Chavez disputes 'Moneyball' portrayal
TAMPA, Fla. -- The movie "Moneyball," based on the landmark book by Michael Lewis, is an entertaining fantasy. So says Eric Chavez, one of the players who was a main cog on that 2002 Oakland Athletics team, but is not mentioned in the cinematic depiction when multiple reasons are given for the success of that 103-win season.
The filmmakers would have you believe that the A's won the American League West and put together an AL record 20-game winning streak because Oakland general manager Billy Beane used statistical analysis to mine the likes of heretofore unheralded first baseman Scott Hatteberg, side-armed relief specialist Chad Bradford and an aging David Justice, whose contract was mostly paid by the Yankees.
But the common criticism from most baseball people is that the scriptwriters ignore the fact that Beane also took advantage of a young and athletic core in Chavez, shortstop Miguel Tejada and starting pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson.
"Those are some pretty good players," Chavez told MLB.com earlier this week. "I saw the movie and it wasn't a realistic view of what happened there. It's easy to say you had a formula and it worked. They drafted really well. We were fortunate to have young guys come together at the same time and play really well together. Billy has tried to do it again over the last few years, but it's hard to duplicate. It's hard to do. It's a slippery slope when you start saying you have an equation for success."
The discussion is germane again because it is Oscar Sunday tonight in Hollywood and "Moneyball" has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Brad Pitt as Best Actor in the role of Beane.
A decade later, Chavez is a bit player now on the verge of being re-signed by the Yankees as a backup corner infielder and designated hitter. Drafted by the A's No. 10 overall out of Mount Carmel High School in north San Diego County during the 1996 First-Year Player Draft, Chavez starred for the 2000-2003 A's teams that lost four consecutive AL Division Series in five games.
When the A's finally did ascend to the ALCS in 2006, the Tigers swept them. Oakland hasn't been back to the playoffs since.
There were some fatal flaws in the A's system that led to the team's demise. The movie depicts Beane and a young assistant played by Jonah Hill trying to think outside the box when first baseman Jason Giambi leaves for big bucks in New York after the 2001 season. With limited resources, Beane had to pick and choose when it came to re-signing his own players.
Beane ultimately let Tejada and Zito go to free agency and traded Mulder and Hudson, receiving six players in those deals who never had much of an impact on the Major League club save for pitcher Dan Haren, also later traded.
A product himself of Mount Carmel High, Beane scouted Chavez personally and was in love with the player. Using those limited resources through two ownerships, Beane locked up Chavez in 2004, signing him to a six-year, $66 million extension. Chavez then broke down, suffered through multiple back and shoulder surgeries and played in only 154 games in his last four seasons in Oakland.
Strike two and three.
Chavez still wonders what it would have been like for the A's had he remained healthy. He still blames it on himself that the franchise suffered because he couldn't play at his expected level. But then, a GM has to make his choices, whether they are based on advanced metrics or on the feeling in his own gut, and then has to live with them. Regardless of the measure, no one has a crystal ball that will allow him to predict future production based on past performance.
"I'm not sure how my injuries played from an organizational standpoint, but it couldn't have been good," said Chavez, who is only 34. "I regret not being [able] to help them win more games. I regret that completely. That's one of the reasons I told Billy that it would be hard for me to continue playing there because back in the day I was such a productive player. I told him, 'I don't know if I can ever get back to being that type of player. In the fans' eyes it would always be underachieving.' For me, it was very frustrating. Billy agreed completely."
Chavez says he still talks to Beane regularly and, back to the movie, he added that Pitt couldn't have been more dead on in his characterization of the GM, whose own self doubts led to failure as a projected five-tool player once drafted high by the New York Mets.
Like many observers, Chavez said that Phillip Seymour Hoffman's depiction of then manager Art Howe couldn't have been more fictional.
"It was completely opposite," he said. "Physically, not even close. Demeanor, not even close. Art was very quiet. Not very outspoken at all. I never heard one thing about a contract dispute during that time. The way some of the guys were portrayed in the clubhouse I wasn't very fond of, either. During the 20-game streak, go back and look at the numbers put up by Tejada and myself. Our number four or five starter went 5-0."
We checked. It was the late Cory Lidle, who was actually 3-0 during that streak. Tejada batted .379 with three homers and 17 RBIs. Chavez hit .329 with six homers and 28 RBIs. They both played in all 20 games. To the chagrin of Chavez, none of that was mentioned in the film.
"Part of Hollywood has to go into a movie to make it interesting for the normal fan," Chavez said. "I'm happy it was a success. But for somebody who was there, you just want it to be portrayed for what it was."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.