Jan 19

Moyer better blues

This post is dedicated to a real ’49er …

  • Jamie Moyer, who turns 50 on November 18, signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies with an invitation to Spring Training. Not that my expectations would be sky high, but I would have been curious to see Moyer, recovered from Tommy John surgery, in a Dodger uniform in March.
  • Here, The Platoon Advantage needs only four degrees of separation to connect Moyer to Babe Ruth and makes the case for six degrees between Moyer and Cap Anson.
  • Want to know what potential Dodger bidder Mark Cuban is up to this week? Just trying to change the business model of TV distribution.
  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com spoke to Cuban this week about why he’s interested in the Dodgers. “It’s an iconic team,” Cuban said. “There’s only a few franchises like that. And it’s always better to buy a team like that when they’re down.”
  • Bill Shaikin of the Times does the most thorough look of anyone yet at the threat of Frank McCourt keeping possession of the parking-lot-infused land surrounding Dodger Stadium. Because McCourt’s agreement with MLB doesn’t require him to sell that land, he can use it as a bargaining chip to extract more purchase money, hang on to it and draw millions in lease revenue from it, or do the very thing we imagined he’d do when he first bought the Dodgers eight years ago, develop it.

    As I’ve said in the past, though there’s a risk that some group will buy the Dodgers without the land, no one with the sense of a bullfrog should be willing to take the risk of remaining beholden to McCourt after the sale. Pay the man up front and get him out of Dodge.
  • The Miami Marlins appear to be the choice to succeed the San Francisco Giants as the featured team on Showtime’s baseball documentary series, “The Franchise,” Jon Weisman of Variety reports.
  • Still more from the TV front: John Ourand of Sports Business Journal explores how long MLB Advanced Media will keep its digital operations separate from TV rights sales. Stakes are high.
  • Renowned baseball historian Robert Creamer gave a lengthy interview with Graham Womack of Baseball Past and Present. His biography of Babe Ruth was one of the first serious baseball books I ever read. Here’s a small Dodger-related tidbit from the interview:

    … I first became intensely aware of big league baseball in the summer of 1931, when I was nine. My big brother, who was six years older than I, took me to my first major league game, or games — it was a doubleheader between the old New York Giants and the old Brooklyn Dodgers in the old Polo Grounds on the banks of the Harlem River in New York, below the steep hillside known as Coogan’s Bluff. John McGraw was still managing the Giants and Wilbert Robinson the Dodgers, who were generally known as the Robins. Headlines would sometimes refer to the Robins as “the Flock, as in flock of birds. I’m not sure if team nicknames were technically formal at that time. If not they soon were. Both McGraw and Robinson ended their managerial careers in 1932, and the Robins nickname soon disappeared as “Dodgers” returned. The new manager was Max Carey, whose real name was, I believe, “Canarius.” One sportswriter, Tom Meany, bowing to Max, suggested the team’s new nickname be the Canaries, but it didn’t take. …

  • “Moneyball” won approval across the pond, nabbing nominations for Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and the screenplay by Steven Zallian and Aaron Sorkin from the British Academy.
  • Our good friend Bob Timmermann wrote a terrific piece at L.A. Observed’s Native Intelligence about “L.A.’s Hall of Fame basketball coach who faded from memory,” Alex Hannum.
  • Timmermann also passes along this note: “RIP Patsy Tombaugh, wife of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who discovered Pluto. … She was also the great-aunt of one Clayton Kershaw.” Tombaugh was 99.
  • Dioner Navarro, who got a guaranteed $1 million from the Dodgers after finishing 2010 with a .528 OPS and an awkward departure from Tampa Bay, will go to Spring Training this year on a minor-league contract with the Reds after finishing 2011 with a .600 OPS and an awkward departure from Los Angeles. (Remembering 2011: Dioner Navarro.)
  • Vagabond former Dodger draft pick Preston Mattingly has hooked a minor-league contract with his dad’s former team, the Yankees. Mattingly, 24, reached base 50 times in Single-A last year.
  • Vicente Padilla signed a minor-league contract with Boston. He will compete for a spot in the starting rotation but could end up in the bullpen – health permitting, of course. (Remembering 2011: Vicente Padilla.)
  • Diamond Leung, former Dodger beat reporter for the Press-Enterprise, has been blogging on college basketball for ESPN.com but now will cover Michigan State hoops for MLive.com.
Dec 17

Saturday, out of the park

Catching up today on some news new and old. Many of these items were tweeted by me over the past several days – don’t hesitate to follow.

  • Bill Shaikin of the Times explains why Frank McCourt won’t renege on selling the Dodgers.
  • Here’s a great piece by Chad Moriyama on the lazy comparisons baseball folk have been making between potential big-leaguer Yu Darvish and other pitchers from Asia.
  • Roughly 40 percent of the 2012 Dodger roster will be at least 33 years old next year, writes Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness.
  • Vance Lovelace and Rick Ragazzo will have greater influence in the Dodger front office, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

    … Lovelace, previously a special assistant to the GM and director of player scouting, is now director of professional personnel. Ragazzo, previously a special assistant to the GM, is now director of pro scouting. …

    … Logan White remains assistant GM in charge for amateur (Draft) and international scouting and DeJon Watson remains assistant GM for player development (Minor Leagues). Tony Howell and Ken Bracey remain as special assistants to Colletti. …

  • More than five years ago, I wrote about the legal action over payment of former Dodger Paul Shuey’s 2004 salary. Amazingly, as Shaikin notes at the Times, the battle is still going on.
  • Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Don Drysdale, Orel Hershiser, Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, Ron Cey, Mike Scioscia, Tommy Lasorda, Walter Alston and Fernando Valenzuela will all be featured in one way or another among the Dodgers’ 2012 bobbleheads.
  • Rubby De La Rosa’s injury was costly to the Dodgers in more ways than one, notes Mike Newman of Fangraphs.
  • Edwin Jackson is a better sign than C.J. Wilson, writes Joe Sheehan at SI.com.
  • Dodger hitting guru Dave Hansen is holding a baseball camp for kids ages 7-15 beginning December 19, according to Roberto Baly at Vin Scully Is My Homeboy.
  • From Steve Dilbeck at the Times’ Dodgers Blog: “INK BLUE.”
  • Change in the National League West: San Diego traded Mat Latos to Cincinnati for Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger, while Colorado signed Michael Cuddyer for three years and $30 million. John Sickels has more on the Padres’ pickups at Minor League Ball, and there’s more reaction compiled at MLB Trade Rumors.
  • The Arizona Diamondbacks are going to recoup millions through a buyback of stadium construction bonds, reports Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal.
  • Kirk Gibson: The NL’s most untraditional manager? Maybe so, says Jacob Peterson of Beyond the Boxscore.
  • USC grad Jason Lane, 35 this month, is returning to his pitching roots to try to keep his baseball career alive.
  • Dwight Evans was one of my favorite non-Dodgers of my younger years. Here’s a nice piece on him by David Laurila at Fangraphs.
  • Harrison Ford has been cast as Branch Rickey and newcomer Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson in the film “42,” reports Justin Kroll of Variety.
  • “Moneyball” received four Golden Globe nominations from the decidedly unsporty Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the latest sign of appreciation for the film from a non-baseball audience.
  • A post at Variety’s On the Air blog by me extolls the virtues of “Bosom Buddies.”
Oct 06

Thursday news and notes

As Bryan Stow continues to gain ground

  • The Dodgers tweeted this photo of the team celebrating its 1963 World Series victory, 48 years ago today.
  • Another former Dodger in the managerial ranks: Robin Ventura has been hired by the White Sox. He has never managed or coached in professional baseball.
  • Billy Beane talked about “Moneyball” (among other topics) with Tyler Bleszinski of Athletics Nation.
  • Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness takes a long look at the market for a power hitter and finds the Dodgers’ options short.
  • Justine Siegel is keeping a journal of her experience at MLB Scout School; today she passes along a brief encounter with former Dodger executive Kim Ng. Also check out her previous entries.
  • Johnny Schmitz, who came to the Dodgers midway through the 1951 season, has passed away, according to the Wausau Daily Herald of Wisconsin (via Vin Scully Is My Homeboy). “For almost 50 years, Schmitz would walk across the street from his home on East Union Avenue to Mark’s Barber Shop every couple weeks to get his hair cut and talk with his longtime friend, barber Mark Resch,” the Daily Herald wrote.
  • Josh Fisher of Dodger Divorce offers his latest thoughts on the McCourts:

    … In the past, I’ve expressed regret that it’s had to come this far, and I still feel that way. There’s nothing left for Frank McCourt to win. Even if he bludgeons the bankruptcy court into allowing an auction of the TV rights over the sincere objection over several relevant parties, and even if he can somehow win an injunction forcing baseball to stay out of his franchise, Frank McCourt would escape this firestorm with an openly hostile customer base wholly uneager to support his ownership.

    There’s nothing left to win.

    I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the failure of Frank and Jamie McCourt to settle their differences amicably two years ago. At the heart of one of the most bitter and protracted public sagas to unfold in American sports was the simple failure of two people to realize they had more to lose by fighting than they could possibly gain.

    I don’t know what was happening behind closed doors two years ago today. I do know what’s happened in the press and in the courtroom since, though, and I suspect that fighting over a couple hundred million dollars might end up costing Frank and Jamie some multiple of whatever amount truly separated them. …

Sep 14

Dodgers open 2012 play April 5

Ready to put 2011 behind you? The Dodgers have released their preliminary 2012 schedule. After beginning this season on March 31, Opening Day 2012 comes on April 5 (a Thursday) at San Diego. Tony Jackson of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

The Los Angeles Dodgers will begin the 2012 regular season with a four-game series against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park April 5-8. Following an off-day, the team then will begin the home half of its schedule on April 10 against the Pittsburgh Pirates, kicking off a six-game homestand that also will include three more games against the Padres.

Major League Baseball released the 2012 regular-season schedule on Wednesday.

The interleague portion of the Dodgers’ schedule includes the usual six-game, home-and-home series with the Los Angeles Angels, who will visit Dodger Stadium June 11-13. The Dodgers then will play at Angel Stadium in Anaheim June 22-24.

Additionally, the Dodgers will host the Chicago White Sox June 15-17 and visit the Seattle Mariners June 8-10 and the Oakland A’s June 19-21.

The Dodgers will finish the first half with a four-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field July 5-8, then return home immediately after the All-Star break to begin the second half against the Padres on July 13.

The Dodgers finish the season at home with a six-game stand against the Colorado Rockies Sept. 28-30 and San Francisco Giants Oct. 1-3.

The schedule remains subject to change, and certain specifics such as starting times and day games/night games have yet to be finalized.

* * *

  • Former Dodgers executive and current Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall is profiled by Vincent Bonsignore of the Daily News in a story that is well worth your time.
  • The McCourt ownership saga, which has been in a quiet period of late, resurfaces today in a hearing in which attorneys for Frank and Jamie fight over bill payments and spousal support, reports Bill Shaikin of the Times. Shaikin notes that the all-important issue of whether McCourt will be allowed to auction the Dodgers’ future TV rights has been delayed indefinitely.
  • ESPN.com baseball analyst and former Blue Jays exec Keith Law reviewed “Moneyball” at his personal blog – and hated the film, both as cinema and as a depiction of the book.

    There’s no doubt the film takes liberties on the baseball front and has some legitimate flaws, but I disagree with Law on a number of points – such as the idea that the secondary characters, from Art Howe to the scouts, are one-dimensional buffoons. I think it’s very clear that these guys are real people, men to be respected, and that there’s a real conflict going on, not a steamrolling of ne’er-do-wells.

    At one point, Law criticizes the movie for staging a scene in which Beane crosses the country to discuss a trade in person with Cleveland’s general manager, because that wouldn’t happen, then later criticizes the movie for a scene in which Beane talks on the phone with the same GM, because it’s boring to watch him talk on the phone. Hard to win.

    I definitely expect some will be so put off by the film’s inaccuracies that they won’t be able to enjoy it, but I still think it stands up overall.

  • Here’s an excerpt of what Jackson wrote late Tuesday for ESPNLosAngeles.com on Chad Billingsley.

    … Billingsley’s pitch count was high again in this one, but that was mostly due to those first three innings. From the fourth on, we saw the dominating pitcher we know Billingsley can be, which makes it all the more maddening that we don’t see that guy more often.

    Those previous three starts lent themselves to all sorts of speculation, such as whether Billingsley was feeling OK physically. I went so far as to ask pitching coach Rick Honeycutt that question during last weekend’s series in San Francisco, whereupon Honeycutt said if Billingsley was hurting, he wasn’t admitting it. That appears to be a moot point now.

    What Honeycutt did say was that Billingsley had lost command of his fastball — the pitch that sets up the effectiveness of all his others — and it probably was a mechanical issue having to do with his release point. Whatever it was, it wasn’t much of a problem against the Diamondbacks. …

  • Update: Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com has a glowing portrait of Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw.
Sep 13

‘Moneyball’ hits with power


There’s a level of sincere humility to the film version of “Moneyball” that might shock those expecting to see it cloaked in arrogance.

Next to the question about whether the material in Michael Lewis’ book was viable for a movie in the first place, the most common shot I’ve seen taken at the idea of the film, which I saw a screening of Monday, is “what’s the point?” Because Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s have never reached the World Series, much less won it, why would they worthy of the big screen?

Putting aside the fact that this criteria would eliminate about a thousand works of art – “Rocky,” “The Bad News Bears,” “Major League,” the entire history of “Peanuts” – note this well: The Billy Beane of “Moneyball” would share the same question. No one is more acutely aware of the A’s shortcomings than he.

But “Moneyball” does have a story to tell, a worthwhile and engrossing one.  It is not a sermon. “Moneyball” is about faith in a calculated belief, and all the torment that comes when that faith is tested, and the unexpected kind of reward you can get for taking that test, no matter how it comes out. It’s a movie about a pursuit, not a coronation. It’s anything but a coronation.

It’s my belief that, while no movie is universally beloved, this approach opens the door for “Moneyball” to be accepted and enjoyed by those who took the book as a mockery of the game they love, by those who were entertained and embrace what was articulated in Lewis’ book, and by those who have no vested interest in the debate, or even the sport. It’s such a human movie – with Brad Pitt’s Beane a nuanced, multidimensional character, one with many faces  – that it’s not easily dismissed.

You won’t like everything Beane does in this movie – but that’s cool, because the character doesn’t even like himself completely. Yet you will clearly understand where he is coming from, and I find it hard to believe that most filmgoers won’t get on board with his journey. He cares so passionately, and the way he places his faith in a new system doesn’t, contrary to what some might think, mean he has no appreciation for what personalities and romance mean in the game.

Sharing credit with Steven Zallian (“Schindler’s List”), screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (“The West Wing,” “The Social Network”) famously worked on the long-percolating script, but the film doesn’t have what would be considered the classic Sorkin touches – monologues with overflowing words and hyper-articulate speech. Characters in “Moneyball” – most notably Beane himself, who is in nearly every scene – tend to get to the point quickly, often bluntly. Except for some moments, particularly early in the film, when there are talking points disguised as dialogue (“It’s an unfair game,” a paraphrase of the subtitle of Lewis’ book, is spoken), the dialogue is naturalistic.

And yet, as the movie goes on, increasingly electric. There are numerous scenes with very sharp, pointed exchanges – make no mistake, there is a fierce tug o’ war going on in Oakland and in the game – and in particular, the depiction of the July 31 trading deadline maneuverings is really cracking good fun.

The storytelling is formulaic in the strictest sense of what the sports film formula is, but the scenes themselves don’t really feel that way. This is buoyed by the fact that the film, despite whatever liberties it takes here and there, is grounded in what did happen. But there isn’t a dead or cloying scene in the film – there’s a purpose to each and every one.  “Moneyball” isn’t a short movie, coming in at 133 minutes, but its pacing, under the direction of Bennett Miller (“Capote”) is excellent. (I’d add that Mychael Danna’s music, at times minimalist, at times evoking the loveliness of television’s “Friday Night Lights” and at times appropriately grand, is a real boon to the film.)

The film also isn’t a comedy, but there’s plenty of humor, most of it almost catching you almost by surprise. That being said, the thing that might amuse baseball fans the most is the idea of how much life-and-death importance is placed on names like Jeremy Giambi and Ricardo Rincon. (And pity poor Mike Magnante.)

There are brief sidelights into Beane’s personal life – which some might interpret as mere lip service to entice female viewers. I would argue instead that in the best sense, they’re economical (given the film’s existing length, almost necessarily so). They inform the lead character of the movie, leaving for you to infer what you don’t see, while playing a wonderfully unexpected role in the film’s climax.

Evan Agostini/APChris Pratt, Jonah Hill, Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman and director Bennett Miller at a panel for “Moneyball” during the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

While Pitt anchors the film, Jonah Hill’s performance as Peter Brand – the character that takes the place of former A’s (and Dodger) executive Paul DePodesta, is the film’s second-most pleasant surprise.

Hill’s casting was the red flare for fans of DePodesta and/or the book, a vexing warning that the advanced analysis underscored in the book would be played for laughs the same way as, say, Hill’s quest for booze and sex in “Superbad.” Instead, Hill plays Brand in reserved, endearing fashion. He’s the twigs and branches for Beane’s fire.

I do think that fans in the know have to let go of the idea that Brand is DePodesta – despite whatever similarities there are, the differences are too obvious to ignore. But whether you think of Brand as Brand or as DePodesta, I think the character works much better than you’d expect, and in ways different than you’d expect. While Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Oakland manager Art Howe, offers an even starker example of what I would call dynamic restraint, it’s Hill who carries the most secondary weight to Pitt.

Where are the movie’s flaws? There are certainly moments where the conversation feels forced, with thinly disguised talking points. But probably for me, the baseball scenes, which were praised for their authenticity by panelists at the Variety Sports Entertainment Summit in July, don’t measure up to that standard. Miller mixes real-life footage with the newly filmed scenes, and it’s not so much that the mix doesn’t work, but that it really highlights how different the re-creations look. In fact, there’s a stylistic approach to some of the baseball scenes that all but removes any pretense of reality. It’s probably the one part of the movie that doesn’t seem to have been executed with authority.

Elsewhere, the script shortcuts some explanations of Beane’s rationale. In general, although the “Moneyball” philosophy is about broader ideas about value in the marketplace – and this is definitely alluded to – some viewers might be left with the impression that it’s only about on-base percentage. In particular, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Beane at one point comes down hard against bunting and the stolen base, and Old School fans might think this is where he’s gone mad.  The fights that Beane has with Howe over the Oakland starting lineup struck me as more black-and-white than they probably were in real life. There are other small details that rang a bit false, and some fussing with the real-life timeline, but I would venture to call these quibbles.

In the end, I think “Moneyball” is an important film for baseball fans. Whether you bought into the book or ignored it, “Moneyball” was (next to angst over performance-enhancing drugs) the central conflict of baseball in the past decade. The film puts forth this debate in a richly entertaining way, making it clear why it was such a big deal without falsely overstating its legacy.

I honestly don’t expect I’ll see many better movies than “Moneyball” in 2011, and I think it will get serious consideration for an Oscar nomination – though, appropriate to the team it depicts, it will probably fall short of winning. But the thing is, I’ve been comparing it to “The Social Network” for a long time now, but I’m not sure “Moneyball” is not a better film. I think most will view “Social Network” as having told a more important, more timely story. But the character at the heart of “Moneyball” and his personal story are more compelling, possibly more universal. I told you that Hill was the second-most pleasant surprise in the film – the most pleasant surprise is how much “Moneyball” rang true to me even after you strip all the baseball away.

Sep 08

Variety gives ‘Moneyball’ strong review

My Variety colleague Peter Debruge reviewed “Moneyball,” which premiered today at the Toronto Film Festival. Here are the first and last paragraphs:

Throwing the conventional sports-movie formula for a curve, “Moneyball” defies the logic that auds need a rousing third-act championship game to clinch their interest. Instead, writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin resurrect the old adage “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game” to drive this uncannily sharp, penetrating look at how Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane helped reinvent baseball based on statistics rather than conventional wisdom. Sparing auds the technicalities but not the spirit of financial reporter Michael Lewis’ business-of-baseball bestseller, “Moneyball” should appeal beyond — if not always to — the game’s fans. …

Another approach might have treated the source material as exposition for a more conventional baseball story, but “Moneyball” is content to draw back the curtain and find drama in the dealings. Miller’s low-key style suits that strategy nicely, breaking up shop-talk scenes with artful, quiet moments in which Beane steps away from the action, nicely captured by d.p. Wally Pfister. Though Soderbergh’s talking-heads idea fell by the wayside, the end result does employ a fair number of documentary techniques, cutting to MLB footage to illustrate the team’s on-field performance and featuring a score by Mychael Danna that echoes Philip Glass’ work on several Errol Morris pics.

“Moneyball” officially opens in theaters September 23.

Aug 25

Rounding the bases: The journey of ‘Moneyball’ to the big screen

The serpentine journey of “Moneyball” from bookstores to the big screen is given perhaps its most detailed portrayal yet in this piece by writer and Dodger Thoughts amigo Bennett Cohen for San Francisco magazine.

… Starting in 2004, the evolution of the screenplay proceeded in typical Hollywood fashion: One writer after another was brought in to either polish or rewrite it entirely. In the movie business, writers tend to be treated the way the Pony Express treated horses: Ride them until they drop, and then get another, who might make the movie funnier, sexier, more exciting, or just plain better. It’s not clear how many writers or drafts Moneyball had, but four writers, including three of Hollywood’s elite, shaped the project more than any others.

I’ve read one version by each of them, versions I ferreted out online, where some screenplays meant to be confidential end up as PDFs. (Leaking scripts is common in Hollywood, but none of these was slipped to me.) Honestly, I’ve yet to read one that was bad. They’re not even wildly different from one another. But the changes from one to the next make for a fascinating case study of how Hollywood deals with true-life material and will have particular meaning to Bay Area folks, who know this baseball history and have a stake in seeing it represented accurately. Could Hollywood do justice to Billy Beane’s complicated personality and the reality of what has happened to the A’s since 2002, the time of the triumphant story told in the book? …

Jul 13

Going deep with ‘Moneyball’

Morning briefing …

Dave McNary of Variety has an in-depth look at the development and prospects of upcoming film “Moneyball,” which hits theaters in about two months.

You know about Roger Owens, but Steve Lopez of the Times profiles another longtime Dodger Stadium peanut vendor, Ronnie Nelsen.

This post is dedicated to actor Roberts Blossom, who passed away Friday. Blossom was featured in one of my favorite episodes of television ever, the “Cicely” episode of “Northern Exposure.”