Bill James stands in the atrium at the Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland, surveying the crush of people who have arrived for the world premiere of Moneyball. He looks pleased and a little overwhelmed. His wife, Susan, is on his arm. A Hollywood movie premiere is a first for both. “We usually get our movies from Redbox,” he says as he maneuvers his broad, 6-foot-4-inch frame by the bar to snag an apple-vodka martini. “Getting through crowds like this,” he jokes, “I always want to say, ‘Excuse me, I’m a minor celebrity.’”
...An audience member updates James on that day’s Boston Red Sox game. James has been a senior adviser to the Red Sox since 2002. The Sox, stumbling badly in September, lead the Baltimore Orioles 11-5 in the third inning. “That’s 92 percent of the runs [John] Lackey needs to win,” he says of Boston’s starting pitcher.
...James, for his part, gets four mentions on screen. At each, his wife clutches his hand or pats him on the knee. In the first, the camera pans over a page from an early Abstract as a voiceover tells the audience that “Bill James and math cut straight through” misperceptions about baseball. “Seeing those pages was the strangest part,” says James. In the second, an Oakland scout incredulously asks Beane whether he’s “buying into this Bill James ########.” (James: “That was my favorite.”)
...James watches the revelers stream into the after-party and says that the thing people need to understand is that he’s not as big a deal as Moneyball makes him out to be. “It’s somewhat exaggerated, but my contributions to the game have been a bit exaggerated for quite a while now.”
Not that he’s complaining. “I thought it was a terrific movie. Among all the baseball movies of the last generation, this was the baseballest.”