This time, I’m reviewing the film Moneyball, which is based on a very popular book, which in turn, focused on the true story of Billy Beane’s revolutionary approach to being the general manager of the Oakland Athletics.
The movie starts in 2001, the A’s are in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, but are knocked out. During the off-season, the team loses its three biggest stars–all free agents who are lured away for much larger contracts with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox.
Like the Twins, the A’s are a small-market team, and have a very limited payroll, especially in comparison to the aforementioned Yankees, so when Beane seeks to get more payroll from the team’s ownership for some higher-priced talent, he’s turned down.
So instead, he comes across Peter Brand, a young economics grad from Yale. Brand is a devotee of Bill James, a guy who years ago developed a mathematical basis to measure how good players are. Brand has taken that base and expanded on it. Beane (played by Brad Pitt) is hooked by the radical thinking and ends up hiring Brand away from the Cleveland Indians.
So the A’s move forward and bring in a bunch of underrated, inexpensive players who most other teams have passed on because they don’t fit the traditional baseball persona. Early on in the 2002 season, things are a disaster: the team is not playing well, and manager Art Howe doesn’t share Beane’s vision and is playing a different lineup than Beane keeps telling him to. But the team rebounds after a couple of key trades which force Howe to play the players Beane wants him to, and they go on to set an American League record with a 20 game winning streak. The A’s end up in the playoffs, only to lose to the Twins, but in the process, baseball is transformed and teams have to at least consider this new line of thinking.
All throughout, though, there is Beane’s own doubt about his career as a major league player. He was highly touted when he was drafted and signed right out of high school by the Mets. All of baseball saw him as a complete player who would dominate the game for an entire career, but he quickly fell to earth and was ineffective for a short four-plus season playing career.
It’s an interesting movie, though not great–I think it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be a documentary style, drama style, or something else entirely. And the question remains in my mind as to what the movie is really about: Beane, the plan that he and Brand developed, or a commentary on how baseball has become a business more than a game.
I haven’t read the book, and I’m not sure I’m going to. But if it’s like the movie, I think I’ll skip it. It was good once, but I really don’t need the story a second time.
Three out of Five Stars.
See you tomorrow.