The baseball-themed movie “Moneyball” is based on a true story, about real people – with one exception: Peter Brand.
Jonah Hill portrays Brand, a Yale-educated research geek, who can crunch numbers and come up with canny suggestions about finding true baseball diamonds in the rough.
The character of Brand is an invention by the filmmakers; in the excellent Michael Lewis non-fiction book upon which the movie is based, the real-life “Brand” is identified as Paul DePodesta. Unlike Brand, DePodesta is slender, fit and handsome. He’s also Harvard-educated (not a Yalie – screenwriter Aaron Sorkin‘s private joke).
Currently, DePodesta is a Vice President of player development with the New York Mets – having also made stops with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, after splitting from Beane and the A’s 18 months after the 2002 season upon which “Moneyball” is based.
DePodesta, who prefers to stay in the background, was the only real-life individual depicted in the movie who refused to allow his name to be used.
Those are the bullet-points, now here’s the “rest of the story”, as old-time radioman Paul Harvey used to say.
In the movie, Brand comes off as something of an unsung hero.
But in real life, DePodesta actually had his moment in the spotlight – when at the tender age of 31, in February 2004, he was named general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The glare proved to be too harsh. He lasted just two seasons, and was unceremoniously canned after the 2005 season – during which the injury-riddled Dodgers compiled their worst record in 11 years. (They did, however, go to the playoffs in 2004.)
The pontifical judgment of sportswriters in L.A., and indeed most of baseball at the time, was that young Mr. DePodesta was “in over his head”, and his “Moneyball” sabermetric theories were a flop.
But the judgment of history plays out over a longer period of time. Look at the players DePodesta brought in – usually for little or no significant outlay in cash – and what has subsequently happened to them:
Jayson Werth – Hired by DePodesta for peanuts, but let go by the Dodgers after his firing, Werth went on to become an All-Star outfielder with the Philadelphia Phillies – who not coincidentally also won
two World Series title s while he was there. While with the Dodgers, however, Werth was beset by one injury after another.
He now is with the Washington Nationals, after signing a seven-year, $126 million deal.
Though manager Jim Tracy let him warm the Dodgers’ bench for two years after DePodesta acquired him, now Ross is a popular star outfielder for the World Champion San Francisco Giants; he was MVP of the 2010 N.L. Pennant playoff series.
Milton Bradley – A gifted player with some off-field problems, and challenging interpersonal skills, Bradley was a solid hitter in two seasons with the Dodgers after DePodesta traded to get him from Cleveland. When it became clear Bradley had to be let go, because of his personality clashes (among other issues), the Dodgers traded him along with Antonio Perez, another top DePodesta acquisition, to Oakland for Andre Ethier (who had been drafted & signed by Oakland while DePodesta was there).
Andre Ethier – Amazingly, after DePodesta left, the Dodgers’ braintrust wasted almost two years of Ethier’s career by contending they couldn’t find a place in the lineup to play him. They even sent him to the minors. When Ethier finally got a chance to play, he was a .300+ hitter. In 2011, he was elected to the All-Star team. Interestingly, Colletti seems to suggest Ethier, whose season was cut short by knee surgery, is a malingerer. Colletti treated injured catcher Russell Martin similarly in 2010, and let him leave without compensation.
Jeff Kent – A former MVP with the Giants, possibly a future Hall of Famer, DePodesta convinced Kent to switch to the Dodgers as a free agent. The RBI machine would start at second base for the Dodgers for four productive years, before retiring.
Current Dodger G.M. Colletti encouraged the sore-kneed Kent to step aside, so younger players could move into his spot in the lineup.
J.D. Drew – Although Drew was accused of never playing up to his potential with the Dodgers (expectations of him were unrealistically high), since current Dodgers management lost him in a free agency debacle to the Boston Red Sox – where he was (and still is) an integral part of that World Championship club.
Drew was so anxious to bolt the Dodgers, he opted out of a contract that guaranteed him three more years and $33 million.
Derek Lowe – A powerhouse pitcher with legendary durability (13 seasons without going on the disabled list), DePodesta brought in Lowe in 2005, fresh off pitching the Red Sox to their first World Championship. Despite four strong seasons as the Dodgers’ ace, the post-DePodesta Dodgers let Lowe go (to the Atlanta Braves). The Dodgers’ holier-than-thou owners, Frank and Jamie McCourt, were reportedly offended that he had had an affair with a local television cupcake. How ironic, considering the allegations being thrown around now in the McCourt divorce case.
Brad Penny – The hulking Penny would supplant Lowe as the Dodger ace, before he too was let go by post-DePodesta management. (See a pattern developing here?) DePodesta picked up Penny, a key component of the Florida Marlins’ World Championship-winning 2003 club, in a controversial mid-2004 season trade.
DePodesta was roasted by L.A. sportswriters for disturbing a first place Dodgers team by trading away its catcher, Paul LoDuca, and middle relief stalwart Guillermo Mota for Penny and the walk specialist Hee-Seop Choi (manager Jim Tracy loathed giving him playing time).
What DePodesta was never given credit for was ridding the Dodgers of two players who would later be implicated as drug cheats. LoDuca, since retired, was named in the Mitchell Report; Mota was banned from the game for a time.
DePodesta also used additional players he picked up from the Marlins to acquire centerfielder Steve Finley, whose dramatic final game, ninth-inning, walk-off grand slam would clinch the Dodgers a playoff berth.
(Of course, there were plenty of other trades, large and small that DePodesta orchestrated. I won’t mention them all here. But it seems for every star – or future star – DePodesta brought in, he shipped out two or more failures. Tracy, an old school baseball manager like Art Howe in Oakland, often disagreed with his G.M.’s Moneyball moves – and that eventually cost Tracy his job.)
DePodesta was also criticized for losing third baseman Adrian Beltre (more ‘roids rumors) to free agency, not hiring a new manager fast enough to replace the fired Tracy, and being an unrepentant computer geek. A sportswriter nicknamed him “Google Boy.”
Despite clashes with Dodgers’ chief scout Logan White, DePodesta’s Dodger draft picks included pitcher Scott Elbert, infielders Blake DeWitt and Ivan DeJesus, closer Javy Guerra and reliever Cory Wade; he also drafted pitching aces David Price and Luke Hochevar but lacked the resources needed to sign them.
DePodesta was also wise with his limited resources. He never overpaid for a free agent, or a draft pick. Compare that to Colletti’s subsequent squandering of $127 million on Jason Schmidt, Andruw Jones and Juan Pierre.
As the years go by, and the Dodgers continue to slowly sink in the West, DePodesta’s star rises again in the East. I watch his efforts to rebuild the Mets now, with interest.
Moneyball works. That’s the true legacy of agents of change, like Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta. It’s unfortunate DePodesta didn’t want his name used in the movie; for his role in changing baseball, he deserves more credit, not less.
So, watch Moneyball, and take some satisfaction in knowing the real Peter Brand, and “the rest of the story.”
September 24, 2011