"Moneyball," a movie based on a book by Michael Lewis, stars Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, Jonah Hill as assistant GM Peter Brand and Philip Seymour Hoffman as A's manager Art Howe. It was directed by Bennett Miller.
Baseball movies typically fall into two genres: The serious, triumphant and sometimes historical (such as "The Natural," "Field of Dreams" or "Eight Men Out") or madcap comedy ("Major League" or "Bull Durham").
"Moneyball," released on Sept. 23, 2011, doesn't fit either genre. And that's what makes it refreshing, and definitely worth checking out.
When the book "Moneyball" was published in 2004, nobody would have believed it would become a movie starring Brad Pitt. The book was mostly about sabermetrics, how the Oakland A's took baseball's conventional wisdom about player evaluation and turned it on its statistical head, using advanced statistical analysis to get an edge on the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.
The A's didn't win anything, either, other than a few division titles. And because this is non-fiction, there's no moment like Robert Redford in fictional "The Natural" or Charlie Sheen striking out the power hitter in the fictional comedy "Major League."
But with Lewis' success with the football movie, "The Blind Side," the studios gave baseball similar treatment with "Moneyball."
Making The Story Movie-Worthy
The movie in essence really is a Billy Beane biography. With his best players - Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen - gone in free agency after a 2001 playoff loss, Beane (played astutely by Pitt) has to find a new way to beat the system in a small market.
His own scouts offer no real alternatives other than the traditional way of baseball thinking, and he finds somebody unique in Paul Brand (based on real-life Paul DePodesta) working for the Cleveland Indians.
One of the pinnacle moments of the movie is when the A's were trading for lefty reliever Ricardo Rincon. (Yes, they actually built a "moment" in the movie around trading for a middle reliever.) That's where some creative screenwriting by Aaron Sorkin comes into play, into the inner workings of what a GM goes through at the trade deadline.
The other pinnacle moment was Oakland's 20-game winning streak in the second half of the season that propelled them to the top of the American League West. Those were the moments, punctuated by Scott Hatteberg's leadoff home run in the bottom of the ninth for the record-setting win, that were popcorn-ready.
Taking Some Liberties
No baseball movie would be complete without some inaccuracies from what actually happens (or could happen). "Moneyball" doesn't have any implausible moments like a walk-off homer in a road game ("The Natural") or anybody who wasn't an athlete trying to look like one (William Bendix in "The Babe Ruth Story" or Tim Robbins in "Bull Durham").
But it's got a few.
For one, Beane didn't hire DePodesta that offseason. DePodesta came to the A's in 1999, three years earlier. So the sabermetrics philosophies didn't exactly come to Beane and DePodesta overnight.
Another quirk of the movie is the lack of attention given to one of the great pitching staffs in the league at the time. The A's had Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. Zito won 23 games and the Cy Young. Wasn't even mentioned. Think that might have been important to the A's success? Me, too. Instead, we learned all about Chad Bradford, who was 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA out of the bullpen.
Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye were on this team as well, and they were better offensive players than either Scott Hatteberg or David Justice that season. But that also would have messed with a good story, right?
The movie also made Art Howe (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) out as somewhat of a dolt, which seemed unfair. (A subtle dig in casting - Beane has Pitt playing him and Howe gets a chubby Hoffman). And Howe wasn't happy about how he was portrayed.
Perhaps the movie's best soliloquy is given at the end of the movie by Arliss Howard, who played Red Sox owner John Henry, interviewing Beane for the Red Sox's GM job after the 2002 season. It was there that Beane (and the audience) could really see what he had created, and how Beane was going to lose that edge. The Red Sox were a big-market team that could afford to make some mistakes and still be good while going to the stat-based philosophy. And, sure enough, the Red Sox won the World Series two years later, with Beane turning down the job (certainly one of Theo Epstein's favorite moments of the movie, I bet) and still swinging away in Oakland.
It's a good baseball movie, the cast is great, and the screenplay keeps you interested. Its faults are few, and it's worth the price of admission.