Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane described his team by saying,“There are rich teams, there are poor teams, then there is fifty feet of crap, and then there is the Oakland A’s.”
The movie “Moneyball,” based on the novel by Michael Lewis of the same name, is about how Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) turns his “crap” team into a playoff contender. It is the story of how a baseball team from the lowest of the lows created a new system that allowed their team to score the most runs for the least amount of money. Unlike other sports, Major League Baseball does not utilize collective bargaining. Teams in large markets have much bigger payrolls than teams in small markets. While the Yankees total payroll in 2002 (the year the movie is based) was over $125 million while the A’s payed out only $39 million.
Beane learns how a team with little money can succeed in baseball from statistics geek Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is a 26-year-old Yale economics graduate who rates players solely on their ability to get on base because that gives a team the best chance to score runs.
When the movie starts, the A’s are coping with the loss of their three best players, Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi who have been swooped up by richer teams.
Many scouts in the A’s organization believe that there are prospects in their farm systems who have the “tools” to replace Jason Giambi’s 38 homeruns and 120 RBI (Runs batted in). But Beane, with the help of the Brand, decides that because the A’s cannot replace Giambi’s ability due to their lack of money, they have to find players that just get on base.
The scouts tell Beane he is crazy for listening to a newcomer with no experience instead of people who have been professional scouts for years. Beane responds, “If we play like the Yankees in here there is no way we can beat them out there.”
The plot of the movie rests squarely on the shoulders of Pitt and Hill. While the movie concentrates seriously on baseball, Hill adds some humor to the movie by being a complete know-it-all baseball stat geek, but lacks the people skills or experience to handle his position. Hill exemplifies his wit in the movie when he talks to Beane about Kevin Youkilis, a prospect in the Red Sox farm system, and quips that “‘He’s like the ‘Greek God of walks’ but his swing looks like a duck waddling.”
Pitt exceptionally demonstrates the immense pressure that Beane put on himself by attempting to change a philosophy that had served baseball well for over 100 years. In one scene, he throws his TV through a window because the A’s are struggling early on. Later, he tells his daughter to stop reading articles online about him to make her stop worrying. And the film’s sound design reinforced the pressure on Beane with long periods of silence while he is watching the games or thinking about the craziness of his scheme.
Most baseball fans probably would not have known that Brand, not Beane, was the person who did all the grunt work. Most people thought Beane was the genius behind all the moves the A’s made, but actually Brand was the one who told Beane what to do. While Beane’s job was to take all the stress and heat from the media and the fans.
Fans of baseball, especially the statistical and managerial side of the game, then you will love this movie. It does, however focus strongly on baseball, and if baseball is something that is not your cup of tea, then it is not a movie for you. This is not “The Blindside” (another Michael Lewis novel that was made into a movie) which was about football, but delved into implications deeper than simply the gridiron. Moneyball will not tug at your heartstrings, but it will connect to baseball fans.
Another problem is that the movie does not explain a few of Beane’s quirks. He weirdly chooses to not watch the games or travel with the team. Viewers were also left wondering why Beane stayed so loyal to the A’s after his success, despite top clubs offering great pay.
Anyone who is a fan of baseball will find this movie interesting and it is definitely a must see film heading into the October playoff race. For those viewers who do not know what on-base percentage or how to calculate WHIP, this is probably not the movie for you.