Moneyball, not Just for Sports Fans

My husband and I enjoy getting together with friends to watch movies every couple of months or so. So the last time our friends Karen and Steve came over for dinner and a movie it was our turn to host and we decided to watch “Moneyball” (2011)

This is a docudrama about baseball, the Oakland Athletic’s club, and Billy Beane, the General Manager. I am not a sports fan. I do not follow any teams. I do not get excited about the Olympics. If I won free tickets to a professional team event, I would probably give them to a friend who would enjoy the outing, rather than attend myself. Thankfully, my husband doesn’t watch sports on TV with any regularity either. In fact, the last hockey game he watched was when Canada & the US faced off in the 2010 Olympic gold medal game. My kids were so confused, and kept asking me “Why is daddy yelling at the TV?” I explained to them the significance of the game and that for some families who enjoy watching sports on a regular basis, yelling at the TV was common place. I advised them to keep that in mind when chosing a mate. Lucky for me, I had to take the girls to swimming lessons while the game was in the final period. I remember thinking, “Wow, there is absolutely no traffic this evening” and then a few seconds passed before I thought “Duh!” That is not to say I am not athletic. Lately, not so much, but much of my childhood involved swimming, ice skating and yes, playing baseball. In fact, of all the major professional sports, I probably enjoy baseball the most. I have gone on this tangent long enough to frame the context of my opinion of this film.

Do you need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this film ? I don’t think so, but if you don’t know much about how the game is played, then this movie may not be for you. I rather enjoyed it despite being indifferent to the lead actor, Brad Pitt, who plays Billy Beane. There is not a lot of game watching in this film. It is mostly a film about business, strategy, identifying patterns, math and thinking outside the box. Nerd that I am, these things appeal to me.

The Oakland A’s are a small market team with a tiny payroll. Beane is feeling the pinch as he loses players because he cannot compete with those who have deeper pockets. He meets a young man named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who is a Yale economics graduate. Brand tells him of a new method of building a team that uses sabermetrics rather than traditional scouting. Sabermetrics is a tool (developped by Bill James) that uses mathematical formulae and baseball statistics to assign value to a player. The next step is to determine which players are undervalued and sign them up at affordable salaries. It is basically bargain shopping for players. This method goes against the traditionalists and the road to acceptance is an uphill battle. But Beane and Brand persevere. The main story is told with suspense, humour and love for sport as it intersects with scenes of Beane’s personal life. One sees him with his 12 year old daughter. We also see him reflecting on his life choices. Regrets? He has more than his fair share. He forwent a prestigiuos Stanford University scholarship in pursuit of an underwhelming professional baseball career. These personal scenes help draw a portrait of an underdog, that you can’t help but empathise with. There is subtle humour throughout the film and touching scenes as well. One of my favorite moments involves a completely unexpected home run and a bellyflop. Who can’t help feel for this team of misfit players?

Pitt did a fine job portraying Beane, and indeed earned an Oscar nomination. So did Jonah Hill, which was a huge leap from his teen angst movie days (Superbad) not so long ago. Althouh Hill’s portrayal of Brand was the ying to Beane’s yang, regretably, the role was written as one dimensional character. That would be my biggest complaint about this film.

All in all, it was a good choice. We all enjoyed it. Oscar worthy? Debatable. My friend Steve had read and really enjoyed the book that the film was based on. True confession time, I am both a science nerd and an economics nerd having studied both in university so this film appealed to my analytical mind. Sabermetrics is still a controversial method, and I don’t know enough about baseball to defend its merit in the real world. It is hard to believe that it became the catalyst for an entertaining film. That is an achievement in itself. And to have me get emotionally sucked into a sports themed film is practically genius.

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