Thursday, October 13, 2011

A (Baseball) Movie of High Excellence

Moneyball. The movie about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, based on the book by Michael Lewis. (Tomatometer: 95%; IMDb; Movie site.) I read the book back in the mid-2000s when it came out and found it intriguing. I

What Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) did was unthinkable prior to 2002 because nobody would take the risk. He and his associates (a fictional composite in the movie, played by Jonah Hill) decided to use the overly geeky statistical analysis pioneered by overly geeky Bill James to fill up a ball club that had a very small payroll.

Among other things, the BIG awareness they came to was the something called On Base Percentage (OBP) meant more than the traditional intuition of scouts and baseball mythology and perhaps even of such stats as RBIs and batting average. No matter how you got on base- you became a potential run. If you got on base more often than others - regardless of the reason, such as walking, you were more likely to be more valuable to a winning team- or even make your team a winning team.

That in a nutshell is the story. Sounds dull and boring. How can one make a move about the economics (dull) of baseball statistics (and boring)? Easy- get Brad Pitt to star and Aaron Sorkin to be one of the screenwriters and you have a winner. (Kind of goes against the baseball premise, doesn't it?) It is not an action movie. Even the baseball scenes in it are there to carry the story and not for baseball activity. (We do get to see the Minnesota Twins portrayed a couple times, though.)

Like baseball, it is not a fast-paced movie. There is plenty of time for the premise to develop and to watch Brad Pitt act in great close-ups and various moods. Philip Seymour Hoffman underplays A's manager Art Howe quite well. He has a deer in the headlights anger as his cherished traditional understanding of baseball is falling apart.

It is a movie about ideas and theories and we see them portrayed quite well. The intricacies of baseball lore, managing or the new statistics are kept simple and straightforward.

It is also a movie about taking chances, hanging in when they don't seem to be working, and finally, perhaps, taking the biggest chance of being true to ones own place in life.

As Billy Beane tells us a couple times in the movie, "It is easy to be sentimental abut baseball." Fortunately this movie does that with class and a lot more to spare.

This post originally published on BlogCritic

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