September 25, 2011
Review - " Moneyball " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Robin Wright Penn, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour
Hoffman, Stephen Bishop
"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" muses Oakland A's
general manager Billy Beane.
Except that Billy isn't. Instead, he's a trailblazing iconoclast who takes
150 years of collective baseball wisdom and chucks it right out the
window, replacing it with … spreadsheets.
But Billy didn't start out as a hardheaded maverick.
Once upon a time, many years before, he was a romantic. A true
believer. A scout from the New York Mets convinced Billy (then a high
school senior) and his parents that he was one of those rare talents
who excelled in every aspect of the game. But when Billy stepped up
to bat in the bigs, he couldn't make good on that promise. Confidence
flagged. Trades ensued. Disillusionment set in.
Fast-forward two decades, and Billy's landed in the front office of a
team almost on the verge of going all the way: the 2001 Oakland A's.
Ultimately, though, the A's just can't compete with the powerhouse
bats of the New York Yankees, a team with a budget nearly three
times that of lowly Oakland's.
Almost as soon as they've yanked their cleats off at season's end,
Oakland's three marquee players defect to clubs with deeper pockets.
And Billy is forced into rebuilding mode without the luxury of the one thing he needs to lure talent: money. "We're a small-
market team," the owner tells Billy when he asks for a slightly bigger budget. "You're a small-market GM."
But Billy refuses to accept that prescription for mediocrity.
Desperately trying to work a deal with the Cleveland Indians, he meets a young man in that organization who's got an
altogether different idea about how to build a team. Peter Brand, a twentysomething Yale graduate with a degree in
economics, believes baseball isn't about instinct and intuition and hunches. Instead, he convinces Billy, it's all about the
"Baseball has an epidemic
failure to understand what's
really happening," Peter tells
him. In his estimation, you
don't need sluggers who
contracts. Instead, you need
guys who can consistently eke
out hits. Any sort of hit. Get
hits, get on base. Get on base,
get runs. Get runs, win games.
You're hired, Billy tells him.
With actuarial acumen, Peter's
exacting statistical analysis
enables the A's to assemble
a team of mostly no-name
players that the "system" says
can hit but who are
nevertheless undervalued. The scouts hate this new idea. Talk radio hates it. Team manager Art Howe hates it. And when
the new team takes to the field, it initially looks like the scoreboard hates it too, with loss piling upon loss. And that means
the fans hate Billy.
Until, that is, something magical (I mean statistical) happens: The A's begin to win.
Perhaps more than anything
else, Moneyball is a story
about perseverance. Virtually
everyone in the A's
organization thinks Billy has
lost his mind—including Billy,
who at one point asks himself,
"What the hell am I doing?"
But he sticks with Peter's
system, even when it requires
trading two rising stars to make
it work. Eventually, that
doggedness pays huge
dividends for a team that
finishes the season with a
winning streak (even if the league pennant still eludes them).
Along the way, Billy becomes increasingly engaged with his team and the players. At first, he wants little to do with them
personally, charging Peter with the grim business of letting guys know when they've been traded. As his passion for the
team grows, though, Billy begins to engage more and more, coaching individual players and the team as a whole.
In a rousing speech in the midst of a deep mid-season slump, he tells his motley crew, "You may not look like a winning
team, but you are one. So play like it tonight." And so, in typical Hollywood sports-movie fashion, they do. He tells one aging
former All Star to stop acting like he's a prima donna and start acting like a leader. He confronts another player with a
reputation for partying and eventually trades him for his bad behavior.
Billy is fiercely devoted to
young Peter. He never throws
the young analyst under the
bus or tries to make him a
scapegoat for an initially
Off the field, a poignant
subplot has to do with Billy's
relationship with his 12-year-old
daughter, Casey, who lives
with his ex-wife and her new
husband. Billy absolutely dotes
on Casey, buying her a guitar
and encouraging her in her
music. When Casey sings a
song she's written about how
much she's struggling, Billy
realizes that his career
instability and the threat of being fired is taking a toll on her too.
here's how well Moneyball worked for me: A little more than halfway through, I found myself almost subconsciously praying
for a batter to get a crucial hit. And then I thought, "This is a movie. A Hollywood movie. Of course he's going to get the hit."
And so he does.
But maybe I was drawn in so effectively because so little of this story unfolds on the field. This movie isn't really about the
Oakland Athletics and their RBI rebound. Instead, it's about a man who dared to approach an old game in a new way. "To
the degree that baseball served the story and could be an expression of the drama, it's in there," director Bennett Miller told
The Huffington Post. "But hopefully not a frame more."
Thus, Moneyball (based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis) transcends baseball's particulars in the way that any really
good sports movie does. Ultimately, movies like Rocky or Seabiscuit or Miracle are about more than boxing, horse racing or
hockey. They're about the
human spirit, the determination
to win, and the inevitable
roadblocks faced and lessons
learned along the way.
Moneyball shares those films'
feel-good DNA. And, as was
the case in those movies, Billy
Beane's personal journey here
is as much about his important
relationships - with his
daughter (especially), his
young protégé and even his
own expectations - as it is
about taking home the victor's