If memory serves, I went to see Moneyball in the theater when it came out. Though the movie lays it on pretty thick, and often veers into pure schmaltz, I think it’s a pretty good flick. I re-watched it because I remembered there being some minor league elements, and felt obliged to include it in the Minors in the Movies series.
Those minor league elements were indeed there, but were very peripheral to the story. They existed in two separate realms–one being Billy Beane’s flashbacks to struggling as a young ballplayer and the other being players in the present tense, displayed on grainy film footage operated by Jonah Hill’s character. In all cases, I was very impressed by the authenticity and accuracy of the teams and time periods depicted.
The first glimpse we get of a minor league team is a reenactment of Billy Beane’s time with the Tidewater Tides in 1985, with Brad Pitt lookalike Reed Thompson serving as the young version of Billy. Beane’s real-life path through the Mets’ farm system included stops in Little Falls, NY, Lynchburg, VA, and the best parts of three seasons stalled out in Jackson, TX. ’85 was his first crack at Triple-A, though it came after his MLB debut–five games for the Mets in ’84.
The Tidewater Tides were an unmistakable Met affiliate in those days, and the film gives an accurate representation of Tidewater’s uniforms at the time. The striped pillbox caps were ubiquitous in the International League in 1983, but I didn’t realize until now that Tidewater kept their caps after the other clubs had moved on. This might require some more research. Hmm….
The tides turned for Billy Beane after that season, as he was traded to the Twins. Minnesota assigned him to play for the fabled Toledo Mud Hens. Another flashback shows this time in Billy’s career.
I had to do a bunch of pausing and rewinding to definitively verify the opposing team in this scene, but it is unmistakably the Syracuse Chiefs. This opponent is perfectly natural for the Mud Hens, then as now, and the uniforms we see are accurate to what Syracuse wore in those days. A lot of effort and money went into getting these details correct, and it’s a shame that we have to a freeze-frame it in order to see an “EF” on the pitcher’s chest lettering. It would be nice to have a clear shot of the full opponent. Still, so cool.
Incidentally, Billy Beane played on the 1988 Toledo team, sharing a roster with Billy Bean, who would become the first openly gay baseball player. One of my favorite bits of Mud Hen trivia.
After a bunch of movie time passes, we find ourselves out of flashback mode and into the movie’s present, which is the early 2000s. As depicted in a film from the early 2010s. I feel old. Anyway, our next minor league mention is a brief shot of Beane’s computer screen, which basically shows the stats of a minor league player in the White Sox system in the late nineties/early aughts, with one year tacked on in the Oakland system. Here we see stat lines for the Hickory Crawdads, Winston-Salem Warthogs, Birmingham Barons, Calgary Cannons, Charlotte Knights, and Sacramento River Cats–plus the White Sox and A’s.
At the risk of sounding like a minor league geek, I will admit that yes, I did identify the player. Since this is basically identical to a Baseball Reference minors page, all I had to do was click on the season entry for one of the teams listed and match the stats. It took about thirty seconds to identify Chad Bradford, which makes sense since he is one of the primary players in the Moneyball story. Nice accuracy!
The next time we see a minor league team is when Jonah Hill’s character shows Beane some film footage of a young minor leaguer named Kevin Youkilis. While Hill raves about the “Greek God of Walks,” we see someone (maybe Youk himself?) taking swings in a Lowell Spinners uniform.
This one took a bunch of freeze-framing to get halfway decent images, but that wordmark logo with the yarn-spindle letter I is unmistakable–not to mention the Red Sox logo on the sleeve patch.
As it happens, Youkilis did indeed spend part of a season with Lowell, and the uniform shown here–navy blue over white pants–was one of the Spinners’ looks in that era. All is accurate, and I wonder if that is actually footage of the real Greek God from his days in the New York-Penn League. There’s a chance, right?
The next minor mention is one that I absolutely remember from when I first watched the movie. Billy Beane is driving through Northern California while talking to his daughter on speaker phone. The A’s are on the cusp of winning their 20th consecutive game, and his daughter asks something like “Are you at the stadium right now?” Beane/Pitt says “No, I’m on my way to Visalia to see our minor league team.” This is (of course) the Visalia Oaks of the California League. I remember seeing that and thinking “he’s talking about the Visalia Oaks! That is accurate since the Oaks were an Oakland affililiate! Maybe I am a minor league geek after all…” OK, I can’t remember exactly what I thought at the time, but that’s the gist.
The Oaks appear again in a very memorable part of the movie, right near the end. Jonah Hill uses some more grainy video to cheer up Brad Pitt after he turned down the offer to be the Red Sox GM. You know the scene…the one with the chubby guy who falls down rounding first base when he doesn’t realize he hit a home run. Hill identifies him as a Visalia player, and this is definitely what we see. Note the classic V-squirrel logo in the dugout.
But what is that opposing team, you might ask? Well, if that G poking out from the catcher’s chest protector didn’t give it away, it is the San Jose Giants. As the large Oak does his home run trot, we see some clearer images.
And that, my friends, is the full extent of minor league coverage in Moneyball. Though this is definitely not a minor league movie, the attention to detail and authenticity is very admirable. I tip my cap to whoever was responsible for these production details. Perhaps they were a minor league geek themselves.
Click here to read more entries in the Minors in the Movies series.