Moneyball is a film based on the book of the same name that was directed by Bennett Miller about a small market baseball team that found an innovative way of evaluating players. Co-written by the talented Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), the film is a true story about how Billy Beane used unconventional thinking to focus on buying wins instead players.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) was a whole package as a baseball player. He could hit, field, throw and run; a rare package to find. The New York Mets gave him an offer right out of high school. Billy already had a full ride to Stanford but a tough decision that the Beane Family would have to make is go to college or go to the pros.
There are some players that just do not pan out in baseball. They have the ability on paper but for one reason or another just do not perform in the major league. Billy Beane was one of those players. After 6 years he comes to grips that he is not a baseball player but he would like to stay in baseball as a scout. He eventually became the General Manger for the Oakland Athletics.
Set in the 2002, the team with the lowest budget aims to get back to the postseason again but will have to do so without 3 major players. They lost first baseman Jason Giambi, outfielder Johnny Damon and closer Jason Isringhausen to teams that could offer a higher salary. “There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there is 50 feet of crap. And then there is us, says Billy.” Their budget limitations make it an unfair game but it is his problem to fix. Billy realizes that they need to think differently with their existing recruitment process.
On a trip to the Cleveland Indians management office, Billy is talking to their GM about possible trade acquisitions. As they throw some possible trade ideas around he notices a man in the corner who whispers advice into the ears of the other guys in the room. The negotiations are going nowhere but the man in the corner intrigues him.
After the failed negotiation meeting is over Billy walks right out of the office to the desk of the man in the corner to find out more about him. His name is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a shy young player analyst who has never had a job in baseball before this. Not only that, but this is his first job in any profession. This baffles Billy but he is more concerned on what exactly he told the guy in the meeting.
The two step out of the building to talk more privately about what Peter Brand is all about. Peter explains that baseball teams are misjudging their players and more importantly mismanage their teams. He explains that instead thinking in terms of buying players they should think in terms of buying wins.
Soon after the two first met, Billy hires Peter to his team as the assistant GM. Peter uses Bill James’s formulas to come up with the true values in each player. He believes that there are 25 undervalued players out there that the team can buy on the cheap. Billy refers to their new strategy as counting cards at the blackjack table, trying to beat the odds. He calls this new strategy Moneyball.
The team’s scouts were very skeptical about this new strategy. They believe that there is more to baseball than just numbers and stats, it is about people and chemistry. There are fundamental elements where stats do not apply. Billy knows that the only way he can prove that the system works is by winning games.
The team starts the season off cold (losing 14 of the last 17 games). The seriousness of their poor record is starting to be brought to Billy’s attention. Even by his daughter. She asks him if he will be losing his job. He tells her not to worry about the fact his team is in last place and the things on the internet about him potentially losing his job. He tells her not to worry for her comfort but you can tell he is worried. Still, deep down he believes in his strategy.
The film portrays the hero to be Billy Beane but when you really think about it, it was only his acceptance of Peter Brand’s (in real life his name was Paul DePodesta) strategy and philosophy really changed the game. Every decision that he makes is because Peter said to do it. At least that is what I got out of the film, though props to Billy for looking for progressive ways to win and giving Peter a chance.
It is a movie about sports but it is not a sports movie. In fact, you do not even need to be a baseball fan to enjoy Moneyball, but it does not hurt either. The point of the film is not about an underdog sports team winning games but rather the way they went against the traditional way of evaluating players.
Brad Pitt does a fine job playing Billy Beane but I think the top performance goes to Jonah Hill. He played the number-crunching nerdy Yale graduate wonderfully. Philip Seymour Hoffman comes in with the small role of the team manager named Art Howe but takes a backseat to the main roles of Pitt and Hill.
Moneyball is an entertaining and soulful crowd pleaser with great acting and terrific writing. The only thing preventing this home-run film from being a grand-slam is the lack of risk taking. In the film’s defense, it is hard to take too many risks when it is based on true life events because staying true to the story is best. I do not know much about Billy Beane but perhaps they could have developed more from his ex-wife, the high billed Robin Wright, who only is seen in one scene. Still, you will likely not walk out of this film disappointed.