Moneyball

While I liked Moneyball, the science that drives the story is never really explained. It was probably a conscious choice, as dialogue about the interpretation of statistics isn’t exactly riveting stuff. Unfortunately, the whole plot hinges on this point – that a nerdy, overweight statistician possesses a magical system that transforms the game of baseball. It’s interesting stuff – but understanding the science behind the numbers is overshadowed by the challenges General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) faces in implementing it.

The Oakland Athletics have the odds stacked against them. They’ve just lost their top three players to other teams, and with one of the lowest player payrolls of the league, it’s difficult to attract competitive talent. Set during the 2002 season, Beane is tasked with rebuilding the team with limited options. His scouts pitch players to him using the typical tools – their experience and intuition – that Beane regards as ineffectual and archaic. While a trade with the Cleveland Indians is unsuccessful, Beane manages to pick up a important ally – Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) – with a revolutionary new system for assessing value in players.

And so, using the sabermetric approach – something to do with on-base percentage rather than the traditional batting statistics – the duo assemble a team of “misfit toys” and look to demonstrate the value of their method by taking the team all the way to the World Series.

The baseball players are merely window dressing for the story – each is given a handful of short scenes that are neither indicative of their untapped baseball potential nor do they add much to their characterization. It’s interesting for an inspirational sports movie to be so unconcerned with the dynamics of the team. This is a sports movie seen from the perspective of the managers and administrators – the generals of the game whereas the players are merely pawns. This theme is expanded on with flashbacks to Beane’s past as a sought-after prospect courted by scouts to give up college for the big paychecks of the MLB – only to play in The Bigs with disappointing results and dwindling compensation.

Moneyball isn’t a typical sports movie. Much of the action takes place in boardrooms and offices away from the field where characters bluff and parry with one another over trades, contracts, and the minutiae of running a baseball team. It’s a movie about the business of running a game, and while I would argue it doesn’t have the same emotional impact of other underdog stories, they give it a good go. And like implementing an untested system that goes against years of tradition, that’s all that matters.

Grade: B-

Sidenote: I find it interesting that Billy Beane becomes a valued General Manager over the course of the film. It just seems ironic that what makes him a hot commodity is that he’s applied the system that Peter Brand developed to assess undervalued players – and ends up becoming an overvalued General Manager.

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