With professional baseball making its way into the postseason, many will take much pleasure in Moneyball, Hollywood’s take on the Oakland A’s 2002 season. Adapted from the Michael Lewis book of the same name, the movie succeeds in translating the majority of the book’s finer points. The movie, directed by Bennet Miller and starring Brad Pitt as A’s general manager Billy Beane, functions not only as an engaging sports drama, but also as a basic introduction into sabermetrics, the science behind baseball’s new wave of statistics.
The movies opening scene shows footage of the A’s loss in the 2001 American League Division Series to big spender New York Yankees and effectively characterizes Beane’s major problem: how to win when you have only a fraction of the payroll to field a team with.
The answer: Find value in players in ways that no one else in the major leagues is. In order to find this value Beane enlists the help of Peter Brand, played by a very likeable Jonah Hill. Brand possesses an economics degree from Yale and channels his abilities towards analyzing baseball statistics and players. Brand explains to Beane that games are won and lost not by great players, but by the runs they produce.
The film offers an interesting historical perspective, as the drama is intertwined with clips from the A’s season. Statistics and dates add texture and context to a plot that, if not treated with care, could have flopped. Miller is most impressive in his ability to capture the tensions of baseball. Even audiences familiar with the story will find themselves on the edge of their seat rooting for the Athletics and Beane to succeed.
What is most refreshing about Moneyball is its departure from the sports movie formula that has so often been recreated. You will not find any cliché inspiring speeches or come from behind heroics to win the championship. Instead, audiences are treated to a behind the scenes look at how the smartest guys in baseball do their job and the pressures that come with it. Pitt plays Beane with intensity and charm. The movie portrays him as almost a tragic character, one that could never quite accomplish what he works so hard every day to achieve.
Late in the movie, Beane references the dilemma of not romanticizing baseball, a game that he has been a part of for his entire life. It can be played with respect and love and can be rewarding in numerous ways. However, it is only when one takes as step away and looks at the numbers in the right way that one can truly accomplish a greater understanding of what makes a winning team tick.