Moneyball Defies Genre, Hits a Homer
- Friday, September 23, 2011
DVD Release Date: January 10, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: September 23, 2011
Rating: PG-13 (for strong language)
Run Time: 133 min.
Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Robin Wright
“It defies everything we know about baseball.” – Bob Costas
In 2002, the Oakland A’s had their backs against the wall. A small market team, they were burdened with the lowest payroll in the majors and no more to spend.
They had to find another way to compete—or, more boldly, they had to find a new way. General Manager Billy Beane did. In the process, he not only changed the fortunes of the A’s but also changed how people think about the sport—and maybe all of sports—forever.
As “sports movies” go, Moneyball defies genre conventions as much as Beane defied baseball’s traditions. It’s about the game of baseball about as much as The Social Network is about Facebook’s Web site (which is to say not much). Rather than your typical on-the-field heroics or off-the-field antics, it’s about a revolution of thought that had existed for more than a century and the man who dared to ask if it was all wrong.
For people who’ve never been that interested in baseball, Moneyball may very well provoke a fascination with the game in a way that no traditional inspiring sports movie ever could. And for all those armchair GM’s out there, this proves to be the ultimate vicarious insider experience.
Devastated by a post-season loss to the Yankees and then losing key players he couldn’t afford, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt, The Tree of Life) questions everything about the fundamentals of how to compete in an unfair system that favors the richest big-market teams. He then meets Peter Brand (a pseudonym here for the real-life Paul DePodesta), a young staff member in the Cleveland Indians scouting organization who inexplicably sees potential in players that others have written off.
Peter’s gift isn’t being more keen than veteran scouts; he’s a recent Economics grad from Yale who’s never played baseball in his life. Rather, Peter has developed an intricate mathematical amalgam of information that makes players not only predictable but reveals strengths not seen by common observation. It’s similar to the approach developed twenty years prior by statistician Bill James, but one always seen as fringe thinking as it discounts the vaunted but elusive attribute of “intangibles” by turning player evaluation into an equation.
So amongst the scrubs, no-names and rejects other teams have passed on, Peter’s computations (much more complex than a mere “formula”) tell Billy which low-cost players are worth the risk—even if it means moving them to a position they’ve never played before. Beane embraces the philosophy and is met with universal opposition, not just within his organization but also across the baseball and sports media world.
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