the movie as someone who was brought in after the ’01 season. Not true. He was already on the A’s since 2000 and was, in fact, the goat in the famous Derek Jeter “flip” play where he was tagged out at home during Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS. The A’s had a 2 – 0 series lead at that time, and was losing 1-0 in Game 3 when that play occurred in the bottom of the 7th. Instead of tying the game 1 -1, the Yankees win the game by a run, then complete the comeback by winning games 4 and 5 to take the series 3 games to 2. Had Jeremy Giambi slid and scored to tie the game, who knows what might have happened to the Oakland A’s franchise. If they had won the series and advanced to the ALCS or beyond, maybe Jason Giambi stays instead of signing with the Yankees in the off-season, and maybe sabermetrics doesn’t take the spotlight as it did over the 2002 season. Sports fans can debate this for ages, but here is the clip of “The Flip” play.
- Beane and Ron Washington, one of his coaches, didn’t show up at Hatteberg’s door to pitch him coming to Oakland. They called him on the phone. Hatteberg had actually been traded to the Colorado Rockies, but they declined to offer him arbitration and he became a free agent. The A’s signed him to a one-year contract for $950,000 the next day. He was not languishing in free agent limbo like the movie shows.
- Beane had actually agreed to become Boston’s GM and the wheels were in motion for DePodesta to become the new Oakland GM (and had even worked out a trade for Kevin Youkilis as compensation), but Beane changed his mind a few days later. The movie suggests that he never accepted the offer in the first place.
- Financial underdogs? Beane LOVED beating the big boys. Those scenes of him breaking stuff were all dramatic license.
- Most importantly, the A’s players never had to shell out money to get soda.
Where Are They Now?
Billy Beane is still the GM of the A’s and is still seeking that elusive first World Series title. Meanwhile, the Red Sox hired Theo Epstein to be the GM after Billy turned down the job and one season later, in 2004, Boston won their first World Series title in 86 years. Epstein believed in many of the same statistical concepts that Beane did and constructed a team in the same fashion. The key players on the 2004 team included Kevin Millar, whom the Red Sox claimed off waivers from the Marlins, Kevin Youkilis, who is dubbed “The Greek God of Walks” in the movie and in real life, David Ortiz, who was released by the Twins, and Curt Schilling, who was coming off a 2003 season where he was on the injured reserve for 3 months on 2 separate occasions.
Overall, Beane has compiled a 976-804 record since taking over as GM for the Oakland Athletics on Oct 17, 1997. For four consecutive years between 2000 – 2003, the Oakland A’s made the playoffs but lost in the first round American League Divisional Series, losing 3-2 each year. That was followed by a stretch of 8 years where the A’s only made the playoffs once, triggering criticism of Beane’s “Moneyball” approach to the game within the baseball circle. Beane dismisses the criticism and defends that his approach is an ever-evolving philosophy. Whatever sabermetrics that Beane has currently adopted to evaluate undervalued players has seemingly worked again, as the A’s returned to the playoffs in 2012 and 2013, but lost in the first round 3-2 both times yet again.
Paul DePodesta, the real-life Peter Brand, was named General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers on Feb 16, 2004 at the age of 31, which made him the fifth youngest ever named to that position in baseball. He is one of the leaders in the new wave of GMs that relied more on sabermetrics than the traditional player scouting methods. In his first year, the Dodgers finished 1st in the division but lost in the first round of playoffs.
The following season was not as successful, as the Dodgers lost a number of players to free agency after the 2004 season and others to injury. The 2005 season ended as the team’s worst since 1992 and DePodesta was fired on Oct 29, 2005 as a result. On June 30, 2006, he was hired by the San Diego Padres to serve as the Special Assistant for Baseball Operations, then promoted to Executive Vice President on Nov 10, 2008. Two years later on November 8, 2010, DePodesta was hired by the New York Mets as VP of Player Development and Scouting by the Mets GM Sandy Alderson, with whom DePodesta worked with in San Diego through 2009.
According to DePodesta’s public LinkedIn profile, he was voted onto the Board of Directors of Sears Holdings Corporation in December 2012. His Twitter handle is @pdepo and he does occasionally post updates about Mets players as well as his thoughts throughout the players draft.
Art Howe left after the 2002 season to became the manager for the New York Mets two seasons between 2003 – 2004, then a bench coach for the Texas Rangers from 2006 – 2008. He is now retired, leaving the game with a 1129-1137 record and was runner-up for Manager of the Year four years in a row, all in Oakland. He does analysis for Houston Astros games on FOX now.
Scott Hatteberg retired after the ’08 season, finishing off his career in Cincinnati. He owns a lifetime .273 average and 1153 hits. Prior to signing with the Oakland A’s for the 2002 season, Hatteberg was a catcher for the Red Sox and during the 2001 season, he ruptured a nerve in his elbow. He underwent a surgical procedure that caused him to have relearn how to hold and throw a baseball. In spite of that, the A’s were interested in Hatteberg because of his high on-base percentage which, according to sabermetrics, had a direct correlation to the number of runs scored. To minimize his throwing, the A’s converted him into a first baseman and this was one of the key storylines in the movie. Below is the real-life footage of his walk-off homerun for the A’s 20th consecutive victory.
Hatteberg played with the Oakland A’s from 2002 through 2005 and batted .269 with 49 home runs during that time. On Feb 12, 2006, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds and played until June 4, 2008, when the Reds released him to call up hot prospect Jay Bruce. He retired shortly thereafter. Currently, Hatteberg is a Special Assistant to Baseball Operations for the Oakland Athletics while occasionally filling in for Ray Fosse as the color commentator for A’s games.
There is a Scott Hatteberg facebook page, but it appears it was only created in early 2014 so it’s uncertain whether this is his actual page or not, or how often he updates it. He does not have a Twitter account, but oddly enough, he is tweeted about often.
There is also a “MoneyBall” Facebook page that is sporadically updated but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to be monitored very well, as most of the comments are spam.