‘Moneyball:’ A look behind the scenes of America’s pastime

Mike Neill at a recent benefit golf tournament at Hooper's Landing in Seaford. BY RON MACARTHUR
October 21, 2011

The movie “Moneyball” is making big bucks as one of the top movies of the year. It’s a highly entertaining film with great acting that rips away the curtain of what goes on behind the scenes of America’s pastime.

But, just how accurate is the film? As with most Hollywood productions, it appears there are elements of truth and some dramatic additions. Remember, even in the top sports movies, “Remember the Titans” and “Blind Side,” writers took dramatic license.

Moneyball is the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their rise from the pits to the American League West Division title and the playoffs with 103 wins. Brad Pitt plays the part of general manager Billy Beane, who is credited with making the hard choices to put together a team of misfits based on computer-generated stats including on-base percentages. He and assistant general manager Paul DePodesta – who is Peter Brand in the movie – set out to change the way baseball is played. DePodesta did not like the way he was portrayed in the film and did not allow his name to be used.

With most Hollywood productions, there is much more to the story than makes the silver screen.

I was fortunate enough last week to play in a benefit golf tournament with Seaford’s Mike Neill who played in the Oakland A’s system for 11 years up to 1998. Neill said while the book and movie give most of the credit to the general manager, there were other factors figuring into the A’s success in the early 2000s. Scouting and the signing of three of the best young pitchers in baseball made a big difference. Barry Zito was 23-5 and won the Cy Young Award, Mark Mulder was 19-7 and Tim Hudson was 15-9.

Although the scouts and manager Art Howe were made out to look like stubborn baseball dinosaurs, Neill said that was not the case. He said the A’s had one of the best scouting programs in the Majors and Howell was nothing like the book and movie portrayed him to be. He led the A’s to nearly 300 wins between 2000 and 2002.

There is no doubt the relationship between Howell and Beane was strained, and Howe was released from his seven-year contract following the 2002 season.

After leaving the Majors, Neill was selected to play for Team USA in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Little did he know what an important role he would play in the team’s gold-medal run. It was Neill who had the game-winning hit in 1999’s Pan American Games qualifier that got Team USA into the Olympics. Then in the gold-medal 4-0 win over Cuba, Neill hit a first-inning homerun and made a ninth-inning sliding catch to end the game capturing the first gold medal in the sport for Team USA.

Neill was a standout baseball and basketball player at Seaford High School who went on to a stellar baseball career at Villanova University where he finished with an amazing .417 batting average. He was Delaware’s Athlete of the Year in 2000 and is in the Delaware and Villanova halls of fame.

Neill is now a financial advisor living near Philadelphia.

  • Ron MacArthur has lived and worked in Sussex County all his life. As a journalist for more than 40 years, he has covered everything from county and town meetings to presidential visits. He also has a unique perspective having served as an elected official and lived on both sides of the county.

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