Friday, October 28, 2011


I was out with Larry, my former roommate, last night. Talked him into seeing Moneyball, the new picture with Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman (I'll make the joke here—I thought I'd "see more" Philip Hoffman in the movie than I did).

As everybody by now knows, it's the story of how the Oakland Athletics ball team used metrics to build a contending team out of disregarded players on a shoestring budget. The movie is largely caught up in telling the story of the resistance Pitt's character, Billy Beane (a once-promising player who never hit his stride, now the A's general manager), encounters in adopting this new strategy of Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill). Brand uses statistics to synergize the strengths of "lesser" players to eliminate the weaknesses of others. The underlying theme of the strategy is, in a nutshell, "slow and steady wins the race". The idea isn't to find players who can knock the ball out of the park, it's to find ones who can consistently get to first base. Find enough of them, the theory goes, and the runs will trickle in.

Beane's scouts, old men who men who've been in the game for decades, scoff at the new approach, and as they drift away, they badmouth the idea in public. The biggest obstacle is the team's manager, Art Howe (played with Sahara-esque aridness by Hoffman), who insists on his right to play the team as he sees fit, not as the numbers indicate. Consequently, the team fares poorly at the start of the 2002 season, and the public scorn goes to Beane for his apparently foolish experiment. When Beane and Brand conspire to rob Howe of some of his choices in an attempt to channel the team into their prescribed direction, its fortunes turn around, and suddenly it's Howe's coaching getting the public accolades. Beane's approach is damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

The A's attended, but didn't win, the American League playoffs that year, losing to the Twins, but what they did accomplish was the first, and only, string of 20 consecutive wins in league history. The movie goes on to say that the Boston Red Sox offered Beane their general managership, which he turned down; nevertheless, they adopted Brand's methods and went on to win the 2004 World Series, finally breaking the Curse of the Bambino.

The movie is well-acted; much of the tension understated as you would expect in a picture like this. Although I wouldn't call it a great movie, it's interesting and you can learn a lot about the game without it being shoved down your throat. It's one I'd pick up on DVD and watch repeatedly and let it soak in. That's one of the highest compliments I personally can pay a movie.

No comments: