Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The MONEYBALL movie is not going forward – at least for now. Columbia Pictures President Amy Pascal didn’t like the last draft (that's what happens when you bring in someone else to rewrite a decent writer) and pulled the plug. The filmmakers are scrambling to set it up somehow and somewhere.

What puzzles me is how this project got on the fast track in the first place. First off, it’s a baseball movie. They usually tank overseas (as my international readers who are probably thinking of bailing just reading the word baseball can attest). And it’s from a non-fiction book. Here’s what I imagine was the pitch. You tell me if you’d buy this.

Okay, there’s this General Manager of a major league baseball team. And here’s the great thing – it’s not the Cubs or Yankees or Dodgers or any of those other over-used teams. It’s the Oakland A’s! No, that’s a real team. They play in Oakland. Anyway, this general manager has a great plan for turning them into a winner. STATISTICS!! He’s a number cruncher on the computer. Isn’t that COOL? Can’t you just picture the scene – he’s on his laptop and realizes that on base percentage is an important stat. I get chills just thinking about it.

So he institutes these really INSANE new methods based on research. When his players come up to the plate they’re not looking to hit home runs or triples or even singles. They’re looking to – hold onto your hats – they’re looking to DRAW WALKS! “Ball four! Take your base!” I mean, that just SCREAMS “trailer moment”, doesn’t it? They also never steal bases. It’s revolutionary!!

And for the third act, how’s this for a novel ending? They get to the playoffs and ... always LOSE. The strategy DOESN'T WORK! Tell me you didn’t see that one coming.

I picture someone like Brad Pitt playing the GM. Maybe we can get Steven Soderbergh to direct. Steven Zallian would be perfect to write it. He wrote SCHINDLER’S and the tone is very similar. So whattaya think? Christmas 2010? Summer 2011? “

Well, Columbia did buy it. Brad Pitt did agree to star. Steven Soderbergh is attached to direct. Steve Zallian did write the original screenplay. The only thing more baffling would be if Angelina Jolie had signed on to play first baseman, Scott Hatteberg.

But now it sits in limited turnaround – Hollywood-speak for “dead”.

Amy, if you have your heart set on doing a baseball movie, can I make a suggestion?

A TV comedy writer goes off and becomes a minor league baseball announcer. In the course of the film he finds love, discovers who he really is, rejuvenates an entire town, touching and improving thousands of lives. You could get Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, Seth Rogin, Steve Carrell – any hot comedy leading man. It’s BULL DURHAM meets GOOD MORNING VIET NAM. Sound good? Here’s the best part, Amy: you already own it.

You have for years. It’s called PLAY-BY-PLAY, written by Ken Levine & David Isaacs. Go back through the files. There’s no sabermetrics but you might find there's something there.


Mike said...

Jeff Wells posted an earlier Zaillian draft (opens pdf) at hollywood elsewhere. I sure like Z's writing.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ken,

We Toronto Blue Jays fans have been treated to Moneyball baseball for 7 years now. It's horrible in real life and you're right in assuming it would be likely as bad on film.

Otis L.

Mike said...

Upon further reflection, I really must say what an incredible dirtbag Pascal and her crew are.

This is a big time feature, not Soderbergh with a 16mm hand held. It has been in preproduction for months, every department has been taking that supposedly radically different draft of the script apart. And all of a sudden the studio discovers what it is 2 days before shooting starts?

And on a whim, all the below the liners are out of work all of a sudden? Some of these people may have jumped at the opportunity to work on a Soderbergh feature and turned down other movie or TV series work that might have kept them busy for months. I hope the unions can nail their asses.

Damon Rutherford said...

Of course, Ken, unless you were being sarcastic, you fall into the common misconception about what the "Moneyball" baseball strategy really is.

It's not about focusing on OBP, but about getting the most for your money, exploiting the market inefficiencies, and creating the best baseball team possible given a fixed budget.

So if most teams are ignoring fielding value when evaluating players, then work with that, find those "hidden gems" that save a shitload of runs on the field, and add more wins to the season at a smaller cost (compared to, say, those teams that go after the over-priced, likely-to-not-repeat-it "superstar" starting pitchers).

But I'm still not sure how this strategy alone -- or how Billy Beane and the A's utilized it -- can be the basis for an entertaining fictional movie.

Ref said...

This idea (making a film about "Moneyball") has never made any sense to me. Perhaps a rational person finally got a look at it? With a bit of luck, that same person might get to see the proposal for "Play-By-Play."

LAMAT: What a shepherd frequently asks. "Where's dat lamat?"

Monsterbeard said...

As far as I know, Hatteberg had actually signed on to play HIMSELF, among a bunch of other pros.

Billy Beane is a great character because he's a dick to everyone. But he's a dick to everyone because he CARES. Touching, really.

bevo said...

The story of drafting the fat catcher from Alabama represents a terrific story that any hack writer could create 20 minutes of material from. In the hands of someone who knows how to write, who knows? The book is rife with many stories similar to the catcher from Alabama.

I agree with Mike' assessment of Columbia's upper management. Way to take a risk there. Instead, why don't you guys take the really dangerous route of adapting Welcome Back Kotter into a full length picture?

And, Ken, you are right, the tactics of Sabermetrics don't work. It fails. Oh, wait. How are things working out for those people in Boston? If Oakland had some more money to work with, then maybe the A's could acquire more talent.

Face it, Ken, Billy Beane got more out of those teams than he should of. While Oakland was making the playoffs, how many teams with twice and thrice the payroll expense as Oakland missed the playoffs while the A's made the playoffs?

Look at it another way, Ken. What would happened to the A's if they had not followed the sabermetrics' logic? How many playoff appearances would they have? I am going with zero as in none.

How can you say the strategy failed, Ken? They made the playoffs. By your reckoning, all but one team fails every year. That's a pretty high standard.

Oh, wait, Ken. A team did win the World Series following the sabermetrics's logic. I guess the logic must now be considered a winner based on your criteria.

You can fault sabermetrics for a lot of things such as its reliance on frequentist assumptions about the nature of events. It assumes data are normally distributed. It relies too much on linearity for my taste. Finally, it is not path dependent when its sample is clearly path dependent.

That said, I would never say sabermetrics failed. The A's made the playoffs and the Red Sox won the World Series. In the alternate, by not following the sabermetrics' logic, then neither of those two events probably never occur.

Finally, Ken, in the greatest baseball movie ever, SPOILER ALERT, the Bears lose to the Yankees in the championship game. And, SPOILER ALERT, Rocky loses the heavyweight title to Apollo Creed. But Rocky only won an Oscar for Best Movie (1976?)

So, yes, Ken, only movies where the team or player wins the championship at the end are consider good or even great movies. By that measure, how many Oscars did Mighty Ducks collect? Oh, yeah, none.

Unknown said...

Ahh, but we have the two words Hollywood adores slightly more than craft services: based on (see also insired by). I imagine the biggest thing the movie, if it's ever released, will have in common with the book is the title.

Michael Green said...

This ranks with Spielberg's Lincoln film. The first story was that Doris Kearns Goodwin sold the rights to her book on Lincoln and his Cabinet. How do you sell the rights to well-known historical facts? Then it turned out she would merely consult. The movie still hasn't been made. Maybe someone plagiarized the screenplay?

Dave said...

Hey Ken,
This isn't much of a question as much as a request. There's a new show called "Better off Ted." From reading your blog for the last two years daily, I think you'll enjoy the show. Whip-smart with a hot chick to boot! What could possibly go wrong?


By Ken Levine said...

Wow, you stats guys get soooo defensive. I'm not saying that statistics aren't helpful, I am saying it's hard to set up a dramatic VISUAL movie relying on them as the engine that powers your story.

And when ultimately the A's do fall short every year I imagine the viewer saying, "then what's the point?"

Oh, and quality starts are a stupid stat.

James said...


Yes, the A's started the Moneyball craze, and yes, they lose in the playoffs every time...BUT, the Red Sox also adopted the same philosophy and have 2 WS trophies.

Michael Taylor said...

Not all interesting books can be turned into successful dramatic movies. While "Moneyball" could make a fascinating documentary for baseball fans, it makes no sense at all as a $60 million feature film that would need to bring in twice that much just to break even. Not even Brad Pitt in the lead could make this turkey fly.

Don't weep for Soderbergh, who will simply move on to the next project -- but as Mike pointed out, the people who really got burned here are the crew, who were all geared up to go. Instead of working for the next three months, they're suddenly back in the crowded pool of unemployment with so many other below-the-line workers.

Whoever green-lit this bomb-in-the-making in the first place should be sent back to the mail room.

As for the baseball issues: the Oakland A's did a terrific job with such severely limited resources, but no team can win it all without great pitching and hitting -- and that costs money. Money alone isn't enough (as the Yankees prove year after year), but Boston's excellent brain trust required a fat wallet to assemble those winning teams. Lacking such financial torque, the A's just couldn't get past the playoffs.

Guy Nicolucci said...

"Yes, the A's started the Moneyball craze, and yes, they lose in the playoffs every time...BUT, the Red Sox also adopted the same philosophy and have 2 WS trophies."

So the happy ending of the A's movie is that the Red Sox win? Just asking.

blogward said...

Just watching the USA winning 1-0 (so far) against the European soccer champions, Spain, in South Africa. Any thoughts on soccer, Mr. L?

blogward said...

WTF???!!! it's 2-0!

James said...

@ MR.

If ESPN was making the movie...yes

Tom Quigley said...

The premise reminds me of a typical White Sox "rally" in the not too distant past: two walks, a fielder's choice, a HBP, an error on a bunt, a balk, another HBP, a passed ball and a sacrafice fly -- to the shortstop...

wv: outsi -- the opposite of my navel, which happens to be an "insi"...

J said...


Have you seen SUGAR yet? Not Sabermetrics as much as Bowdenmetrics.


Brian said...

Well if they could make a movie about the guy that invented the intermittent windshield wiper, why not Moneyball? I, too, was surprised that Brad Pitt signed up for it and I thought Demetri Matrin was an odd casting choice for a movie like this, but I was certainly intrigued. Hopefully it survives somehow.

Ref said...

It's not quite accurate to say that the Red Sox won on sabermetrics. They spent quite a bit more money than the A's did on some occasionally risky players, and have the right manager in Terry Francona, who is not Theo's puppet a la Art Howe.

James said...

Yes, the Sox paid big $ to some players, but the basis of a lot of their signings and deals was this new philosophy...guys like Ortiz are a Moneyball wet dream...they also hired Bill James...so I think it's not too far of a stretch to suggest sabermetrics had a lot to do with them being successful

By Ken Levine said...

I think you sabermetrics guys are missing the point. Yes, they're valuable, yes the Red Sox also have the money to buy stars. But in terms of a MOVIE about Moneyball, if you got Steve Zallian (a great writer) or any A list writer you want to do a screenplay based on number crunching and savvy scouting leading to the playoffs and I write a more conventional screenplay about a Manny Ramirez type larger-than-life character leading his team to the playoffs I like my chances that my take will be a better movie.

Cap'n Bob said...

Lest we forget, the A's won the World Series in 1972-4. They might have been in contention in '75 if that bastard Charlie Finley hadn't broken the team up that year.

Wayne said...

Thanks for script link.
I love baseball movies, even one that ends with a montage of players getting to first base drawing a walk.
Maybe they just needed a jazzier title like "Good Eye, the Motion Picture."
I would have probably liked this more realistic baseball movie more than overly mythical baseball movies like The Natural and Field of Dreams.
There have been great baseball movies without the triumph of a win like Pride of the Yankees and Bang the Drum Slowly.
And as far as fans crunching numbers, it's probably healthier than crunching peanuts and Crackerjacks.

Mike McCann said...

Play-by-Play sounds so perfect, you know some suit would have to stand in its way, Along a different path, how about a Jackie Robinson bio-pic made to 2010 instead of 1950 budgets and techniques?

Unknown said...

Hi Ken,

I saw the film Sugar last night, and loved it. Any thoughts?

Joe said...

I love baseball catfights.

Jim said...

Sugar was a great movie, and Bowdenmetrics made me laugh.

Matt said...

Guys, you're assuming the statistics are the only possible spine of the story. Would a movie based on the life of Warren Buffett have to be about the techniques of value investing?

Sugar was disappointing. It started off fine, with interesting characters, settings and challenges, but the story arc never really went anywhere. It wound up being rather like a fictionalized documentary about what baseball means for poor people from the Caribbean.