Tags: baseball, Bernard Malamud, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Robert Redford, Roy Hobbs, sports novels, The Natural
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The Major League baseball season begins today. In honor of the occasion, I am offering a bonus Books-Into-Movies post for “The Natural.” (If you’d like to read another baseball-related post, check out my Books-Into-Movies post on “Moneyball.”)
The movie “The Natural” is significantly different from the novel The Natural. The book is darker—the story is tragic not heroic. The Roy Hobbs appears to reader as a person hampered with unattractive flaws. I suspect the majority of people who will read this post have seen the movie, probably more than have read book. So I will address the movie chronologically. There are so many points of difference to comment on that this approach seems to be the most systematic and efficient way to approach the comparison.
The chronological structure of both the book and the movie are essentially the same:
- The opening scene of the movie shows a young Roy Hobbs coached by his father (flashing back from a glimpse of Hobbs on the train). The book portrays a difficult childhood for Roy Hobbs, with his mother cheating on his father, and Roy growing up essentially as an orphan.
- The story of the bat “Wonderboy,” complete with the musical instrument case, is from the book.
- Young Roy Hobbs’ romance before he goes to Chicago to try out for the Cubs is not in the book. The Iris character is very different in the book (which I will address in more detail as the chronology unfolds).
- Roy Hobbs’ doubts, expressed to young Iris, are not in the book. He tells people on the train that he expects to be the best baseball player there ever was.
- Max Mercy referring to a story about a woman shooting an athlete is from the book.
- Sam Simpson, the scout promoting Roy Hobbs and riding with him on the train, is from the book. Simpson is an old retired ball-player, a drunk trying to use his discovery of Hobbs to get him a regular scouting assignment with the Cubs. The initial encounter with Mercy, Simpson, and “the Whammer” is from the book, with much of the dialogue preserved.
- The match-up between Hobbs and “the Whammer” is largely taken from book. This includes the attention from the psychotic Barbara Hershey character Harriet Bird who shifts her interest from “the Whammer” to Roy Hobbs.
- In the book, Malamud describes Hobbs’ pitches as more than just fast—they have a quality of disappearing as they approach.
- “The Whammer” though clearly a Babe-Ruthish character, has blond hair in the book.
- Max Mercy’s push to get background information on Hobbs after the Hobbs-“Wammer” confrontation is from the book.
- Harriet Bird’s fixation on male heroes is from the book.
- In the book, Sam Simpson becomes ill on the train. The book implies he was injured while catching Roy Hobbs pitches during the Hobbs-“Whammer” test of skills. He is taken off the train on a stretcher after telling Hobbs to go to the hotel—“overhead the stars were bright but he knew he dead.”
- Harriet Bird shooting Hobbs in her hotel room is from the book.
The flash forward to the New York Knights dugout after the shooting is taken directly from the book:
- “I should have been a farmer” from manager Pop Fisher, spoken to his coach Red, starts the next section of the book. The New York Knights’ futility is also taken directly from the book.
- Hobbs’s arrival mid game is also from the novel, with much of the dialogue preserved including the line about the “Salvation Army band.” But Pop Fisher is not as harsh to Hobbs during this beginning contact as he is in the movie. He apologizes for his initial grumpiness and does not declare to Red shortly after their first meeting that he won’t play Hobbs. In fact, instead of being suspicious that Hobbs was sent by the Knights’ chief scout, this is a positive in Pop Fisher’s mind. Hobbs is signed as a replacement for a player who has been hit on the head with a flyball and “paralyzed in both legs.”
- In the book, Bump Baily is an egotistical jerk as in the movie—selfish, putting himself ahead of the Knights. But the book has time to fill out his character—he is a great individual player, leading the league in hitting, and he is a prankster who charms his teammates with this form of humor. He pulls some annoying pranks on Hobbs the first day Hobbs is there. Bump and Hobbs come to blows when Bump takes a hacksaw to Hobbs’ bat “Wonderboy.”
- In the book, Hobbs takes batting practice his first full day of practice with the team and hammers the second pitch out of the park. (The first pitch is at Hobbs head, sending him to the dirt, when Hobbs crowds the plate.) The next two pitches leave the park. Pop then takes the bat to check it, but he and Red are thrilled with the idea of Hobbs playing. “Pop suddenly felt so good, tears came to his eyes and he had to blow his nose.” Hobbs also looks good in the field during this first day of practice.
- The falling out between Hobbs and Pop Fisher occurs when Hobbs won’t cooperate with the hypnotist who comes in before the first game after Hobbs’ arrival. Pop orders Hobbs to participate—Hobbs refuses: “You signed a contract to obey orders…” “…not to let anybody monkey around in my mind.” Hobbs’ defiance has Fisher swearing Hobbs will never play for him. In my opinion, the movie’s scenario makes more sense. With the talent demonstrated by Hobbs right away, it seems difficult to believe a manager who wants and needs to win so badly would make such Draconian decision based on this incident.
- The book has a character Otto Zipp, a “dwarf” who is a fanatic fan of Bump Baily. Zipp roots less enthusiastically for Hobbs and turns on Hobbs during his slumps. There is no Otto Zipp character in the movie.
- Memo Paris, Pop Fisher’s niece, is described as a “sad, spurned lady.” She is Bump Baily’s girl, and Bailey treats her with casual disrespect. Hobbs is infatuated with her looks and waits for his opportunity.
- Hobbs’ introduction to the lineup occurs differently in the book. “On the morning of the twenty-first of June,” Pop tells Hobbs he is going to the minors. Hobbs tells Pop he is “quitting baseball anyway.” But the same day, the hypnotist comes in and suggests Pop should also be hypnotized to address his “hysterical behavior.” Pop blows up and fires the hypnotist. During that day’s game, Bump misplays a ball in the field (no reference to sun in the book). Pop orders Hobbs to pinch-hit for Bump during the next half-inning.
- “Knock the cover off the ball” is from the book.
- As in the movie, Bump Bailey now feels the pressure to elevate his performance and runs into a wall while chasing a fly ball. He breaks his skull and dies. Roy Hobbs takes his place in the lineup.
- Hobbs is instantly successful (as in the movie). Pop seems dubious—“I mistrust a bad ball hitter.” But Red calls Hobbs “a natural.”
- The conflict between Judge Goodwill Banner, part team owner, and Pop Fisher, team manager and part team owner, is different in the book. Banner has agreed Fisher can manage the team for life, but wants to maneuver him into quitting his management role so wants the team to be unsuccessful to make Fisher’s ouster easier.
- Hobbs’ low salary is an early issue in the book, with media writing about the injustice of it. In the book, Hobbs asks to meet with the judge and asks for a raise. As in the movie, the judge lurks in the dark. He not only refuses any salary increase, but tells Hobbs he owes the team for the cost of his uniform, replaced after it is destroyed by Bump Baily during a prank. In the movie, the judge asks to see Hobbs. The conversation is very different. The judge offers more money, implying Hobbs should perform worse to help the judge reach his goal of ousting Fisher. Hobbs turning on the light as he leaves the meeting is not in the book.
- Max Mercy poking around trying to find out more about Hobbs is from the book.
- In the book, Max Mercy introduces Hobbs to bookie Gus Sands at a “nightclub with a girly show.” Memo Paris is at the table with Sands when they meet. The initial meeting between Sands and Hobbs is similar to the book.
- In the book, Hobbs has a prodigious appetite for food. (This factors into key events toward the end.)
- The relationship between Memo Paris and Roy Hobbs is edgier, more complex in the book. Memo is more distant to Roy in the book. Hobbs chases her after Bump Baily’s death. She has some problem with her breast. When he touches her she tells him it hurts. He points out he was gentle and she says “it’s sick.” During an encounter between them, Memo drives a car at ninety miles per hour and appears to commit hit-and-run on a pedestrian (though this is not certain as they flee the scene before confirming Hobbs’ trepidations).
- There are no pitching incidents with Hobbs and the Knights in the book—no injury as in the movie when Hobbs extends himself to throw a hard pitch while showing off to his teammates.
- In the book, Pop Fisher warns Hobbs about getting involved with his niece: “She was my sister’s girl and I do love her, but she is always dissatisfied and will snarl you up in her troubles…”
- As in the movie, the Hobbs of the novel goes into a slump when he gets “snarled” with Memo Paris. In the book, Memo Paris seems to be avoiding him. She does get him to see a fortune-teller Bump used when he slumped. Pop benches Hobbs when he won’t give up using “Wonderboy,” which Pop thinks is causing the slump.
- The “lady in the red dress” (white in the movie), Iris, first appears in the book during Hobbs’ slump. She stands up and looks for Hobbs. The Iris character is totally different in the book. She has no relationship with Hobbs before he joins the Knights. She is young, but also has a grown daughter who has a child (her daughter is not fathered by Hobbs). The home run that brings Hobbs out of the slump does not shatter a clock in the book, but somehow rises through the pitcher’s legs to go over the fence. She develops a relationship with Hobbs after her presence reverses his slump. But Hobbs finds the idea of anything permanent with her repugnant—he is disgusted with the idea of a relationship with a “grandmother.” He seems inexplicably drawn to the troubled Memo Paris.
- All of the “Iris” interaction in the movie is obviously different from the book. There is no reunion and no discovery of a son.
- As in the movie, the pennant race comes down to the wire in the book, riding the roller coaster of Hobbs’ shifting performance, seemingly related to his interaction with Memo Paris.
- In the book, Hobbs imagines settling down with Memo Paris in a domestic, husband-wife type situation. He knows this is unrealistic because Memo does not seem suited to that sort of life, and he has only a small salary and a short career ahead of him.
At this point, the book diverges significantly from the movie:
- In the book, on the verge of an important end-of-the-season series, Hobbs overeats at a premature victory party hosted by Memo Paris and financed by Gus Sands. He ends up in the hospital where medical personnel find his damaged abdominal area. Roy finds out another season is not possible and even another game this season could be difficult.
- In the book, from his hospital bed, Roy proposes marriage to Memo. She admits she is afraid to be poor and suggests he buy into a company. She delivers a message from Gus—Hobbs can get money to buy into a company from Gus if he will “drop” the key game for the Knights. The judge visits him and offers him $25,000 to make sure the Knights lose the decisive game. Hobbs at first refuses. But he counters at $35,000. The judge balks, but accepts. Hobbs confirms to Judge Banner: “The fix is on.”
- In the book, there is no reference by the judge to the shooting years before as in the movie. And in the movie, Hobbs does not confirm the arrangement even though the judge drops an envelope of money on him in his hospital bed. In the movie, Hobbs returns the money before the key game, completely contrary to what happens in the book.
- Hobbs keeps his promise to throw the game in the book. He deliberately strikes out in his first at-bat. In his second at-bat, he walks, keeping his promise not to “hit safely.” The third time up, he deliberately lines foul balls at Otto Zipp where Zipp sits is in the stands booing Hobbs relentlessly. One of the balls bounces up and hits Iris, who has been standing nearby. She’s taken away by ambulance. Hobbs strikes out after that but not before he splits “Wonderboy” when hitting another foul ball. (In the movie, “Wonderboy also breaks. But the batboy brings a new bat to Hobbs when he asks the boy to “pick out a winner.” With the new bat, with blood seeping from his old wound, Hobbs smacks the decisive homerun busting into the lights, to heroic fanfarish music—none of this is in the book.) In the book, on the last at-bat, Pop Fisher scans the bench for a pinch-hitter. Hobbs begs him to go into the game. The Iris incident seems to be changing his mind about keeping his promise to throw the game. But he strikes out again.
- Hobbs’ world falls apart at the end of the novel. Word gets out that Hobbs has thrown the game for money. Max Mercy also publishes pictures of Hobbs, shot “at nineteen.” Memo bitterly tells Roy she has hated him from the day Bump died, that she considers him responsible for Bump’s death. At the end, reminiscent of the Black Sox scandal, a boy implores to Hobbs “say it ain’t true, Roy.” And Hobbs looks in the boy’s eyes but cannot lie: “…he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears.” This ends the novel. The movie’s the final scene has Hobbs with his newly discovered son and rediscovered Iris in a tranquil scene of quiet success and fulfillment, a dramatically different ending.
The Roy Hobbs of the novel The Natural is a tragic figure, talented but flawed—a man who makes poor choices in his love life and sells out his integrity. This is far different from the heroic character played by Robert Redford in the movie. The film-makers can be forgiven for making the changes they did to give the movie a more upbeat conclusion. It is doubtful this movie would have been an audience favorite if the story had ended the same way as the book did.
Previous Books-Into-Movies posts (in reverse chronological order):
Tags: baseball, Billy Beane, book commentary, book synopsis, books compared to movies, books into movies, Brad Pitt, Michael Lewis, Moneyball, movie commentary, movies, movies based on books, Oakland A's
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This Books-Into-Movies post admittedly departs from my previous posts, which usually pertain to historically-based movies. But, as I’ve written in the past, on my blog, I get to write about what interests me. Not evident in my prior posts is that I am a sports fan. And as someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, I have been rooting for the Oakland A’s (and the San Francisco Giants—I grew up equally distant from both) since they got to Oakland. I read Moneyball by Michael Lewis (also the author of Blind Side) when it first came out and loved it. So naturally, I caught the movie.
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane? I had my doubts. But I absolutely loved the movie. And Brad Pitt was great. My recollection of the book, from reading it nearly a decade ago, was that it would be tough to turn into a story—I did not recall the book as a linear story with the requisite conflicts, protagonist, antagonists; the kinds of things that go into a successful commercial movie. The filmmakers did a fine job of pulling a compelling, fun, David-and-Goliath story out of Moneyball. The antagonists are crystallized as old baseball attitudes in the persons of established baseball people fighting to keep the new ideas from being implemented. The antagonists are also the rich teams, but not really directly. But how much of the film is true to the facts elaborated in the book? I reread Moneyball to find out.
The basic spirit of the book is there, and some wonderful phrases and events appear directly from the book. But there are many departures from the book to build this fun story. I’ll offer a detailed comparison. Please keep in mind, as with all my Books-Into-Movies posts, that I’m comparing the book and the movie. If the filmmakers acquired information not in the book for the movie, it is not part of my discussion here.
So, here is a chapter-by-chapter discussion:
Chapter One – The Curse of Talent
- If anything, the movie actually understates how impressive Billy Beane was as a raw talent. In workouts for scouts, he twice outraces another prospect who has a track scholarship as a sprinter. Billy Beane is 6-4 with freakish abilities. (Much bigger and more imposing than Brad Pitt, but Brad Pitt does such a great job in this movie that we can let his lack of Beane’s size go!)
- There are hints of Billy Beane’s inability to cope with a hint of failure, his inability to accept anything but total success. There is a drop-off in his stats in his senior year in high school, and volcanic tantrums his coach has trouble knowing what to do with.
- The Mets top scout wants to choose Billy Beane with their first pick, but because Beane has indicated he will go to Stanford to play baseball (and football, to succeed John Elway as a quarterback even though he has not played quarterback in high school since his sophomore year), he is passed up by other teams, and the Mets get him with one of their three first-round picks, 23rd overall.
- Billy Beane looks like he will not sign until the Mets bring him to the Mets visitor’s clubhouse in his hometown of San Diego and introduce him to three players. He commits to signing, but before actually completing his signature, changes his mind again. His father tells him how he has already committed, and Beane signs for $125,000.
Chapter 2 – How to Find a Ballplayer
- Billy Beane’s interaction with his scouting department is more nuanced and complex than is depicted in the movie. (There isn’t time in the film to go into this in the depth covered by the book.) This chapter deals with the upcoming amateur draft of unsigned high school and college players, not an evaluation of available major leaguers. The movie captures the new concepts Billy Beane brings to the scouts, but simplifies the scouts’ reactions and implies a unity among scouts in opposition to his ideas. The book lets us know this was not such a simple division.
- The guy with the laptop, Peter Brand in the movie, is Paul DePodesta, a graduate from Harvard (not Yale) in economics, but interested in “the uneasy border between psychology and economics.” There is no scene in the book with Beane stumbling onto him as an employee of the Cleveland Indians in this chapter. Billy Beane is committed to “moneyball.” He brings in DePodesta in the late 90s to help him carry it out.
- In the book, we have a scene with Beane throwing a chair into a wall when his head scout, Grady Fuson, picks a raw pitcher who throws 94 mile per hour fastballs, straight out of high school. This is not the way Billy Beane wants to build talent for the A’s.
- KevinYoukilis, and his description as “the Greek god of walks” is straight from the book, but refers to his stats as a college player and potential as a draft choice.
- On base percentage and the ability to get walks are heavily prized by Beane and DePodesta, as in the book. But a further reason is that though the ability to draw walks and get on base are prized, this ability is also a measure of a hitter’s ability to control the strike zone. This factor helps talent evaluators determine hitting success in the major leagues. Power hitting, they know from analysis, can be learned. Controlling the strike zone may be a talent more difficult to develop; it may be an inherent talent such as throwing ability and speed. And this inherent talent can lead to hitting prowess, not just a higher on base percentage and more walks.
Chapter 3 – The Enlightenment
- The book has time to chronicle Billy Beane’s failed Major League baseball career as a player, captured accurately in the movie, but due to the time constraints, offered with much less detail. Lewis offers great stories in the book about the success of Billy Beane’s roomate Lenny Dykstra, a 13th round pick in the draft, contrasted with Billy Beane’s lack of success. As in the movie, the failure appears to be mental, a lack of the mindset needed to be a successful player despite prodigious talent.
- Completely missing from the movie is any reference to 1990’s Oakland A’s general manager Sandy Alderson. He starts Beane on the concept that would become “moneyball,” giving him a Bill James influenced pamphlet. Alderson also starts the A’s, in the minor leagues at least, toward valuing walks and on base percentage. It is Alderson who first embraces the concept that on base percentage—and slugging percentage—correlate more with runs scored than batting average, and that fielding is “5 percent of the game.” The movie implies these ideas started after the A’s lost Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen. The book informs us Beane’s “moneyball” ideas were in place before Billy Beane became a general manager.
- There is a brief mention of Beane’s divorce, and his commuting from Oakland to San Diego on his minimal scout’s pay to stay in his daughter’s life. (For me, the stuff about Billy Beane’s daughter is the weakest part of the movie, and could have been left out. I have speed-searched through these sections during my rewatches, though the young actress was charming, and would be fun to watch in something else.)
Chapter 4 – Field of Ignorance
- In the movie, Bill James, the maverick writer about baseball, baseball statistics, and new perspectives on their analysis and what he perceived as wrong emphases in conventional baseball thought, is mentioned briefly (and glowingly). This chapter explains in detail what Bill James brought to this story.
- In the course of the discussion on Bill James, Lewis mentions two early baseball proponents of “moneyball” type ideas: 1) Branch Rickey (with the help of baseball statistician Alan Roth), who in 1954 expressed the idea that on base and slugging percentages were more important than other statistics, and 2) Earl Weaver, Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager who made a career of playing for the three-run homer, disdaining sacrifices.
Chapter 5 – Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special
- Dramatized in the book, not addressed directly in the movie, is the roller coaster ride (for Billy Beane) of the June 2002 amateur baseball draft. Lewis shows us how the “moneyball” principles are utilized as the A’s draft their players. We again see Billy Beane is clearly totally invested in these principles, and we also see his intensity as it looks like he will lose his choices, with fortunes twisting and turning as the draft takes place.
Chapter 6 – The Science of Winning an Unfair Game
- This chapter details the inequities in baseball between the rich and poor teams. Again we learned that the A’s already seemed to be exceeding the expectations of a poor team with “moneyball” ideas before 2002. The filmmakers telescope events to build more drama into the story and sharpen the issues for clarity and effect.
- But the movie is correct to emphasize 2002 season, with the A’s losing Giambi, Damon and Isringhausen, as the nightmare scenario for poor teams, the extreme of extremes in inequity, as the book points out.
- This chapter also fills in more details about the three players the A’s were losing. We discover losing Isringhausen was not even surprising or unwelcome, as “closers” can be created then overvalued because of a silly measure of performance called a “save.” Closers can be cut loose and re-created. Damon is also seen as overvalued, as discussed by the Peter Brand character in the book. But Giambi, because of his incredible run-creation abilities, is the real loss for the A’s.
Chapter 7 – Giambi’s Hole
- Lewis quotes Billy Beane: “The important thing is not to re-create the individual. The important thing is to re-create the aggregate.” That is taken straight into the movie, right along with the attempts to do this by replacing Giambi’s on base percentage.
- Lewis states that while players were encouraged to take more pitches, swing at better pitches, and work for more walks, they were not told specifically they had been acquired for their on base percentages. Jeremy Giambi, David Justice and Scott Hatteberg are signed and put out on the field without knowing they are “lab rats” in an “experiment,” as Lewis calls them.
- Billy Beane not watching games, in the weight room—straight from the book. It seems he becomes too worked up if things don’t go well, and is not pleasant to be with. He “breaks things.”
- But, not in the book is this idea of Art Howe defying Billy Beane. Lewis explains in the book that it is common knowledge Beane “ran the team from the weight room.” The idea that Art Howe kept playing Carlos Pena instead of Scott Hatteberg in defiance of Billy Beane’s wishes is not consistent with the book. The only hints of this is that apparently Howe did like to platoon Hatteberg and Pena depending upon whether they were facing a left-handed or right-handed pitcher. This approach was not preferred by Billy Beane. But Beane appears to have been in control. There is a story of a player who executed a sacrifice bunt, a no-no on a “moneyball”/Billy Beane team. Art Howe makes sure the player is clear he did this on his own, not on a signal from his manager—so Billy Beane’s wrath could be directed appropriately.
Chapter 8 – Scott Hatteberg, Picking Machine
- Moving a catcher who can’t throw over to first base to get his on base abilities into the lineup is straight from the book. Hatteberg’s initial awkwardness at the position is also straight from the book. But we learn from Lewis that Hatteberg improves to become a decent, “above-average” first baseman as the season progresses. He works hard to pick up the position—he has his wife hitting grounders to him off a batting tee before he comes to camp.
- The wholesale midseason purge of players, including Jeremy Giambi’s trade to the Philadelphia Phillies, is in the book, though some of the details are different. The motivation in the book seems to be that the A’s are losing and Beane is upset. There is nothing even implied about forcing Art Howe to set the lineup the way Billy Beane wants. As discussed earlier, Billy Beane already controlled the team more than “Moneyball” the movie implies.
Chapter 9 – The Trading Desk
- The movie captures the frenzied tone of Billy Beane’s dealings, though the exact details are different in the book, including the maneuvers to trade with the Indians for reliever Ricardo Rincon. Rincon does indeed change uniforms the day of the trade as depicted in the movie.
- We do learn Jeremy Giambi was traded because Billy Beane suspected him of “having too much fun on a losing team.”
- Not in the movie, we get the story of how A’s general manager Billy Beane tries to put himself in a deal between the Montreal Expos and the Boston Red Sox so the A’s can acquire Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek god of walks,” a player he has wanted for the A’s for a long time. He is not successful.
Chapter 10 – Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher
- In this chapter, we learn the Chad Bradford biography. The movie cannot give us all of this quirky story because of time constraints. (The story could almost be a movie of its own.) But the movie captures the essence of the Chad Bradford situation—a pitcher completely unrespected by Major League baseball because he looks so strange delivering the ball. He keeps getting batters out, particularly at a AAA location known for being hard on pitchers, so continues to rise through the ranks of the minor leagues toward the major leagues despite the weirdness of his pitching form.
- In the book, we get details on the “moneyball” analysis that brings Bradford to the attention of Paul DePodesta and the A’s, a stat pioneered by an obscure paralegal who astounds even an initially skeptical Bill James by combining strikeouts, walks allowed, and home runs allowed to develop a stat that only the pitcher controls. Bradford’s stats bring to the A’s attention; Bradford’s delivery drops down more and more as his career develops, and as he pushes himself harder to get hitters out with limited physical talent.
- We also learn that Chad Bradford has been on the Oakland A’s before the start of the 2002 season. The movie implies that his acquisition takes place after the A’s have lost Giambi, Damon, and Isringhausen.
Chapter 11 – The Human Element
- This chapter focuses on the game the A’s win to set the record for consecutive wins in the American League. From the book—yes, the A’s blow a twelve run lead (with Chad Bradford giving up a significant number of runs as he loses confidence at the same time the rest of baseball seems to be finding confidence in him). Yes, Scott Hatteberg pinch- hits the game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, with some charming details of just how unprepared he was for the moment.
- Billy Beane does plan to go toVisalia that day to look in on the A’s minor league team, to check on some of his recent draft picks. But it is not his daughter who calls him and asks him to turn around early in the game. The A’s front office convinces him he needs to stay. In fact, Billy Beane becomes trapped in Art Howe’s office with the author, Michael Lewis. Lewis gets the opportunity to watch firsthand how Beane starts to do descend into rage as the A’s lead diminishes further and further. Billy Beane’s daughter? It is Billy Beane who calls her early in the game—and finds out she is watching American idol.
Chapter 12 – The Speed of an Idea
- As in the movie, the book goes into Billy Beane’s hostility toward sacrifices and stealing bases as a waste of outs. In the movie, there’s a brief scene where a player says to Billy Beane that he’s been hired to steal bases, and Billy Beane says no, he had hired that player to get to first, not get thrown out at second. That appears to refer to Ray Durham, whose story is expanded in the book.
- The A’s do lose to the Twins in the playoffs. But as in the movie, Billy Beane seems less distressed about losing because the playoffs involve luck—the small number of games is too small a “sample size.” The “moneyball” system Billy Beane has adopted is designed to work for a large number of games, a 162 game season. In a short series, five games or seven games, luck plays a great deal more of a role.
- Billy Beane “trades” Art Howe to the New York Mets where Howe gets the generous long-term contract he believes he deserves. In the movie there is a direct confrontation between Beane and Howe before the 2002 season. In the book, this unhappiness manifests only as late-season grousing in the media.
- Billy Beane actually commits to signing with the Red Sox as general manager, and his mind is already there, contemplating the moves he will make. But before actually signing, he has a change of heart, saying publicly what he says in the movie: “I made one decision based on money in my life—when I signed with the Mets rather than go to Stanford—and I promised I’d never do it again.” So in essence, Billy Beane goes through the same process that he went through right before signing with the Mets, but this time does not go through with his commitment.
Epilogue: The Badger
- The story of Jeremy Brown, the misshapen catcher who stumbles while rounding first base, scrambles back to the bag, only to find out he has hit a home run, is straight from the book. We learn that Jeremy Brown goes from ridicule as the seemingly silly and misguided pick of the A’s in the first round of the amateur draft, to a player who is excelling in the minor leagues, moving up the ranks, because of his already acquired ability to control the strike zone by taking pitches and earning walks.
If you liked the baseball elements of the movie “Moneyball” (there are two very short mentions of Billy Beane’s personal life in the book—as indicated earlier, in my opinion the weakest part of the movie), you must read the Michael Lewis book. It is one of those books I hated to see end. With the deviations I’ve mentioned, the movie is faithful to the basic ideas of the book. The book just has so much more detail, rich detail written in an engaging style that will have you wishing for more, and wishing for a sequel!