In ‘Moneyball,’ the film version of Michael Lewis’s study of the legendary 2002 Oakland A’s, one of the most intriguing stories is that of the left-handed batter Scott Hatteberg. GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt in the movie) recruited Hatteberg, a Red Sox catcher with a blown-out elbow, on the basis of one surprising statistic – his ability to get on base. (His on-base percentage was 43 points higher than the league’s average in 2002, ahead of Frank Thomas’s and Derek Jeter’s.) Hatteberg was the guinea pig, and Beane’s experiment an unqualified success. The small-market A’s continued to use statistics to find underpaid and overlooked players and ended up with a team that pulled out of a seven-year drought to make the playoffs for four straight years. Hatteberg, played by Chris Pratt in the movie, was recruited again in March, this time to the A’s front office to work as a scout for Beane. “Billy talks about baseball with such passion,” says Hatteberg. “He was the first call I made when I decided to go to the front office. I wasn’t going to make any other call.”
Your on-base average was consistently one of MLB’s best. How did you get to first so often?
I had to maximize what I had. That was the steroid era, and home runs were huge. I just wasn’t that guy. There were pitchers I could damage or hit for power, but it was a small area, so I had to be patient. It was my way of surviving; I didn’t know any other way.
In 2002 you drew a walk in 12 percent of your at bats – the same rate as slugger Alex Rodriguez. Did you get the recognition you deserve?
No, no, it’s a thankless thing. It’s not sexy. It’s not what people go to the plate to do. It was kind of like kissing your sister. You didn’t make an out, but you didn’t get a hit.
And now you’re a hero in a baseball movie.
It feels Forrest Gump-ish. I was just at the right place at the right time.
You’re played by Chris Pratt. How did he do?
My kids were amazed at how dead-on his mannerisms were. He was in my uniform, wearing my number, and was out there taking ground balls, learning to hit left-handed. Couldn’t have asked for a better guy.
Sports columnist Rob Neyer called Moneyball “the single most influential baseball book ever.” Do you think it has changed the game?
I think it’s changed it pretty dramatically. Before, in part thanks to steroids, it was just a no-brainer: homers, RBIs. Bring ’em in. Pay ’em. Now you have to pick through what’s left. With numbers, formulas, -statistics – big-money teams are targeting guys who were once undervalued.
Was the switch from player to scout difficult?
It helps having a career in the league. You see things that other people don’t quite see. As a player, my whole goal was to look at what a pitcher was going to do to me today. I didn’t care what he was going to be five years from now, and that’s all scouting is.
So do you scout by numbers or instinct?
I’m firmly in the middle. There’s no way to replace just looking at a guy with the basics. Questions like Does he have power? Can he run? Can he throw? Those intangibles all need to be there.
Are you looking for the next Scott Hatteberg?
You see it all the time: A guy that can’t make it in one organization gets labeled and then is fine in another. Billy and the guys, they have a very keen eye for it. Scouting is a gift, and they can roll out talent.
Eight years after he retired as a player, Beane became a GM. Do you have such ambitions?
I am not going to take that path. I played for a long time; I have kids that I was away from. Now I’m coaching softball and soccer and enjoying that.
So you’re not the next Billy Beane?
No, I don’t think that’s in the cards. They broke the mold when they built that guy.