As of this writing, the film adaptation of Moneyball has accrued $72.6 million in domestic box office revenues through nine weeks (plus $7+ million internationally). Though its run is winding down, Moneyball is still playing on over 400 screens in the United States and is on a highly staggered release schedule. Even now there are articles about Moneyball, Billy Beane and Michael Lewis, especially because the UK release is this week. The DVD release date is January 10.
The Steven Soderbergh-helmed Moneyball project was set to start filming in 2009, so if you tack on the normal one year of production and post-production work, the movie would’ve come out in Fall 2010. By now you probably know that the film’s studio, Sony Pictures, disliked Soderbergh’s documentary take on the story and shelved it just before principal photography was to begin. Fortunately, Brad Pitt pushed the project through and out of development hell. The film resurfaced with Bennett Miller at the helm, Pitt has a shot at an Oscar, and the rest is enjoyably revisionist history.
Prior to the film’s premiere, when Billy Beane was interviewed everywhere about the film adaptation of Moneyball, I noticed something different about the way he was answering questions. There was a palpable sense of relief in his tone. He most assuredly enjoyed being feted once again for being the great iconoclastic general manager, and it seemed he bristled less at the notion. It’s that sense of relief that got my attention, and now we may be starting to see why.
The A’s and Rays weren’t on the recent owners meetings agenda, as attention was focused on the CBA, the sale of the Astros to Jim Crane, and the plight of the Dodgers. Before the meetings started, word spread that the A’s situation wouldn’t be addressed until January, when the next owners meetings are scheduled. By mid-December, Moneyball should be off the domestic screens completely as moviegoers will be looking at blockbusters, Christmas movies, and the rush of Oscar nominees. Moneyball will be – for the public at least – out of sight, out of mind. Like the film’s stablemate, The Social Network, there could be a short Oscar-related re-release early in 2012, but there’s no guarantee of that.
That makes mid-January a pretty good time for an announcement to be made regarding a move to San Jose. It’s a brief respite after the hectic holidays and the big news of the hot stove period, and before spring training and the Oscars at the end of February. I’ve thought for some time that it was very important from a public relations standpoint not to time such a decision too early, as it could pull the rug out from Oakland and the movie. Even at this fairly late stage, the A’s plight is mostly ignored by mainstream press and most of America. The premiere and the initial run were the best exposure the City of Oakland has gotten in a long time, so an epilogue of the team shuttling off to San Jose would seem rather incongruous. Now the movie has made its money, so that cow has been sufficiently milked by the studio and MLB. The international markets who haven’t gotten the release yet are so far removed from the situation that they probably care little for the film’s environs.
Moreover, there’s a parallel story to this situation, and it relates to Billy Beane, the man. I’ve thought for some time now that even though Lew and Keith Wolff are working the ballpark deal, it’s Beane who is the linchpin to franchise being in San Jose, or rather, the Valley. The Wolffs and John Fisher are from old school, old money backgrounds, whereas Beane is the hip, now-legendary iconoclast. As we who live and work here know, the Valley loves its iconoclasts. For the A’s to attract and retain a lot of fast-moving tech companies as customers, it’s important for the A’s to maintain an image. For all intents and purposes, that image right now is Beane. Beane’s image has an intangibility that, unlike any currently playing ballplayers, is not terribly dependent on pure performance. It could even be argued that Beane is somewhat immune to appraisals of performance, as long as the ownership group is in lockstep with him.
If Cisco Field doesn’t come to fruition, what incentive is there for Beane to stay? Peter Gammons put it out there. The team would be put up for sale and would seem to be on its way out of the Bay Area. For Beane, the challenge isn’t just getting an extra $20-50 million to put into payroll. The A’s are simply incapable of being run as most other teams are, with full control over their revenues and environments. You have to think Beane wants that opportunity every bit as much as the extra payroll. Then he can shuttle back-and-forth along Coleman Avenue between Cisco Field and the Earthquakes Stadium, indulging both of his sporting passions.
Many have and will continue to argue that Beane’s role is overstated and his performance overrated. Regardless, he remains in high standing by the baseball literati and the business community. For now that’s what counts the most. It’ll help sell Cisco Field to everyone from SVLG’s C-levels to the average voter in San Jose who will be renting the DVD from Netflix or a Redbox next spring. Without Billy Beane, not only is there no Cisco Field, there probably is no Athletics franchise in the long run. At least not anywhere around here.