Actor Finally Gets To Big Leagues

Former minor leaguer finds satisfaction in 'Moneyball' role

Baseball brought him here.

Stephen Bishop, a former minor league infielder, has finally reached the big leagues—but not as a player, as an actor. Bishop plays David Justice in "Moneyball," the movie based on the Michael Lewis book about the Athletics and general manager Billy Beane.

But there is much more to the story. Bishop harbored his own major league dreams, and while he is finding success as an actor, he still feels that his baseball career ended prematurely.

He started playing baseball when he was 4 years old, eventually earning a scholarship to UC Riverside, which was then an NCAA Division II school. When his college career ended, he signed with the Braves as a nondrafted free agent in 1993, bouncing to the independent Northern League in 1994 and the Orioles following that season, getting 43 at-bats at high Class A High Desert before getting released again.

High Desert wasn't far from Los Angeles, and Bishop decided to try his luck as an actor. Though the decision to leave baseball wasn't an easy one, he had taken a drama course at college and was encouraged to try the big screen path.
"It was very tough for me to leave knowing that I could still play," he said. "And that I should still be playing. But at the same time, I wasn't getting any younger, and I know that was working against me."

Bishop did leave acting for baseball one more time in his career. The Braves gave him a scouting internship in West Palm Beach, Fla., and then offered him a job in the scouting department. He scouted for two years before heading back to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time.

"The game did a lot for me," the 40-year-old said. "The game got me a college degree. The game got me to play at the professional level. The game introduced me to a lot of people who then in turn, helped me in Los Angeles.

"I had a lot of fun in baseball throughout my career, not just professionally. American Legion, I played for a state championship. College, I played for a national championship (in the D-II College World Series). And it's the relationships and camaraderie that go along with that. You never lose that. I'm a baseball player. I act for a living, but I'll always consider myself to be a baseball player."

And it's clear from talking to him that Bishop still feels that there's some unfinished business with his baseball career.

After signing with the Braves in 1993, Bishop had to overcome an injury to get on the field, finally playing in 20 games for Rookie-level Idaho Falls and batting .382/.455/.559. Because he would have been 23 at the start of the 2004 season, he expected to skip a level and begin his career in earnest. Things didn't turn out that way.

"Quite frankly, I was unfairly released by Atlanta, due to circumstances off the field that were completely false and misrepresented," Bishop said. "So it was one of those things where I was kind of soured on the experience of pro baseball because of some of the political things that I had seen and some of the things that I had been through."

Bishop says he was released after being accused of trying to break into the major league clubhouse in Atlanta, where he lived. He said he was simply going for a workout while the big league club was on the road, tried the door to the clubhouse, which was locked, and gave a security guard his identification in order to get in. The security guard denied him access, so Bishop said he left and went home.

"Why would I try to break into a place that I have access to? It's ridiculous," Bishop said. "I gave the guy my identification. I walked over to him and told him what was happening."

Bishop said he didn't think anything more of the incident until the next spring. He was waiting for a contract from the Braves, and instead got a letter informing him of his release. When he asked about it, the Braves said it was just a numbers game, and as an older player in Rookie ball he got squeezed out.

"In my opinion, that was not the case," Bishop said. "I just came off an injury where I was told I was going to be out for the season and came back after working my butt off in rehab and then I came in and hit .380, batting fourth every day. You don't release somebody like that because of a numbers game."

He bounced to the Northern League for 1994, batting .251 in 207 at-bats between St. Paul and Sioux Falls. That was enough to get him signed by the Orioles for the 1995 season, and they assigned him to high Class A High Desert. He got just 43 at-bats, however, getting five hits before wrapping up his playing career for good.

While he can't help but feel he left his career unfinished, Bishop believes that baseball got him ready for everything he would have to face as an actor.

"If you fail 70 percent of the time as a baseball player, you're great. That number is higher as an actor," he said. "You fail more as an actor than you do as a baseball player and you can still be considered great. So baseball groomed me for this by giving me a constitution that allowed me not to take 'no' as an answer and to keep on fouling off pitches until I got one that I could drive.

"And that's basically what this movie is. 'Moneyball' is a pitch I could drive. It was right in my wheelhouse. Everything about it was perfect for me."

The opportunity to play David Justice in a movie starring Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman is akin to breaking through to the big leagues in his movie career, Bishop said. He has had small parts in numerous movies and television shows, from "Hancock" to "Grey's Anatomy." But Justice—who was in the Braves organization when Atlanta signed Bishop—feels like a role he was born to play.

"Everybody is really supportive," he said. "Especially David. David, from the moment I told him I got the job, he said, 'You know Stephen, I can't imagine anybody I would rather have playing the part. Anything that you need from me is yours.' He's been hugely supportive and the other people I know are all excited to see it.

"Everybody says it was a no-brainer. It's almost like they knew it was coming eventually. If they made any kind of movie about (Justice), and I was still young enough to do it, I was going to play the part. It's just serendipitous to say the whole thing worked out. It's phenomenal."

Bishop's relationship with Justice, the similarities between them and his baseball background helped him land the role, but he still had work to do to prepare.

"The hardest part was learning to throw lefthanded," he said. "I'm a righthanded thrower. I grew up hitting lefthanded because when I was a kid I would play and emulate my favorite guys and that kind of thing. So I grew up being able to switch-hit, but throwing lefthanded was something I had never tried. And it wasn't pretty for a long time. That was a very, very difficult task."

Now that he has made himself into a passable lefty, Bishop can't help but jokingly talk about what might have been.

"I can play 90-foot catch now. I can throw a little bit lefthanded and I have a little pop," he said. "So if any teams need a lefthanded pitcher, I heard as long as you can throw and you can breathe, you can get a job pitching lefthanded. So hey, I'm here."