How can you not be romantic about baseball?
-- Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in "Moneyball"
ST. LOUIS -- So here they were, the two managers of World Series teams on a rainout day with one or two more games in a long Major League Baseball season, talking about a baseball movie in the same conversation as Derek Holland and Chris Carpenter availability.
Tony La Russa was a longtime Oakland manager and Ron Washington was a longtime Oakland coach, so they certainly have ties to an A's franchise that was the basis for "Moneyball." It has been a little more than a month since the movie premiered, and it definitely got a publicity bump on Wednesday as both managers talked about it in their interview sessions.
La Russa said he was going to see it Wednesday night, throwing a zinger at the emphasis away from human scouting, although he and the Cardinals are known to routinely place much importance on sabermetric analysis. The topic came up when he was asked about David Freese twice swinging at the first pitch following walks in the Cardinals' Game 5 loss at Texas.
"Well, because it's our tribute to all the scouts and baseball people that were dissed by 'Moneyball,' that's why I walked out of 'Moneyball' -- actually going to see it tonight," he said with a grin. Then when asked if he really walked out, he said, "No, I'm going to see it tonight."
Pressed for an answer, La Russa said: "I think Brad Pitt is a great actor."
"On-base percentage is one of the most dangerous concepts of the last seven, eight years because it forces some executives and coaches and players to think that it's all about getting on base by drawing walks, and the fact is that the guys that have the best on-base percentage are really dangerous hitters whenever they get a pitch in the strike zone," La Russa said.
"So if the pitcher knows that and the catcher knows that, they work the edges, and pretty soon it's 2-1, 2-1 rather than 0-1 all the time. ... You watch your productive hitters in the big leagues, and they get a chance to drive in a run, they look for the first good strike, and the better the pitching, especially this time of the year, you get that first strike, that may be the last one that you get to see. So you'd better be ready to swing early.
"But that danger creates counts and deep -- it's not sitting up there and taking strike one, strike two so that you can work the count. I mean, I think most people would agree with that. So he was ... did he get a good pitch to hit? And in fact against [Alexi] Ogando he did. He just flied out. ... the second time, too."
Washington's daily session with the media followed La Russa's, and he was told that his counterpart was going to see "Moneyball." Washington attended the premiere Sept. 20 in Oakland, where he met character actor Brent Jennings, who portrayed him. The Rangers manager has talked about "Moneyball" frequently during this season, at one point saying that he was "not that fat."
"I was in Oakland when all of that happened, and to me it was a great movie about a general manager that was hamstrung as far as dollars go, and he had to find players and put them together under a formula that he thought would work," Washington said. "That's what the movie was about.
"You know, I realize they didn't mention Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, [Barry] Zito, [Tim] Hudson, [Mark] Mulder, but that wasn't what it was about.
"I liked the movie, and I'm a big fan of Billy Beane. He gave me an opportunity to become a Major League coach, and he trusted me with his young talent. I think I got this opportunity to manage because he gave me a rousing review to the Texas Rangers, and [general manager] Jon Daniels and [former Rangers owner Tom] Hicks loved what I brought to the table and gave me an opportunity to manage a big league club. ... The things that you accomplish in life, it always comes from other people extending themselves to help you."
There is an already-classic scene in the movie where Pitt's Beane character visits the home of Scott Hatteberg, accompanied by Jennings as Washington. Hatteberg points out that he is not a first baseman, which is where Beane saw him fitting in, according to the movie.
"It's not that hard, Scott," Beane says in the movie. "Tell him, Wash."
"It's incredibly hard," Washington says.
Washington was asked Wednesday if that actually happened in real life.
"Yes, it did, but it happened in Phoenix," Washington said. "Of course it's Hollywood, but those words were definitely spoken when Billy told Hatteberg that it would be a very easy transition to first base, and then when he sent it to me. I've always been a matter-of-fact guy, and I just point-blank told Hatteberg that it's going to be difficult: 'But if you're willing to put in the time, we can get this done.'
"And I think anyone that knows Scott Hatteberg, he's not a timid guy, and he certainly turned himself into a very good first baseman that year because of the work and the dedication and the commitment that he put in. So that did happen, it just didn't happen in Hatteberg's home."
On Tuesday, the FOX Los Angeles affiliate's morning show had Jennings on as a guest, and he said, "I'm not nearly as interesting as Ron Washington." He said he told Washington at the premiere: "Hey, I'm playing you, and I just really hope everything is cool, I hope you don't walk away upset."
Jennings said he never got to ask Washington what he thought about it. "He has a great sense of humor, and I think that comes off in the movie," Jennings said. "He certainly has an acute knowledge of the game. One of the things I found out while working on the movie was that he has a lot of respect for his knowledge of the game."