I love sports movies, especially ones about baseball. Of all the baseball movies, Moneyball is my second favorite with Field of Dreams being the first. Maybe I will review that gem later. What’s even better than your traditional sports movie is one that has positive themes and lessons, especially ones that are Biblically aligned.
Moneyball is about Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the General Manager for the Oakland A’s who, faced with the difficult situation of having to rebuild a championship-level baseball team with no money, adopts a new way – using math. This baseball math was developed by Bill James, a “security guard at a pork and beans company”, and is called “Moneyball” because the system, also called sabremetrics, can optimize a team using business analytics rather than the traditional scouting processes. The system is very complex and I am sure that I even screwed up the description.
At first blush, the movie sounds boring – “baseball and math – what are you talking about?” But, the movie is really about two other major themes – relationships and fear. These two themes make the movie engaging, sweet, funny, heartwarming and often frustrating – again, much like normal life. Besides this, the movie has great characters, portrayed by good actors with a good storyline and it is very funny. Billy summarizes the movie well by saying that baseball is a tiered system where there are “rich teams on top, then poor teams, then 50 feet of crap, and then there is us” and goes on to say that he and Peter are looking to build a baseball team that is like “an island of misfit toys”.
The movie highlights how important relationships are in the running of a baseball team or business, the parenting of children and just in life in general. The key relationship is the one between Billy Beane and Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a Moneyball prodigy, who together radically change the Oakland A’s causing a huge amount of frustration and anger from the team’s manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and the team’s old-guard baseball scouts. Another relationship highlighted is the one between Billy and his daughter who he is raising in a blended family with his ex-wife (Robin Wright) and her new husband. Although the adults seem to be doing a good job in raising the teenager, she is shown to be dealing with not only normal teen angst, but is also concerned about her father losing his job and moving away. The last set of relationships featured are the ones between Billy and his baseball players. Billy’s old way of dealing with players was to hold them at arms length so that he was not emotionally invested in them. As Billy and Peter’s relationship matures, Peter presses him to rethink how he interacts with the players and Billy realizes that his stance has been causing problems and starts to change.
The second theme centers around the fear of trying new ideas when old ones seem to just get you the same results. The team’s manager and scouts evaluate the players by looking at how they are performing at that point in time and how they feel they will play in the future. Billy and Peter used business analytics which allowed them to see the player without any external influences like how they look when they play (Chad Bradford’s pitching style), how they used to play (Scott Hatteberg’s and David Justice’s playing history) or how ugly the player’s girlfriend is (seriously, that was a criteria used by the team’s scouts). Everyone from the team but Billy and Peter were very afraid of changing the ways they did things, to the point of being aggressively hostile and even getting fired because of it.
The movie has many great scenes, two of my favorite are where Billy Beane talks with Peter and his daughter about dealing with the fear of change and the possibility that he might lose his job and career and have to move away from his daughter. Maybe my next favorite scene has the veteran catcher turned first baseman, Scott Hatteberg, played by the hilarious Chris Pratt, telling David Justice about how scared he is to have to learn first base so late in his career. Scott makes a comment that he is scared that someone might hit a baseball in his direction to which David Justice laughs and says, “No, really, what are you concerned about?”. In a perfect deadpan, Scott says “that someone might hit a ball my way” to which a startled David Justice says, “Good luck with that”.
On Moneyball, it looks like I am not alone as Rotten Tomatoes reviewers like the movie as much as I do – they rate it at a 94%. The user reviewers are only slightly less enthusiastic at about 86%. Overall, the movie is a very good one for everyone, even if, at first blush, it does not seem like it would be. It’s not just baseball and math.