Tout-Oakland turned out at the Paramount Theater last night for the premiere of Moneyball. Or at least à demi Oakland. I was there too and pegged the audience as part local, part Hollywood.
Donations from Listeners Like You did not pay for my ticket; I scored a seat from one of the film’s producers, the sister of a childhood friend. Others I talked to enjoyed similar degrees-of-separation status: “I’m here because my daughter and Michael Lewis’ daughter go to school together,” one guy told me, citing the author of the movie’s source material.
Some hard-cores did, however, represent. “I’m an A’s season-ticket holder and have been since 1988 and couldn’t miss the chance to see the world premiere of a movie about Oakland in Oakland,” Cathy Connelly of Alameda shouted into my mic, in order to be heard amid an absolute crush of premiere-goers. How much were the tickets? “$100 dollars.” Did you read the book? “Yes I did, my whole family did.” Are you a big Billy Beane fan? “I am a big Billy Beane fan.” “How about Brad Pitt? “Not as much Brad Pitt.”
“I read the book when it came out,” said one free-cocktail-sipper, a twenty-something female. “And that’s what made me fall in love with the team. Hatteberg, Bradford, all those big names, all those great human-interest stories, it had me sucked in.”
“I’d like to comment on John Fisher,” interrupted a guy with something very much on his mind. “He should be ashamed of himself.” Fisher is the A’s co-owner, and the team wants to move to San Jose. “Keep the A’s in Oakland,” was my interviewee’s message. “If any city in America could use a baseball team, it’s Oakland. Get over your ego. This is not about money.” (Dude it is, I thought. It’s even the name of the movie.)
Other folks didn’t exactly know the team from A’s to Z. “I’m here because my boyfriend works for them,” said one woman. “I don’t know anything about baseball. I didn’t read the book.” Your boyfriend works for the team and you don’t know anything about baseball? “We just started dating.” Okay. Good luck with that.
The house was about 80 percent capacity, a lot better than the A’s are doing at O.co, or whatever they’re calling it. My seat was sandwiched between two groups from L.A. The woman to my left worked for the lab that processed the movie print, and a trio of guys to my right discussed someone involved in the optioning of the book. “She called him and said, ‘can you explain Moneyball to me,'” one of them recounted to mirthless insider laughter.
The on-stage introductions were next, in ascending order of star power: my ticket benefactor, the producer Rachael Horovitz, followed by Michael Lewis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, an extremely slimmed down Jonah Hill (still bankable now sans tummy?) and….Brad Pitt! Waves of handsome swept over the audience. “Hey, he’s actually better-looking in person!” I thought from my third-row seat. And it’s true. He really is.
The film was good. Some funny stuff, and you really want those A’s to win. The crowd ate it up, though the politics of the moment occasionally did intrude. Shouts of discontent about the possible A’s exodus emerged seemingly at random from the dark. And when Billy Beane/Brad Pitt remarked on-screen that the A’s stadium was a “dump,” someone loudly booed.
The lights went up to big applause. I turned around in my seat and who did I see just two rows behind me? The man himself: Billy Beane. He had been introduced pre-movie as someone who “didn’t want to be here.” But honestly he looked as happy as, say, a November 2010 Brian Sabean. I thought about pointing at him and shouting, “Hey Brad Pitt!” but I didn’t feel like a punch in the nose with a BART ride home ahead of me.
Plus I like Billy Beane. Moneyball the concept is literally counter-intuitive. The book and film tell the tale of how the A’s general manager, a failed baseball player despite can’t-miss raves from the scouts, turns his own wrenching experience into a successful numbers-based approach to finding deficiencies in the baseball marketplace, thus allowing his low-payroll team to compete with the likes of the Yankees. But it’s also counter-intuitive from a narrative standpoint — a story where the beancounters are the heroes and the go-with-your-guts guys — the “intangibles” crowd — are the benighted boobs. Plotwise, it’s as if a flunked Jedi warrior shows up at Yoda’s doorstep saying, “the Force doesn’t work, and I’ve got the stats to prove it.”
Would you — do you — root for that character? Another way of putting it: One might say that Billy Beane and his ilk are the people who brought you the romance of the spreadsheet. They’re the guys who view the base-on-balls as a majestic act of rationality, rather than a missed opportunity to blast one 600 feet. Field of Dreams becomes Field of Reams (of Data)…
Some may never forgive him for that. But he got big applause last night in Oakland, on-screen and off.