The Baseball Diaspora
A home for those who live nowhere near the home team.
Full disclosure: I might be in the Moneyball movie. Last July I answered the call, did my duty as a baseball fan and as an American and spent a long night as an extra at the Oakland Coliseum during the filming of Moneyball. So I’ve been excited for this film for a long time. Not so excited, mind you, that I considered the possibility of it premiering in Oakland until less than a month ago, but excited nonetheless.
Then over the past month, the buzz began to build. Previews, posters, mentions in articles and on podcasts; Moneyball was all around. Then, between the Toronto International Film Festival and various press screenings and sneak previews, it seemed that everyone who writes about baseball had already seen the film and dissected it a good week before the official premiere at the Paramount Theatre.
Keith Law alone wrote a full review of the film and then discussed his review and a response it elicited from Michael Lewis on no fewer than three Baseball Today podcasts. It felt as if the world had digested Moneyball and moved along, stealing some of Oakland’s thunder in the process.
I should have known better. It took all of two seconds to get caught up in the excitement of the premiere (albeit from the median of Broadway Avenue - the mob was not welcome on the Paramount side of the street). With a steady stream of traffic passing both in front of and behind me, I hunkered down with my fellow gawkers and set myself to the task of documenting Oakland’s next great public moment. This is what I saw.
The diehards were well represented. A group of fans decked out in their StAy t-shirts staked out a parking spot (beginning at 1 PM they said) directly across the street from the main entrance of the Paramount. They hung a banner reading “Don’t take our A’s away” to remind the who’s who across the street that we can celebrate the team’s past but we need to secure its future where it belongs - in Oakland. You can imagine the reception Lew Wolff received from this very vocal contingent.
The stars were out in force from cast members to team ownership and management to current and former players to local and national media. Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Billy Beane, Ron Washington, Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, Andrew Bailey, Trevor Cahill, Coco Crisp, David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui, Cliff Pennington, Michael Lewis, Mychael Urban, Ray Ratto and many more were spotted and hailed by the throng in the median and on the other side of Broadway from the theater. But the true star of the show for me was a man who went practically unnoticed amidst all the activity, Joe Posnanski.
I have been an avid reader of Posnanski’s for several years now and consider him to be one of the most insightful and gifted sportswriters working. When I heard that he would be on site for the Moneyball premiere, I immediately reprioritized who to be on the look out for. Within a few minutes I spotted him (it was infinitely easier than I had anticipated). Standing by himself and observing the bustle around him, he seemed like he would have had a second to greet a fan if not for the tight security in front of the theater and the adjoining mock stadium set up for the red carpet. Given this barrier, a simple casual intrusion would not do. I had to resort to slightly more creative means of saying hello to Posnanski.
The aforementioned diehards had brought along their flags, some beers and the familiar “Let’s go Oakland, clap-clap clap-clap-clap” chant. For the purposes of articulating their support or disdain for various personalities on hand, the chant was modified. Iterations included “Ron-nie Wa-ash” for Washington, “Lew Wolff su-ucks” for Wolff and “leather sho-orts” for a young woman in leather shorts. I knew what I had to do.
I went to the lead diehard and enlisted his help. I said, “you see that guy over there in the jacket? His name is Joe Posnanski and he is an outstanding sportswriter. Can you guys help me out with a Joe Posnanski chant?” After confirming the correct pronunciation of Posnanski’s name, we launched into it. “Joe Pos-nan-ski, clap-clap clap-clap-clap, Joe Pos-nan-ski, clap-clap clap-clap-clap.” Posnanski looked our way, went a little red, then smiled and waved as we chanted on. I turned to the lead diehard and said “I bet nobody ever recognizes that guy. We just made his day.” That may have been an exaggeration, but the diehards were in no position to argue; they had moved on to a new target for their chants…or maybe back to the girl in the leather shorts.
Exaggeration or not, I got what I came for (and my day was made in the process) and the rest was just icing. It certainly didn’t hurt that I later got to observe from afar as Posnanski seemingly talked shop with Michael Lewis for awhile before heading in.
Once people began filing in, the focus of the crowd turned to spotting Brad Pitt. Pitt’s whereabouts consumed the majority of conversation and drew a group of people that would fail to rise even to the modest standard of casual baseball fans. But those who read Moneyball and those who read Entertainment Weekly alike were rewarded with a brief glimpse of Brad before he went into the theater through a side entrance.
When Pitt disappeared as quickly as he had arrived and it became clear he would not be seen again, the onlookers began to disperse. After soaking in the atmosphere for a few minutes longer, I too took my leave, but not before granting Jack London George’s (new to me, too) request for a photo.
Thanks Moneyball, indeed.
- Pretty sure this kid wins the prize for best hair at the premiere:
- We wish you were still in Oakland, too, Ronnie Wash:
- This was a big day for The Baseball Diaspora. Our first on location coverage of a major media event, our first live tweets, our first Joe Posnanski sighting. My thanks goes out to my colleagues Dan, for sharing the experience via phone from across the country and Louw, for joining me at the scene and making the live tweeting a reality.
- Louw and I also learned just how underdeveloped our paparazzi skills truly are. “Paparazzi-in-training” a fellow Oakland resident dubbed us after my camera froze while trying to snap a picture of the elusive Pitt. By way of example of our general incompetence, this is the best I could do as far as capturing Philip Seymour Hoffman and his double t-shirt look:
- Even after the press and personalities had cleared out, the rabble couldn’t be trusted to come across the street to see the interview area up close, so I settled for this shot:
I spent enough time in the last post excoriating the A’s for the uninspired design of the the t-shirt they planned to give away on “Moneyball Day” at O.co Coliseum. This time around, I’ll keep it positive. Yes the t-shirt turned out to be just as bland and low budget as it looked in the advance photos. And yes it turned out to be even slightly worse, the color being a light gray heather instead of what appeared (again, in the online photos) to be more of a light gunmetal color. See for yourself:
Other than the shirt, which in all fairness is at the very least a professionally-made garment that can shelter one from the elements, the A’s did a pretty serviceable job of capitalizing on the Moneyball movie on Sunday. Here’s the rundown:
The Moneyball movie brand was conspicuously displayed up on the scoreboard and down on the field:
Moneyball movie paraphernalia was available for purchase or as prizes and the A’s worked the schwag into their fan appreciation giveaways, eventually handing out four passes to tonight’s premiere at the Paramount. Previews played on the scoreboard screen and the artist formerly known as Jonah Hill (one of the film’s stars) threw out the ceremonial first pitch with a great deal of enthusiasm.
Hill, in fact, was all over the place. He threw out the first pitch flanked by fellow cast members Stephen Bishop (David Justice), Casey Bond (Chad Bradford) and Chris Pratt (Scott Hatteberg). The real Scott Hatteberg caught Hill’s pitch to the delight of the crowd. Hill then stopped by the A’s radio broadcast in the fourth inning, stopped by the TV broadcast at some point and participated in the non sequitur of a promotion being staged by Bay Area company Quirky. I get it, I get it: Billy Beane reinvented baseball, now Quirky reinvents the bicycle! Still. Speaking of non sequiturs…Josh Outman!
The stirrups? With the gold sanis and the gold jerseys? Amazing.
Tonight, The Baseball Diaspora hits the red carpet from (across the street from) Oakland’s historic Paramount Theatre where the Moneyball movie will get its international premiere. When I drove by the Paramount on Sunday morning Moneyball wasn’t even on the marquee, so we’ll see how Oakland turns it out tonight.
Say this for the Oakland A’s - they consistently put together a top notch promotional calendar.
They may have fielded less-than-competitive teams the past five years. They may play in one of baseball’s worst stadiums. They may not have averaged even 20,000 fans per game since 2008. But as someone who takes promotions seriously, I can confirm that year in and year out, the A’s rank high when it comes to rewarding the fans that do come to the ballpark.
The secret to the A’s success is composed of four ingredients: desirability, accessibility, frequency and adjustability. Let’s briefly take a look at each:
Desirability: The first test of a good promotion is whether a fan would actually want the giveaway. Fans do not go out of their way for a team-branded reusable grocery bag (you heard me San Diego) or a free loaf of bread (perhaps the most bizarre promotion I’ve encountered, at some now-forgotten minor league park). Every year since I arrived in Oakland, I have made it out to additional A’s games specifically because of the promotions.
Accessibility: While the A’s aren’t quite the Dodgers (who typically give bobbleheads out to 25,000 or more fans), giving out 10-15,000 of anything at an A’s game usually gives you pretty good odds. What’s more, you can typically show up 30-45 minutes before game time and still get most giveaways. Only once, on the day they retired Rickey Henderson’s number and actually sold out the Coliseum, did I actually show up early and fail to sniff the giveaway (Rickey Henderson replica jersey).
Frequency: Some teams treat promotions like trips to the dentist and begrudgingly schedule one every six months, a year, two years…who’s counting? The A’s, while not leading the league in promotions, keep a steady stream of giveaways coming throughout the season.
Adjustability: This term may not capture quite what I mean. Perhaps adaptability would be more apt. The thing is the A’s have demonstrated the ability to add or modify promotions in-season, something I have rarely witnessed among the other 29 teams. To be fair, I don’t follow 27 of those teams quite as closely as I do the A’s (I obviously keep close tabs on my Cardinals along with the nearby Giants), but my impression is still that the A’s are willing to adjust their promotions when something special happens.
Take, for example, Dallas Braden’s perfect game last year. Many teams may have had a ceremony or given away a commemorative ticket. The A’s had a week-long celebration, the highlight of which was a pretty fetching t-shirt commemorating Braden’s accomplishment. They then closed out the season by giving out a beautiful bobblehead of Braden pumping his fist after recording the final out.
Of course, Braden is a local kid who threw his perfect game on Mother’s Day (his mother died of cancer). Maybe any club with that kind of story to work with would have capitalized on it the way the A’s did. Even so, the way the A’s turned a game that just over 12,000 fans attended into a season-long event was impressive.
Given the organization’s response to Braden’s perfect game last season, that it would move to capitalize on the publicity and hype surrounding the Moneyball movie came as no surprise. The manner in which the team chose to do so, however, was surprising. After the deft and professional manner in which the A’s promoted Braden’s perfect game, how could their promotion of Moneyball come of so uninspired?
Last Friday, an email arrived in my inbox from the Oakland A’s announcing a Moneyball promotion. So far, so good. The first part of the promotion is a ticket offer where you buy a Field Level ticket to the game in question (9/18) and receive a pass to go see the movie. Fair enough. In addition, the first 10,000 fans receive a free Moneyball t-shirt. How could you go wrong?
Excuse me? Did Charlie Finley himself ride Charlie O. up out of his grave to design this lemon? It certainly conforms to his principles as far as frugality is concerned. At least I hope so. The only possible explanation I can come up with for how this design came to term goes something like this:
Scene: Two seventh graders sit in the kitchen of one of their homes working on a Moneyball t-shirt project due the following day. They have completely forgotten about it until now.
Seventh Grader #1: I forgot all about this project.
Seventh Grader #2: Me, too. We better throw something together, though. Ms. Abernathy takes a letter grade off for each day it’s late.
SG1: Ok, well I have this nondescript gray t-shirt, will that work?
SG2: Yeah! Gray it is. Oooh - I found a picture of a baseball online. Moneyball is about baseball, right?
SG1: I’m pretty sure it is. That’s good. We’re almost done. Hmmm - what about this font?
SG2: I don’t know, it doesn’t have a lot of character.
SG1: Well, that’s the free font - anything else we have to pay for.
SG2: On second thought, that font looks good. That about does it, right?
SG1: Right! Oh, wait...what color should the letters be?
SG2: Well, green is the color of money. It is Moneyball after all, right?
SG1: Genius! Slap a PepsiMax logo on the arm and let’s go play outside!
Maybe licensing issues prevented a less-generic design. Maybe time constraints limited creativity (not likely given the 10-day turnaround on the Braden t-shirts). Maybe turnover in the marketing department is to blame. Who knows?
One thing’s for sure, the A’s missed a major opportunity here. Moneyball has become a widely-anticipated film and the A’s are at the center of the story. This was a ready-made chance to promote and market the team and draw casual fans out to the ballpark. The movie filmed over a year ago (last July - I was there!) giving the A’s plenty of lead time to plan for this. In hindsight it’s more than a little surprising that this is the first (and apparently only) Moneyball promotion. That that one promotion is already an afterthought is even worse.
It so happens that Justin Verlander is scheduled to start that Sunday against the A’s, so I was already planning to be on hand at the Coliseum. Since I’m going anyway, you can bet I will get there early to procure one of these snooze-fests for myself.
Check back here on Sunday 9/18 to see if the shirts turned out to be as bland and unsightly as they look in the picture. Check back again a day or two later to hear how the Moneyball t-shirt went over at the Moneyball premiere at the Paramount Theatre on Monday 9/19, outside of which I will be hanging out and gawking. How can all the celebrities help but notice me when they see me swaddled in a garment that pops the way this Moneyball t-shirt does?