Thoughts on Moneyball


The struggle to transform Michael Lewis’ Moneyball from a study of a business model into a compelling screenplay has been an ordeal, to say the least. Unlike Lewis’ later work, The Blind Side, the payoff wasn’t as easy or tailor-made for Hollywood. Still, what remains at the core of both narratives is a redemption story, based on a character overcoming incredible odds to attain real success. That makes the Brad Pitt vehicle a show of artistic symmetry, in that the movie’s success to come is nearly as improbable as the on-field exploits of that plucky 2002 edition of the Oakland Athletics.

The first thing that struck me about Pitt’s performance is how weathered he looks as Billy Beane. The bags under his eyes are reminiscent of Benicio del Toro. He shows a full range of emotions, from his portrayal of Beane’s well-known mercurial attitude towards the team to his surprisingly tender moments with his daughter (Kerris Dorsey) and Peter Brand, the assistant GM amalgam played by the now-svelte Jonah Hill. Every A’s fan knows how Beane has evolved in terms of finding greater efficiencies, from unathletic OBP/OPS types to undervalued defensive players and now decent minor leaguers blocked from promotion by established stars in the majors. Despite that evolution, there’s that lingering suspicion that Beane’s methodology was either a fluke or wholly flawed, simply because the A’s didn’t get to or win a World Series. Acknowledgment of that suspicion shows on Pitt’s face, which was constantly full of regret.

The audience may come away from the movie thinking that the 2002 A’s were the MLB equivalent of the Bad News Bears. They weren’t. They had the year’s AL MVP (Miguel Tejada) and Cy Young winner (Barry Zito), neither of whom gets much pub in the film. Neither do Tim Hudson or Mark Mulder, the other two legs of the Big Three, nor Eric Chavez, who would in short order become the face of the franchise. That shouldn’t stop anyone, A’s fans included, from enjoying the film. It was necessary to pare down the story into one big narrative with a limited number of subplots. The team itself, as was known by that year three of the contending window, was a notoriously slow starter and bullish second half performer. Tension regarding Beane’s job security was ratcheted up a bit, as his halo didn’t really get dinged until 2004 or later.

Finishing the movie is Beane’s trip to Boston, where Red Sox owner John Henry bowls him over with a tremendous offer to become the highest paid GM in baseball, only to be followed by Beane backing out of the job and staying with the A’s, where he’d eventually get a small ownership stake a few years later. He famously stated about his fateful decision to choose the Mets over a Stanford scholarship:

I made one decision based on money in my life… and I promised I’d never do it again.

Despite the ownership stake and a contract that runs through 2014, Beane is linked to the Cubs’ GM opening and could be linked to both the Red Sox and Yankees GM positions should they become available. If he stays true to that quote – and it’s always tough to turn down big money – I don’t think he’ll leave the Bay Area. I got that sense earlier in the week, when Beane made rare lengthy appearances on A’s TV and radio broadcasts, and on 95.7. He claimed that he had no inside information, but I’m not convinced in the slightest. He seemed barely able to hold back whatever he was not telling.

The film seeks to give Beane some form of redemption by explaining how a sabermetric-focused approach helped the Red Sox win the Series in 2004. It’s still not the kind of Hollywood ending that the masses want. Beane is a loyal guy to family and organization, even if players are treated as little more than commodities much of the time. I think if he really wants to shake the critics once and for all, he’s gonna have to do it on his terms, as the GM of the Athletics. After spending the last four years in organizational limbo while the stadium situation had no resolution, Beane may be finally sniffing that rebirth, that window opening again. By no means does that mean the A’s will have payroll parity with the Yankees and Red Sox, let alone the Giants. But I figure he’ll take that extra $25-40 million a year in revenue, be rid of the “50 feet of crap” that the A’s are under, and start dealing in earnest once again. Like the long, strange road trip the film took towards eventuality, the stadium may yet see such a resolution and that may be the boost Beane needs to turn the A’s from challengers to champs. It would be more than enough to turn Moneyball from bittersweet to just plain sweet. I’m looking forward to it.

29 thoughts on “Thoughts on Moneyball

  1. …haven’t read the book. Saw the movie.

  2. @pjk – I’m surprised that you haven’t read the book. I’d have pegged you as an “early adopter” of sorts.

  3. Anybody who hasn’t seen the movie yet might not want to read this post…
    re: The first thing that struck me about Pitt’s performance is how weathered he looks as Billy Beane. …Brad’s not too far away from 50. He’s what? 46 maybe? Not 20something anymore….The movie does take some factual liberties, making little to no mention of the powerhouse players in the lineup (Zito, Mulder, Hudson, Chavez, Tejada. In fact, it’s been mentioned that Royce Clayton played Tejada but I don’ think he even had a line.) But I really liked this movie. I thought they might have ended it with the 20-game winning streak but they didn’t – they stick with the facts that they A’s did not, in fact, get to the World Series…The most intense moments? When the film suddenly goes dead silent when the A’s are blowing an 11-run lead in Game 20 of the 20-game streak. Whoever made that decision to have no sound there knows his or her stuff…

  4. ML:Yes, I should read the book. I tend to pick up books and get so distracted with other things going on that I might not finish them. Like with “the Great American Novel,” another baseball book I have started and not finished.

  5. ML, that’s an astute thought, “He seemed barely able to hold back whatever it was he wasn’t telling.” Does that change your mind that the A’s only have a 50 percent chance of getting to the table?

  6. Wow pjk – you owe it to read the book. If you’re too distracted, i have audio cds yoy can borrow if you’d like. About to watch the movie after dinner.

  7. OT: love that Cisco ballpark cam! Go A’s and go D-Backs!

  8. Loved the book, and will see the movie tomorrow at the Grand Lake Theater, in the O of course.
    @TonyD–Cisco ballpark cam?…lol.. you are beyond obsessed over this Cisco Field. Sad that the name sounds like San Francisco too much.

  9. …I try to read books on Caltrain from SJ to Frisco but usually end up working or sleeping on the trip instead…”Moneyball” debuts, A’s win, Giants lose the division. It’s been a good day.

  10. cisco got it’s name because they took the last part of the city name of sf.

    haven’t read the book but will probably watch the movie later next week.

  11. OT, but Jemile had his 2nd HR in 2 days. Besides all the movie hoopla, Weeks is one of the few bright spots of a rather dismal, very disappointing year. I’m hoping for some good news in a few months over this ballpark issue, and it’s not what the majority wants on here: to stay and make it work in Oakland.

  12. You don’t watch MLB Network, do you. Moneyball, A’s win, D-Backs win, Braves win, ballpark proponents will soon win..VERY GOOD DAY INDEED!

  13. I thought the movie was pretty good. Hearing Bill King and seeing the beautiful/rough shots of Oakland was great. I was having a good time, until, and I kid you not, a guy dressed all in Giants gear yelled out, “The A’s still haven’t won shit!” What kind of douche goes to this movie with that intent? Still, good to see Oakland A’s fans proud about something again.

  14. yeah as good as korach is as the #1 radio play by play man, miss king a whole bunch and he’ll never be forgetten and now will be imortalized on the big screen. hopefully he’ll also be voted into the hof next summer too.

    as for the idiot at the theatre, don’t worry, 20 years from now nobody outside of the bay area will remember their fluke of a world series victory as i suspect not many even know who won the ws last year due to it being so unmemorable in every other way.

  15. re: guy dressed all in Giants gear yelled out,

    …what a class act. Yelling during a movie?

  16. Eb,
    The guy obviously doesn’t know math, because 4 and “89” are definitely greater than 1 😉

  17. Tony, you have to be of sub par intelligence to root for the Giants in the first place so this should surprise no one. And I say this with more than 50% of my friends and family being Giants fans…

  18. eb-surprised no one the the theater beat this Giants fan into a pulp

  19. @Vince Well, I was with a friend in Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek isn’t exactly a rough and tumble place.

  20. Saw it last night with my son (he was extra amped up about it). Before I give my final take on the movie, I must caveat that 1) I am a movie buff, having more that a 600+ collection of Blu Ray titles 2) I have read Moneyball quite a few times and 3) I am a diehard A’s fan (as well as a fan of BP). I had also read all the reviews before actually seeing it and they were pretty good so I had high expectations. Afterwards, I was a little let down. BP was sensational playing Beane, but the movie was a bit slower and not as entertaining as say Michael Lewis’ narrative. Overall, I would give it 3/5 stars.

  21. Well Moneyball opened with a relatively disappointing 20 million. It got beat by a nearly 20 year old cartoon.

  22. ….$20 mill would be the best-ever opening for a baseball movie. Nobody was expecting an $80 mill Star Wars opening for Moneyball. And “Lion King” is rolling over everything in its path. Disney’s got quite a racket – re-release popular kids movies from 15 years ago and watch the $$ roll in. I envy them. Think about it – Moneyball is a date movie or a movie for a guy to see by himself. Lion King? Mom, dad, sister, brother, maybe grandma, too, will all go see it. Do the math on ticket sales on that. My kids weren’t born yet when the first two Toy Story movies came out but we all packed into the car to see the third one.

  23. Very disappointing draw, but they should recooperate the 50 million budget easily. BP is being mentioned as an oscar nominee for his performance. Btw – did everyone notice the joe morgan anti-moneyball dialogue in the end? Wasnt part of the book, but it showed hiw much research the writers did for the movie. I had a nice chuckle over it….

  24. $20 mill isn’t bad, a little higher than expectations. Will see if it has any legs. Movies drop off over 50% each week they’re out. It may do good overseas.

  25. …A baseball overseas? It might do OK in Japan, maybe. Matsui was at the premier getting photographed with Brad Pitt – that should help the movie sell in Japan. Between its theatrical run and then DVDs and cable, Moneyball will make some $$. Apparently, Pitt did the movie for less than his usual salary. Given that this is an unconventional baseball movie not really geared to kids and not about the NY Yankee$, I think $20 mill is not bad.. I think we’re going to be hearing about Moneyball at the next Oscars, probably when they announce the Best Actor nominees….

  26. …baseball MOVIE overseas.

  27. FYI – Baseball SJ is organizing a MOneyball Movie watching even this coming Wednesday, September 28 · 6:00pm – 9:00pm at Camera 12 for those interested.

  28. Athletics Nation has a 2 part interview with Billy Beane up on their site. Pretty interesting stuff.
    BB on the Moneyball Premiere in Oakland: “It was a neat environment at the premiere in Oakland. It was really a unique setting to premiere a movie where you have people that have some emotion invested on what’s going on in the screen. I think many of the people I heard from, like some of the actors, said it was by far one of the best premieres they’ve ever been to.”

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