Admittedly, it didn’t happen exactly as depicted in the film. Also admittedly, that doesn’t matter. What happened in real life and what happens in Moneyball are close enough to please baseball fans, while also giving us a gripping narrative for non-fans (the heathens that all of you are). Will those who don’t enjoy baseball get as much out of it as fans? Probably not — they might get lost in the jargon of the game — but I have no doubt that the majority will still enjoy it.
The film stars Brad Pitt in the role of Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. He took over this position in 1997, although he previously played the sport and also worked as an assistant general manager before this time. For those unaware, the Oakland Athletics are a team that are frequently in the bottom 5 in terms of payroll, meaning that signing high-end free agents often cannot happen simply because the team is unwilling to spend the money. (Have I already lost you, non-fans? If I have, this film is going to aggravate you for the first 30 minutes or so that it plays.)
This is how we begin Moneyball: The Athletics are eliminated from the 2001 playoffs by the New York Yankees. Three of their best players are going to leave because the team cannot pay them enough money to stay. Beane asks the owner of the team for more money, but he’s denied. Johnny Damon goes to Boston, Jason Giambi heads to New York, and Jason Isringhausen to St. Louis. Obviously, these players need to be replaced. But how do you replace Damon’s on-base percentage or Giambi’s run producing? This is a problem that plagues the scouting department of the Athletics.
Beane takes a trip to Cleveland to talk with the general manager of the Indians. It’s here that he meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a fictional character based on a few people in real life. Brand has some unique ideas about how to form a team, considering many players severely overrated while others are just the opposite. Beane buys his services and makes him the new assistant general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Brand has never played baseball, and this is only his second job. Perfect, right?
He uses his calculations to determine which players they should go after. I would have liked to see a budget listed throughout the film, so that we could keep track of how much was spent on the 2002 team. It seemed to me that the team was spending more money than they should have, but I don’t recall hearing that the Athletics declared bankruptcy, so I suppose that never happened.
Their methods are ingenious, but do they work? You can look it up and see, but the season begins on a negative note. The team loses, and loses big. They hired a catcher to play first base, a submarine relief pitcher to lead the staff, and an aging veteran to play second base. The team’s manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) isn’t playing the team they way Beane wants. It’s chaos everywhere, while the fans and media are calling for the GM’s head.
I’ll leave you here, but even if you know what comes next, either because you’re a curious little cupcake or because you actually cared about what Oakland was doing in 2002, it’s still worth checking Moneyball out. You get to spend a lot of time with Billy Beane, which ends up to be far more enjoyable than one might expect. This is a smart man with a possibly even smarter sidekick who want to redefine what it means to put together a baseball team. Even if that doesn’t sound like your type of film, trust me, it’s thrilling and touching, but also really funny, containing more humorous moments than your average comedy.
There are many subplots too. Beane used to play the game of baseball, and we see how his career turned out through flashbacks scattered at key moments throughout the film. (Hint: It didn’t go well, even if he was a five-tool player who was drafted in the first round.) There’s also the butting of heads between skipper and general manager, the way certain characters have to overcome their own individual struggles, and the relationship between Beane and his twelve-year-old daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey).
For those of you who might believe this tale to the letter and think that you can grab a computer, punch in some statistics, and start calling MLB teams claiming you have all you need to be a GM, let me just clear something up. The film doesn’t place any emphasis on the drafting and development of young players. In that season, a player by the name of Barry Zito won the Cy Young Award (best pitcher of the year), but the film doesn’t mention that. He was a player drafted and developed by the organization, not one brought in that nobody else wanted. You can’t become that good just by going after bargain players; it just doesn’t work that way.
I’m sure this doesn’t matter to you while you’re watching the film though. I know that while Moneyball was playing, I didn’t care, and I consider myself a fairly large fan of the game. This is a film that presents us with a compelling narrative that makes you forget that it probably didn’t happen exactly as it’s portrayed here. It’s an intelligent, witty and extremely entertaining film that I wager most people will enjoy, baseball fan or not. Hey, maybe it’ll even convince non-fans to give baseball a chance, especially given how goosebump-inducing some of the on-field dramatizations are.
Moneyball is a great film about the game of baseball that might just get a little too technical to allow everyone in the audience to get full enjoyment out of it. Regardless, it has a sharp script, good actors, plenty of drama and the on-field scenes are probably the most convincing baseball scenes I can remember watching. It’s a complete film that I can’t recall ever being bored during, and it is highly recommended, baseball fan or not.