New York magazine
By Mark Harris
August 21, 2011
Movies and baseball marry well for a reason. They both start with a pitch, they both involve contentious teams and intense efforts that lead to more strikeouts than home runs, and they’re both overseen by people who believe that if you work the numbers hard enough, you can always find a way to win.
One more thing they share: The closer we get to fall, the more we root for long shots. And Moneyball, which opens September 23, is one such underdog. Michael Lewis’s 2003 book focused on Billy Beane, the general manager of the then-impoverished Oakland A’s, who used a kind of quantitative analysis known as sabermetrics to create a winning team and, more miraculously, to combat the huge payroll inequities between baseball’s richest and poorest organizations. Beane’s quixotic attempts to reform a hidebound system and turn a ragtag starting lineup of last-chancers into champions forms Moneyball’s heart. But consider that the above summary hinges on words like sabermetrics and payroll inequities, and you begin to understand why—even with the dogged support of Brad Pitt—Moneyball took nearly a decade, three directors, three writers, an almost complete recasting, and a public collapse before it got made. “There were some hard days,” says Pitt. By which he means years.
It didn’t start out that way. Moneyball was a quick sell to Hollywood when it was first published, back when every studio still wanted to be in the indie-style movie business. Producer Rachael Horovitz, who snatched up the rights in 2003, had had enough experience in studio trenches to feel instant kinship with a book subtitled “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.” “I thoroughly related to the themes of starting over, reinvention, trusting in yourself to think and act differently,” she recalls. And in Beane she saw a “fantastic movie character”—a burned-out baseball prodigy who’d flamed out early and unimpressively and who was now, in middle age, determined to make a mark on the game he loved.