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Posts Tagged ‘Moneyball’

“We’re all told at some point and time that we can no longer play the child’s game. We just don’t know when that time will be. Some of us are told at 18. Some of us are told at 40. But we’re all told.”
—Baseball scout in Moneyball

My first experiences with organized baseball. (Front row, left of center in both photos.) Johnny Bolton was a Ford Dealership in Maitland, Florida. Looks like a casting call for the movie “The Sandlot.”

In the summer of 1970, I went to a baseball game at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati and it was my first live experience with Major League Baseball. The stadium was brand new and (if my memory is correct) there were about 50,000 in attendance for that summer game. I was nine years old and had never been anywhere with 50,000 people in one place. It was mesmerizing. Our seats were in left field weren’t great, but I had nothing to compare it to so I was thrilled. Watching MLB games at that point in my life were mostly starring at a 19″ black and white TV that picked up four channels with a rabbit ears antenna. Though I was raised in Central Florida, Disney World was still a year away from opening. I don’t remember anything about the game. But I have a photograph in my mind of a banner in right field that read “Rose Garden.” It was there because that’s where Pete Rose was positioned.

If you wanted to tell the story of professional baseball in one person, you couldn’t go wrong picking Pete Rose. (The short list would include Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Ty Cobb.) But with Rose you get high levels of both success and failure—highs and lows. He holds the Major League Baseball record for total hits (4256), played in 17 All Star games, was a key player on the Cincinnati Reds who won two World Series in the ’70s—and in 1989 he became the first player since 1943 banned from baseball for life.

And while his gambling on baseball games while a manager for the Reds also prevents him from being voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, there are still several Rose references in the Hall of Fame including this jersey when he was a part of what was known as The Big Red Machine.

From Little League through high school, his gung-ho style of play was what I tried to emulate the most. When I was around 12, I got to attend a baseball clinic that Rose did at Tinker Field in Orlando. I’m seated in the back next to his right knee in the photo below. (Oddly wearing a Miami Dolphin football jersey if I remember correctly.) I don’t remember anything about that day except Rose said there was a mix-up and he didn’t have his Reds uniform with him. But it was still a cool life experience to have in your past.

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My own personal baseball hall of fame with memorabilia from my youth. Including a flip book I wrote simply called “Baseball.”

I didn’t blaze any Pete Rose-like trails in my playing days, but I did make some All-Star teams and played on two of the best teams in Lake Howell school history. My senior year we had a 14 game winning streak and won our conference. (The year after I left, Dave Martinez played at Lake Howell on his way to going pro as a player, and as a manager leading the Washington Nationals in becoming the 2019 World Series champs.)

I played my last real baseball game at age 18—and never was able to grow a proper mustache.

Baseball and baseball movies have brought me many wonderful experiences and memories over the years. Rose being banned from baseball didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks because I was a grown man and had seen plenty of the darker side of humanity by then.

My next post will look at talent as it relates to baseball, filmmaking, and screenwriting.

P.S. Unfortunately, the real story of interest to my playing days may be one of the guys I played baseball with in high school went on to be known as “Columbian Jake” where he became involved in underage sex tourism in Medellin—a bad career choice—and ended up getting busted and died allegedly by suicide in a Columbian prison in 2017. I’m sure there is a story there, but I really don’t care to know any more than what I read in a couple of articles. How in the world did this post start out talking about Little League baseball in Florida and end up with a dead gringo in a prison in Latin America? Because truth is stranger than fiction.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“I believe science might offer the answer to the Curse of the Bambino.”
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)
Moneyball

Screen Shot 2020-02-24 at 10.29.53 PM

Babe Ruth when he played for the Boston Red Sox

My love for traveling is rooted in not traveling much until I was 19-years-old, and following baseball as a kid. Cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Boston were linked in my mind to baseball teams. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to go to baseball games in all of those cities.

On a flight to Boston yesterday, I starting reading the novel Shoeless Joe which the movie  Field of Dreams is based on. It didn’t occur to me until then that two of my top ten sports movies have scenes in Boston’s Fenway Park.

Field of Dreams came out in 1989 and Moneyball in 2011, and though I’ve watched them both many times over the years I just never aligned them like I did on my flight to Boston. I’ll give an asset to The Rewatchables podcast for putting them on my radar again.

If you don’t know either film, the following scenes will be out of context. But both scenes at Fenway Park play an important role in the stories they are telling.

And as a Fenway Park bonus track—from a non-sports movie—here’s Sean (Robin Williams) talking about his Red Sox memory in Good Will Hunting.

P.S. Aaron Sorkin who co-wrote the screenplay for Moneyball says that he is drawn to stories about key times of transition and Moneyball qualifies. Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane embraced Sabermetrics based on the work of statistician Bill James.  A new way of mining data on ball players to evaluate talent and productivity. It’s credited with helping the Boston Red Sox winning four World Series titles since 2004. “The curse of Bambino” was what some called the effect of the Boston Red Sox trading Babe Ruth to New York Yankee back in the day.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

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When you have a clear idea of a plot, write out the entire story as interestingly as you can. Keep in mind that the audience is not interested in seeing actions which people do generally, but in seeing what specific actions specific persons do in specific circumstances.”
Screenwriter Frances Marion 
How to Write and See Film Stories (1937)

Moneyball is a movie I adore and return to often. Here are two scenes from that movie that show something specific about the game of professional baseball. But they are also  scenes that are universal. Since people throughout time have had to do some kind of work to survive and be productive in this world —getting fired or firing people is a part of life.

And Office Space is another work related movie that comes to mind as unpacking specifically what Peter (Ron Livingston) does in a given day to avoid being fired. It’s a great scene because of the twist at the end.

And another scene that comes to mind dealing with specificity is from Breaking Bad.

You don’t have to be a fan of baseball, work in a cubical, or have an interest in chemistry/meth to enjoy the stories of Moneyball, Office Space, and Breaking Bad because the writers drilled deep into the specific aspects of the characters.

P.S. Speaking of work . . . over the weekend I made significant progress on lining up details for the release of my book this month.

Scott W. Smith

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“At the end of the day, we all hope that what we’re doing will be of some value.”
Producer/actor Brad Pitt

On this repost Saturday I’m reaching back to a post I just wrote two years ago. I know many people in the sporting world are in a football state of mind this week since the 2013 college football season began this week.

But I’m in a baseball state of mind because I went to a memorial service yesterday for Coach Mike Ferrell. He was my JV baseball coach my freshman year of high school. Some people only come into your life for a season but still leave an impact. Coach Ferrell was one of those people in my life.

I can’t remember what our record was that year I played on his team. I can’t even remember a single game. But I remember Coach Ferrell. My defining memory of him was when I was going through a batting slump and he allowed me hit extra in batting practice. Next game I got two hits. Little things like a coaches confidence in you to do better and a lesson about perseverance go a long way in life.  (Passion, patience, practice and persistence are a great combination any endeavour.)

He was a good man. A fair man. And he loved the game of baseball–and it showed in his affections for his players and wanting them to play the game well. I learned at the memorial service that he “mowed his lawn every four days.” That made sense. He was a man of precision, of detail.

Looking back I realize that Coach Ferrell would have only been 25-26 years old when he was coaching that year.  Young, but every bit the leader.  And while mowing your lawn every four days won’t change the world, it does reveal a glimpse into the character of a man who would invest 37 years in the public school system teaching and coaching young men and women.

Character building stuff that impacts lives in positive ways. And there’s great value in that.

A special thanks to the teachers and coaches out there investing in the lives of others. And may peace be with Coach Ferrell’s wife and family.

Here’s the post that first ran September 30, 2011—then titled Filmmaking Quote #24 (Brad Pitt):

“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball.”
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt)
Moneyball 

Today I saw Moneyball starring Brad Pitt and loved everything about it.* It completed a week where by happenstance I followed the Brad Pitt trail.

Last Saturday while on location shooting a video project I drove by Shawnee, Oklahoma where Brad was born. A few days later I drove through Springfield, Missouri where he was raised and went to high school. The next day I was on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia where he went to college.

The first time I recall seeing him act was in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and it was one of those scene stealing performances where I wondered, “Who the heck is this guy?” Within four years, and after his performances in A River Run Through It, Legends of the Fall, and Se7en—everyone knew who Brad Pitt was. And while he’s a tremendous actor, personally I haven’t appreciated many of the movies he’s been in the past 15 years.

Moneyball goes down in my book as the perfect Brad Pitt movie.  (I haven’t seen Tree of Life yet, but I’m guessing it’s going to be a solid film, but a solid Terrance Malick film.)  That’s not to take anything away from Moneyball’s director (Bennett Miller) or screenwriters (Steven Zillian and Aaron Sorkin), it’s just that their talents all came together to tell a great story that is driven by an actor in his prime. And my guess is that they’ll all be rewarded when the Oscar nominations are announced. (Update: Moneyball received six Oscar-nominations and won the AFI Award for Movie of the Year.)

“(Moneyball) is about how we value things. How we value each other; how we value ourselves; and how we decide who’s a winner based on those values.  The film questions the very idea of how to define success. It places great value on this quiet, personal victory, the victory that’s not splashed across the headlines or necessarily results in trophies, but that, for Beane, became a kind of personal Everest.  At the end of the day, we all hope that what we’re doing will be of some value, that it will mean something and I think that is this character’s quest.”
Brad Pitt
Moneyball: Interview with Brad Pitt

* I will admit that baseball was my first love which is part of what is so special to me about this movie. From rooting for Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine and to going to spring training games at Tinker Field in Orlando as a kid, to playing the game through high school, and as an adult going to games at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, and Yankee Stadium, the idea of baseball has been a constant companion even though I don’t follow the game much any more. But even if baseball is foreign to you, I think Moneyball works on so many levels you can enjoy the movie even if you’re not a fan of the game.

Related posts:

Brad Pitt & the Future of Journalism
Writing “Se7en”
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 1)
Writer Jim Harrison (Part 2)
Off-Screen Quote #20 (Rod Carew #29)

Scott W. Smith

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“I [write] everyday: bankers’ hours—10 a.m. to 4:00—5:00 p.m. It’s a job…On a script that goes well, I’d say I spend three months outlining and two months writing. That’s ideal.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (Shindler’s List)
Script Magazine
Interview with Ray Morton

P.S. And for what it’s worth, Zaillian writes on a legal pad sitting at his back patio. He also wrote Moneyball, Searching for Bobby Fischer Awakenings The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

P.P.S. You may not be able to write bankers’ hours, nor able to dedicate 6 or 7 hours to writing, but it is beneficial to think of screenwriting as a job and to do it everyday—even if you just chip away at it an hour a day.

Scott W. Smith

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