Variety‘s Michael Fleming and Peter Bart don’t exactly say in so many words why Sony chief Amy Pascal put Steven Soderbergh‘s Moneyball, a fact-based sports biopic movie starring Brad Pitt, into limited turnaround last Friday, or 96 hours before it was supposed to begin filming on Monday (i.e., tomorrow).

But it seems as if (a) Pascal had it her head that Moneyball would be some kind of commercial hotpants Brad Pitt baseball movie and (b) what she realized she would be getting, after reading a final draft of Soderbergh and Steven Zallian‘s script last week, would be — surprise! — a cerebral, non-jockstrappy “Steven Soderbergh movie” with a sprinkling of Warren Beatty‘s Reds that she didn’t want to spend over $50 million on.

“Soderbergh and Pitt’s CAA reps spent the weekend attempting to get another studio to play ball in a game that will play out until Monday,” Fleming and Bart write. “If a new financier doesn’t emerge by tomorrow, Columbia will re-examine options that include replacing Soderbergh (and hoping that Pitt doesn’t ankle), delaying the film until she and the filmmaker find themselves in synch on the script, or pulling the plug.

“Even in the climate of heightened studio caution, the turnaround news on Moneyball is surprising, given that had reached the equivalent of third base. The picture was just 96 hours before the participants were ready to take the field, following three months of prep and with camera tests completed and cast and budget in place.

“Pascal’s wariness is hardly unfathomable, even though the script was approved by Major League Baseball. The film doesn’t follow the traditional narrative structure of most sports yarns. Moneyball is based on the bestselling Michael Lewis book about Billy Beane (Pitt), the former phenom who undermined his playing career by taking a big paycheck before he was ready, [but] who later resurfaced as the Oakland A’s general manager who found success fielding competitive teams for low cost, compared to the payrolls of league rivals like the New York Yankees.

“Aside from actors like Pitt and Demetri Martin, Soderbergh is using real ballplayers — like former A’s Scott Hatteberg and David Justice — as actors, he has also shot interviews with ballplayers like Beane’s former Mets teammates Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson and Daryl Strawberry. Those vignettes are interspersed in the film in a style comparable to director Warren Beatty’s used of ‘witnesses’ in his celebrated film Reds.

“While Soderbergh is confident his take will work visually, Columbia brass had doubts on a film that costs north of $50 million. That is reasonable for a studio-funded pic that includes the discounted salary of a global star like Pitt, but baseball films traditionally don’t fare well on the global playing field.

“Columbia’s move to jettison a Pitt pic is ironic. Pitt dropped out of State of Playjust before that picture was to begin production, when he read the studio-approved shooting script that veered too far from the draft that prompted him to sign on. It is unusual to see a studio step off a film to which a superstar like Pitt is firmly committed.”

What this seems to mean is either that (a) Pascal doesn’t believe that stars like Pitt mean all that much when it comes to opening a costly film — that the movie itself has to have the commercial goods or it’s not worth doing, or that (b) she’s half-persuaded that the 46 year-old Pitt — 50 in four and a half years! — isn’t much of a star any more. Or a combination of both.

Pascal is too smart to have been under any illusion that she would be getting anything other than a “Steven Soderbergh film” — smart, probing, not a dumbassed date flick — out of Moneyball. It was never going to be Ocean’s 11 in cleats or Bull Durham or anything in that vein. So what exactly was so different and (to Pascal) freaky about the latest draft? I’ve got an earlier draft — someone please send along the new one so I can figure this out.