Yes, it was a tad surreal, Beane allows, hanging with Pitt, whom the G.M. describes as "a really good guy" with a gift for putting people at ease and for engaging in the banter that goes on in the clubhouse. "He just jumped right in."
Nor did it hurt, while steeping himself in the culture of baseball, that Pitt knows his way around a tin of chewing tobacco. "I'm an Oklahoma-Missouri boy," he notes, "so I'm no stranger to a bit of dip. We start early with that, so really, I was just revisiting my roots."
In one of the movie's strongest scenes, Pitt sits at a large table with 10 or so veteran scouts who speak to each other in a tongue understood only by them. The clash of old and new thinking is on stark display. Creased and weather-beaten, they effuse about the purity of a prospect's swing, the sound made by the ball coming off his bat. It is left to Beane to puncture the reveries.
"If this guy's such a good hitter," he says, "why can't he hit good?"
For these scenes, Miller used actual major league scouts—some of whom no doubt butted heads with Beane—and encouraged them to put things in their own words. Those sessions yielded a trove of unscripted lines that ended up in the movie. The funniest ad-lib, Pitt recalls, came from a scout who pointed out that a prospect had an ugly girlfriend. "Ugly girlfriend means bad eyesight," warned the scout.
Says Pitt, "We put a version of that line in the script, 'Ugly girlfriend means no confidence.' But what he really said was 'bad eyesight.'"
In that scene with the scouts, Beane poses a question to his bespectacled assistant, the newly hired Brand, who doesn't answer right away. "You want me to speak?" Jonah Hill finally says.
"When I point at you, yeah," Pitt replies.
Hill would not be in the picture had the film's second director, Steven Soderbergh, not left the project in the summer of '09. Soderburgh's art-house vision for the film entailed on-screen interviews with ex-players, a kind of "documentary enhancement" that set off alarms in the offices of studio execs, who pulled the plug on production.
But Moneyball was not dead. It was, to quote The Princess Bride's Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal), "only mostly dead." The film was resurrected when Sony hired a third director, Miller, who hadn't made a movie since his Oscar-nominated Capote in 2005. He and Pitt clicked, their visions for the film dovetailing nicely. "Both of us were drawn to some of the same films from the '70s," says Miller, "where you don't have to have a character that stops the asteroid from hitting the earth."