Commentary

From the field to the silver screen

Royce Clayton to play the role of Miguel Tejada in "Moneyball" movie

Updated: November 11, 2010, 10:42 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN.com

Baseball has a funny way of throwing perceptions for a curve. Just consider recent events involving the two teams in the Bay Area.

San Francisco general manager Brian Sabean, routinely vilified as a grump and a guy who gives out overpriced contracts, just rode in a parade celebrating the franchise's first championship since 1954. Meanwhile, Billy Beane, a charismatic, progressive thinker and media favorite whose team has won one playoff series in his 13 seasons as Oakland GM, will be portrayed by Brad Pitt next fall in the movie version of Michael Lewis' best-seller "Moneyball."

Miguel Tejada, one of the Oakland players featured in the movie, was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. For the role of Tejada, the filmmakers cast Royce Clayton, a Burbank, Calif., native who grew up in Inglewood and speaks just enough Spanish to be dangerous.

Clayton, 40, retired from Major League Baseball in 2008 after 17 seasons with the Giants, Cardinals, Rangers and eight other clubs. He learned of the "Moneyball" casting call from a friend in the movie business, auditioned at the Sony Studios in Los Angeles in June, and showed enough acting chops to land the role of the irrepressible "Miggy."

It's definitely not all glamour and glitz like people think it is. We'd have a 6 p.m. call time, and three days later you'd get a 6 a.m call time and totally switch your clock. It's tough. I definitely have an appreciation now for what these guys do -- their talent and their craft."

-- Royce Clayton

Then came the biggest challenge: How to play Tejada with the requisite authenticity. Clayton poured himself into the part, and spent several weeks cultivating a Spanish accent in an attempt to make the character believable.

"The guys found it hilarious," Clayton said. "I'd come in every day for two months saying, 'Hey you guys. We gonna win to-day!' and all this other good stuff in the same [Latin] accent."

Clayton performed the shtick everywhere, from the ball field to a scene with Pitt as Beane in the trainer's room. Then one day he was shooting a scene with Stephen Bishop, the actor who plays former Athletics outfielder David Justice. As the Justice character stands in front of a Coke machine trying to determine why the soft drinks aren't free, Tejada walks by and tells him, "Hey, welcome to Oakland. You gotta pay a dollar."

Bishop and Clayton read their lines again and again, trying to get it right, when director Bennett Miller finally intervened.

"Bennett comes over and says, 'Just drop the accent. It's good, but let's do it without it so your personality comes out,'" Clayton said. "I did it without it and he loved it, so there went my accent. I just spoke naturally for the rest of the movie, and it felt more comfortable, to tell you the truth."

It remains to be seen if Clayton will make audiences forget Keith Hernandez in "Seinfeld," Reggie Jackson in "Mr. Belvedere" or Bucky Dent in the "Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders" movie. But he did get a rare opportunity to double his pleasure: If it's true that actors aspire to be ballplayers and ballplayers dream of being in the movies, Clayton is one of the fortunate few with an understanding of how both sides live.

In his 11 big league stops, Clayton accumulated 1,904 hits and 231 stolen bases at shortstop. Then the free-agent winter of 2007-2008 came and went with no offers, and he felt the inevitable pangs of regret over watching his playing career come to an end. It wasn't until late March of 2008, when Clayton was playing golf with Kenny Lofton in Ronnie Lott's charity tournament at Pebble Beach, that he basked in the surroundings and decided his new life wasn't so bad.

Unlike many big leaguers, Clayton was well-prepared for life after baseball. He became an investor and advisory board member for Goldwater Bank, a private bank in Arizona, and dabbled in real estate before the market went south.

Royce Clayton
Brian To/FilmMagicRoyce Clayton has traded turf for the red carpet.

Now Clayton is taking a stab at the music business. He has started a company called Tema Entertainment that helped lay the groundwork for "Here Comes the Freak," a Tim Lincecum theme song that aired on Fox during the pitcher's Game 5 World Series appearance. Clayton is hoping to expand the concept and partner new, undiscovered musical acts with baseball players looking to further establish their "brand."

"There are very few situations where sports and entertainment can come together and monetize each other," Clayton said. "This is a win-win for everybody. It's a win for the group trying to get exposure, and a win for the player, who is recognizable and has millions of fans and now has a song associated with his brand and his name."

"Moneyball" isn't Clayton's first foray into cinema. In the 2002 Disney film "The Rookie," which chronicles pitcher Jim Morris' improbable journey from Texas high school science teacher to Tampa Bay Devil Rays reliever, Texas shortstop Royce Clayton strikes out in a climactic scene at the end of the movie. The Internet Movie Database says that Clayton played himself in an uncredited role. In reality, Clayton spent some time on the set, but was portrayed by an actor whose name he can't recall.

"He took some of the worst hacks I've ever seen," Clayton said. "I was like, 'How hard would it have been to find somebody who had actually swung a bat before?'"

Although readers of Lewis' book might wonder how well "Moneyball" will translate to the big screen, the picture boasts an all-star cast. It features Pitt as Beane; Philip Seymour Hoffman as Oakland manager Art Howe; Robin Wright as "Sharon," Beane's ex-wife; and Jonah Hill of "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" fame as Peter Brand, the A's resident computer whiz. Paul DePodesta, the real-life Peter Brand, asked to have his name removed from the film.

Clayton testifies to the authenticity of the baseball scenes -- right down to the double plays he turns with actor Brent Dohling, who plays second baseman Mark Ellis in the movie. Although Clayton has yet to speak directly with Tejada, he told Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts, a mutual friend, to let Tejada know that he would do his best to portray him as accurately as possible.

Clayton, who's married with four children (a 6-year-old son, Royce Jr., and 5-year-old triplets), routinely came home during the several months of shooting and heard the question, "Is your movie ready yet, Daddy?" That question helped amplify the difference between the instant gratification of baseball and the long-haul grind of doing a film. Albert Pujols and Brad Pitt dwell in completely different realms.

"In my sport, you make a good play and see thousands of people go crazy," Clayton said. "For actors, there's very little fanfare when you're shooting a movie. It's tedious work. You sit around for long hours, and if you're a main guy, you know the results of that movie pretty much hinge on your performance.

"It's definitely not all glamour and glitz like people think it is. We'd have a 6 p.m. call time, and three days later you'd get a 6 a.m call time and totally switch your clock. It's tough. I definitely have an appreciation now for what these guys do -- their talent and their craft."

The cast of "Moneyball" celebrated the end of filming with a wrap party in October, and the movie is scheduled for release in 2011. Sometime next fall, the actor known on-screen as Miguel Tejada will walk the red carpet at the premiere. He'll leave his cleats and his Latin accent at home.

"Everybody keeps telling me, 'When you go up on the big screen, you're literally on 'The Big Screen,"' Clayton said. "It's bigger than life. I'm looking forward to that moment and just having fun with it. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

Jerry Crasnick is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Click here to purchase a copy of his book, "License to Deal," published by Rodale. Crasnick can be reached via e-mail.

Jerry Crasnick | email

ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer