With October being the time where baseball legends are born, I figured a review of something was in order. I held off a bit before I decided to go see Moneyball (let’s face it, nobody in the house wanted to see it and it took forever for this town to get it.). I tuned into The Daily Show last week, and on October 4th’s show the special guest was Michael Lewis, who penned the novel that Moneyball was based on. Admittedly, Lewis said on the show that he thought the movie was going to suck. If you’ve read the book, most would deem it unfilmable (and if the annoying people that sat behind me when I was watching the movie would have read it, they wouldn’t have had to add the annoying commentary.).
The movie stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, a washed up player who never made much of a career in the big leagues. He was drafted to the majors as, what they call in baseball, a five tool player (basically a player who can hit for average, about .280 and above, hit for power, has decent base running skills and speed, throwing ability and fielding abilities.) Examples would include Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Ty Cobb, and even Babe Ruth, in his prime. Unfortuantely, Beane could not translate these tools to the majors and he led an unsuccessful career, which haunts the character through the film. He has since become the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics ball club and is trying, through the course of the film, to put together a winning franchise.
Baseball, in many ways is a very unfair sport. Those with the money get the championships. Billy Beane is looking to change that. As the movie opens, it’s 2001 and the Oakland A’s show promise, but ultimately end up out of the playoffs. However, the A’s have three star players who brought them close, but are ultimately traded away at the end of the season (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen). In preparation for next season, Beane is looking for talent to replace the three gifted players, but has a minuscule budget to do it, compared to other winning ball clubs.
On a trip to Cleveland, looking for talent, Billy Beane meets Jonah Hill’s character Peter Brand, a Yale economics major who has a radically different way to value players.
The old mindset was that scouts looked for things like stolen bases, runs batted in (RBI’s), and batting average to gauge the value of players. Brand’s revolutionary ideas, first proposed by Bill James, used other indicators such as on base percentage and slugging percentage to calculate a players true worth. Together Beane and Brand put together a team of undervalued players which include David Justice, Chad Bradford, and Scott Hatteberg, a washed up player who because a big value to the team.
Not everyone was keen on this new way of playing baseball (actually everyone wasn’t) including manager Art Howe played by the fantastic Philip Seymour Hoffman. Baseball fans know that playing Howe would be one of the most difficult roles EVER. In all the years I’ve been a baseball fan I don’t think I’ve seen Art Howe display emotions whatsoever, and if it works it works. Fun little fact, the last movie that director Bennet Miller directed was Capote, staring Hoffman.
It takes a little to get it going, and some unfortunate trades, but eventually the plan starts working and the A’s start winning. They even set a monumental record in the American League which still stands today. Although they didn’t make it to the playoffs, Beane and Brand showed the baseball world that the game could be won a different way. The 2004 Boston Red Sox’s that won the World Series used this tactic to win.
While this may be a baseball movie, its enjoyable for everyone. Bennett Miller does a great job of making baseball a minimum factor in a baseball movie, which is the real genius of this film. This is a film that Michael Lewis can be proud of and that everyone can enjoy. While the book Moneyball is one of the greatest baseball books of all time, the film will go down as one of the greatest films of all time. I’m not much for the Oscars but I have a feeling this movie will be passed up, but please don’t pass it up. It deserves your attention.