“Moneyball” Movie Review

    The premise in “Moneyball” serves as therapy and a voice for those of us who put our support behind a small market Major League Baseball team.  In fact, to this day, you could plug in numerous teams into the plot of Moneyball and still have a similar film.  Over the years, many of these over achievers have had success similar to the 2002 Oakland A’s, who themselves put together a remarkable 20 game win streak.  The film immediately hits you with a harrowing statistic.  No, not a statistic such as batting average, earned run average, or home runs, rather a statistic that deals with payroll.  “New York Yankees: $114 Million  -  Oakland A’s: $39 Million.”

     At the end of the 2001 season, A’s General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) has a problem.  His team had just suffered another stinging loss after a promising deep playoff run but now has a bigger problem.  Bigger market teams like the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees have offered two of his best players, Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon, big money contracts that he can’t afford to match.  Beane pleads with the team owner, but even the owner tells him “How can I have you spend money that I don’t have?”  For every professional sports team, the GMs job is to field a winning team.  As a league with no salary cap, MLB teams who can afford to spend a lot will always get the best players money can buy.  No different than it is today.

     Good personnel men always have a nose for talent, even when others may not see it.  During a meeting with another team’s GM, Beane meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), an analyst for the Cleveland Indians.  Soon after, Beane buys Brand from his employers and hires him as the A’s assistant GM.  To the dismay of the many longtime scouts in the A’s organization, Brand uses a computer generated analysis to determine how to obtain the best possible players, but still remain within the team’s budget constraints.  Rather than looking at a player’s popularity, Brand looks for the 25 guys with the best on base percentage. For example, if there is an catcher who excels at getting on base when he bats, but has nerve damage in his arm, thus not allowing him to throw effectively anymore, than his simple solution is to teach him to play first base!  Beane’s detractors in the film coin this philosophy as “Moneyball.”

     This is a true story, so calling Moneyball predictable would not be fair, but the film does go through the standard plot anecdotes you would expect.  The team’s manager, Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) does not agree with whats going on and Beane continually has run ins with many in his organization as he is constantly defending his approach.  As the film lays it out, his approach seems as though he made a decision based on his gut and he stuck to it.  He knew others would be against him because what he was bringing to the table had not been done before.  No one likes change, especially gruff old men who have likely been at their jobs for several decades.  Yet Beane perseveres in the face of adversity and proves his decisions were the right ones.

     Pitt’s performance in the film is the best I’ve seen from him in a long time.  You probably couldn’t have found someone more perfect for the role.  The same goes for Jonah Hill’s performance as Peter Brand.  Playing the number crunching Yale Economics graduate meant he had to come off as the fresh approach that he was.  Though his contributions to the team can’t be understated, the comic relief the character provides as a sort of fish out of water lends to some of the film’s better moments.  Remember, Brand thought being Assistant GM meant advising Beane on who to sign.  He never anticipated also having to sit a player down and cut them.

     I liked Moneyball because I felt it can be a sports movie even for those who don’t like sports movies or who don’t follow baseball.  The behind the scenes stuff portrays baseball for what it is, a business.  Imagine the end of the 2001 season when the giant banners on the side of the stadium depicting the A’s star players had to come down as they were snatched up by the bigger fish.  Probably not a good feeling for the team or the fans.  One thing Moneyball proves; however, is the acquisition of a big name player may lead to instant gratification, but the kind of team Billy Beane put together in Oakland actually changed the game forever.  GRADE: B+