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It's been nearly a decade since Lewis spent the 2002 season shadowing Beane, chronicling his then revolutionary approach to evaluating baseball talent. "When he first came here," the G.M. recalls, "we didn't know he was going to write a book. But he's a great storyteller, and just an interesting person. And really, that's how he ended up getting the access he did. He sort of hypnotized us."
The G.M. of a low-payroll team accustomed to seeing his best players poached by more affluent organizations ("We're organ donors for the rich," as Pitt puts it in the movie), Beane fought back by conducting an audacious experiment. "At the bottom of the Oakland experiment," Lewis wrote, "was a willingness to rethink baseball: how it is managed, how it is played, who is best suited to play it, and why." Beane's search for "inefficiencies in the game" and the embrace of new metrics that solved those inefficiencies in essence "amounted to a systematic scientific investigation" of his sport.
Experiments! Systematic scientific investigations! Not exactly catnip to studio executives. Moneyball is a terrific book that has sold more than a million copies and is required reading at the nation's leading business schools and executive training seminars everywhere. But was there a motion picture in it?
The author didn't think so. "The Blind Side was a movie," says Lewis of his 2006 book on Michael Oher, who grew up in poverty in Memphis and is adopted by an affluent Tennessee family and makes his way into the first round of the NFL draft. "The problem [with Moneyball] was, I always thought of it as a biography of an idea," he says. "And I wrote it as a biography of an idea. And you can't make a movie of an idea."
You can, however, make a movie about a man at a crossroads, a onetime baseball wunderkind whose major league career had been a major bust; a man "whose life was turned upside down by professional baseball," as Lewis put it, "and who, miraculously, found a way to return the favor."
That, at least, was Rachael Horovitz's hunch. After nearly 12 years of working for Hollywood studios, she'd just ventured out on her own as a freelance producer when she picked up Moneyball in 2003. Its themes—taking a new path, having the belief in one's self to take a risk and move forward—"sang to me," she recalls. "Thirty-five minutes into the book, I knew it was a movie."
Studio after studio disagreed. "I felt like Billy," she says, "trying to convince people to see something that didn't look like a movie to them."
Finally, Sony bit, eight years and countless setbacks later. Yes, things did look grim for a while. But Lewis makes a good point: "As long as Brad Pitt wanted to make this movie, it was going to get made."
The batter made contact, launching a high pop fly to centerfield, patrolled on this muggy Missouri afternoon by a 12-year-old Brad Pitt, who lost the ball in the sun. It bounced off one of his storied cheekbones, opening a gash that would take 18 stitches to close and reduce his mother to tears. (Jane Pitt had no way of knowing it at the time, but she wept on behalf of women all over the planet.) While Pitt was charming, grounded and self-deprecating throughout a recent, lengthy interview—"It's shameful how little I know about baseball... . I'm amazed they let me do this movie"—he could not resist adding that he did pick up that ball and throw the runner out at second.
For the most part, he says, "Baseball and I didn't get along that well." At Springfield (Mo.) Kickapoo High, he gave football a shot. "I wrestled one year. I dove one year. Everything but baseball."