Moneyball, based on Michael Lewis’ nonfiction bestseller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is the story of the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). The movie begins in 2001- the A’s have just blown a two-game lead to the NY Yankees, losing the final three games of the opening round American League playoff series. Strike 1. Beane is struggling to find a way to compete with teams like the Yanks and Red Sox who are spending double and triple the amount on players’ salaries. Strike 2. And Strike 3…
The A’s have just lost three of their best players Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen to free agency. But wait, just when you would have counted them out, it looks like the Ump called a ball because the team gets one more shot in the form of a chance encounter in the off season.
During a trip to Cleveland to discuss some potential player trades, Beane meets Cleveland Indian employee Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill. Brand is a Yale Economics graduate with a different perspective on how to rate baseball players. He uses a complex computer based statistical analysis that focuses on On Base Percentage to determine a player’s value. Desperate to find a way to compete with baseball’s rich teams, Beane hires Brand as the Athletics’ assistant general manager. In Brand’s system, previously overlooked and underpaid players like backup catcher Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) and submarine pitcher Chad Bradford (Casey Bond) can become valuable players.
He immediately gets resistance from his team’s scouts and manager Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Despite this resistance Beane supports Brand’s system and goes out and signs the players that Brand recommends. Howe refuses to play some of the players assembled by Beane and the A’s get off to a poor start. Despite the poor start and rumors that their jobs might be in jeopardy, Beane and Brand convince the owner to remain patient. In a desperate move, Beane makes multiple player trades to force Howe to play the players he wants.
Soon after the trade, the Athletics get hot and set an American league record by winning twenty consecutive games. The record setting streak is capped off with an amazing win against the Kansas City Royals. The A’s quickly jump out to an 11 – 0 lead in the third inning but play poorly the rest of the way and find the score tied 11 – 11 going into the bottom of the 9th. With a storybook finish, the A’s clinch the record breaking victory with a walk-off home run by Scott Hatteberg. The A’s go on to win 103 games that year and make the playoffs for the third year in a row. The A’s are again eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Minnesota Twins, but Brand and Beane have proven the value of their new system to evaluate and select players. The majority of major league baseball teams including the Yankees and Boston Red Sox have adopted much of the same statistical analysis that Beane and Brand introduced to baseball in 2002.
The performances of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (taking a turn at drama) are terrific, as is Oscar winner Hoffman. While I really enjoyed the movie, let’s be perfectly clear- Money Ball is not a Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Major League or even A League of Their Own. While the story is interesting and often funny, the move definitely has its slow spots and the movie might have been better served with a shorter run time- the two plus hours certainly felt like extra innings.
Avid baseball fans will enjoy the interaction between the general managers and players and enjoy the behind the scenes look at baseball trades. The name recognition of current and recently retired Major League players also adds to the realism and enjoyment of the movie. However, casual baseball fans or people who don’t follow the sport might be disappointed and leave the theater looking for more. This isn’t a story that completes with a last-minute victory for the underdog. It’s the story of a man who was willing to rethink how a sport was played and take chances that revolutionized America’s favorite past-time. Perhaps that’s why the film’s opening sentiments by baseball legend Mickey Mantle make so much sense, “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you’ve been playing all your life.” For movie goers that don’t love the game, I would still recommend this film but just know you are looking more at a hit to second base and a possible steal of third. For true baseball fans, I give it a good solid run to third but still not a home run!