War of Words: Howe vs. BeaneAuthor: AnnKillion | Filed under: Bay Area Sports
Billy Beane’s mean-spirited belittling of Art Howe’s fully understandable reaction to “Moneyball” accomplished two things this week.
When Beane told the Contra Costa Times “I was wondering who was going to be the first guy to think I produced, wrote or directed this movie. Now I have my answer. (Howe’s) comments are completely misguided,” he:
a) sounded suspiciously like a guy who didn’t mind in the least that Howe was portrayed as such a jack-wagon.
And he b) missed the point. When you’ve been played by Brad Pitt – when most of the American public is going to believe that dazzling cinematic version of both you and of 2002 green-and-gold events – then you’ve won. You can afford to be gracious.
Howe has talked to several Bay Area media outlets and is understandably troubled by how Moneyball’s script and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance portray him.
In the movie, he’s a churlish, oafish villain. In real life, Howe was amiable and gracious, well-liked by most of his players and others in and out of baseball.
We all understand that the movie is pretend, that it’s a Hollywood version of a pseudo-baseball story and an entertaining one at that. The movie needed a villain and created one out of Howe.
But understanding that logic as an onlooker and seeing oneself portrayed as the anti-Christ on the screen are two different things and Howe’s horrified reaction – he’s called it “character assassination” – is probably how any sane person would react.
Howe allowed his name to be used, so he probably doesn’t have much for a complaint, legal or otherwise. Paul DePodesta is the only real-life person who opted out of letting his name be used, saying, “once I read the script and realized it was a piece of fiction, I saw no reason for my name to be attached to it.”
See, that Jonah Hill character was pretty darn smart.
There are plenty of factual errors throughout the movie and Howe’s character is not exempted. Howe was not angling for a contract extension that season. He – not Beane- was the one who had to release Mike Magnante. But the biggest problem with the Howe portrayal is not in the factual minutiae but with the general portrayal of Howe.
The audience walks away thinking, “what a jerk.” That’s exactly the one word that those of us who know Howe and worked with him would never, ever use to describe him.
In the “Moneyball” book, Howe is mostly portrayed as a boob, a clueless old-school baseball guy who didn’t have any understanding of Beane’s brilliance and whose authority was completely overshadowed by Beane. And there’s some truth to the details.
But the bigger reality was that Howe had been around for years – Beane inherited him from Sandy Alderson – and had helped the A’s grow from irrelevance to importance. Yes, he had Beane’s players – but all field managers have their general manager’s players. Howe’s job was to get those players to perform and – for several years – he did just that.
One plot line surrounding Howe did seem to be accurate. As the A’s put together their 20-game winning streak and turned their season around, the national media lauded Howe for his calm demeanor and his competence in getting his team to jell. As the Beane character heard those comments, he seethed. It is true that Howe received credit for his ability with that team – as he should have. It’s true, also and always, that Beane received much more of the credit.
Nine years later, Beane is getting virtually 100 percent of the credit. Howe is a footnote to the A’s success and now a deranged, angry one at that.
Beane has both the credit and Pitt – who will possibly win awards for his portrayal of Beane. It doesn’t get much better for a guy whose team hasn’t made the playoffs in five seasons.
So graciousness – perhaps even a disingenuous overture and apology – would have been the kinder response. That’s probably what Pitt’s character would have done. But that’s Hollywood.