A wise man once said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Maybe so, but what happens if no one can see if it’s broken? This is where innovation comes into the conversation. Innovation is one of the quickest ways to bring the future to the present and completely overhaul an outdated system. All you need is someone with the facts, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), and someone with the willingness to embrace the change, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). Then we can see how something as traditional as baseball changed completely in Moneyball.
Sabermetrics is the objective analysis of baseball statistics coined by Bill James. Unfortunately for Bill, he had no clout in the baseball community so no one used his formula. Enter Billy Beane, the failed-prospect-turned-general-manager looking for a way to take a small market team (the Oakland A’s) and make them compete with the big boys (the Yankees). He joins forces with Brand, a Yale alumnus with an economics degree, as they try to push their system through the archaic recruiting/drafting styles of baseball stalwarts.
Having gone to college in the East Bay (Go Bears!), I have seen and befriended plenty of Oakland sports fans. They are self-aware, self-deprecating and in some cases – the Black Hole – scary, but they sure love their teams, and the season depicted in Moneyball (2002) means a lot to them. The film succeeds in balancing the administrative aspects with the fan/media/national reactions. There are plenty of voiceovers and actual sound bits that give you an idea of how people were responding to such a radically different style of baseball. This ends up being the most crucial aspect because in this day and age, nothing in the sports world avoids criticism, especially if the norm is being questioned.
The film also succeeds, to a certain extent, in showing how a franchise is run. We get glimpses of recruitment meetings, draft boards and even wheeling and dealing at the trade deadline (my favorite scene). We get to see Beane’s failed attempt at a professional career and learn what makes him so willing to accept this new style of judging a player’s worth. One of the most telling scenes is a conversation Beane has with his daughter regarding his job status and stability. He continues to tell her to just not read anything or watch any news, which is definitely a modern phenomenon, but one we often forget people in the public eye have to deal with outside work.
There is a fair amount of commitment to making the film sports fan friendly, as well as entertaining for non-fans. As someone who is more inclined to read a box score and only skim a recap to get a feel for a game*, I feel it is necessary to warn you non-sports enthusiasts about the baseball lingo being thrown around. It is great fun for fans to be hearing about big names being thrown away and statistics that are gaining in importance nowadays like OBP (on-base percentage), but it can get somewhat technical at times. Also, knowing the result of the A’s season – and sabermetrics – does not take away from the tension or excitement that the film builds.
Moneyball somewhat crawls to the finish line and drags its feet at points, but the majority of the film is fascinating and entertaining. I am confident in saying anyone will enjoy it; you may just have some jargon fly over your head.
*if that sentence confuses you, I suggest doing some research before watching.