“Moneyball” Is A Hit If You're Into It
September 26, 2011

I can't remember the last time I saw a movie the day that it opened. It's been awhile, but I snapped that personal streak when I went to see Moneyball on Friday. The story was right up my alley—baseball, statistics, and even a Major League team in northern California. I had always meant to read the book, so with just two days before the movie opening, I decided to make a Barnes and Noble run and get a copy. It was a pretty easy read and I crushed through it in just two nights. Good thing I did or I may have been lost come movie time. I was also going to watch the movie with two Oakland A's partial season ticket holders, so I figured I'd better know my stuff.

If you aren't familiar with the story, it's 2002, and the A's don't have much money to spend on players, so General Manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, has to get guys who are either past their prime, or that other teams know little about. He hires Ivy League statistics guy Peter Brant (who is really future Dodgers General Manager Paul DePodesta but he asked the producers not to use his real name for some reason), played by Jonah Hill, to recommend players. This will lead to a rift between Beane and traditional baseball guys like his manager and scouting staff. Manager Art Howe is played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Maybe it's not that critical to the movie, but if you haven't read the book, you may not know who those scouts and other staffers are. In the movie, Pitt's character refers to them my their nicknames, but there's no real clue who they are in real life. For example, you may figure out for yourself that “Wash” is coach Ron Washington, who is now the manager of the Texas Rangers. You have no idea who “Grady” is (scouting director Grady Fuson) unless you read the book, or work in the A's front office. There are other examples, but I guess that just gets in the way of the story.

Anyway, the story is a good one. It chronicles not so much the statistical strategy, but both the book and the movie focus more on Beane himself, who was a can't-miss prospect as a player out of high school, but never became the superstar that others imagined he would be. The inner conflict of who Beane really is and how he was perceived as a youth tears at him throughout.

The biggest problem viewers are going to have during the movie I think, is there is not a lot of action. There are baseball scenes of course, but really not that many. They use lots of the real video and audio from the 2002 season, so that adds a lot. I usually judge how much I liked a movie by how many times I look at my watch during the film. I didn't look it once (just during the previews and when the film finally started), but I could hear a few kids around me fidgeting. So take that into account if you go see it. Pitt is believable as a GM, especially one that others in the front office aren't too fond of. Hill does a great job in his first dramatic role. Moneyball bills itself as one of the greatest sports movies of all time. I don't know if I would go that far, but it's a decent movie if you take it for what it is.

More Moneyball: Moneyball finished second in the movie rankings this week, taking in a solid estimated $20.6 million. Entertainment Weekly says if those numbers hold, it will represent the biggest opening for a sports movie since Benchwarmers in 2006 (Do you remember that movie?). Disney's The Lion King 3-D was number one for the second straight week taking in $22.1 million. Dolphin Tale was right behind Moneyball at $20.3 million, Abduction was fourth at $11.2 million, followed by Killer Elite at 9.5 million.

Add Baseball: According to latest reports, Major League Baseball is on track to add two more playoff teams, perhaps as early as next year. Back in June, I wrote that expanded playoffs could be a good thing for the wrong reason—at least forcing the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox to compete for the division title, instead of knowing that they'd both make the playoffs anyway. As it turns out, with the almost-collapse of the Red Sox, if the expanded post-season was in effect this year, the currently new-found wild card race between Boston and Tampa Bay wouldn't matter. They would've faced each other in the expanded round. The current NL wild card race between Atlanta and St. Louis wouldn't matter either. Under the expanded format, they would both be in.

Moneyball P.P.S.: I have to get this in. Paul DePodesta, who is Peter Brant in the movie, played by Jonah Hill, was the guy who traded Dodger Minor League Player of the Year Franklin Gutierrez for madman Milton Bradley. After several tirades, including throwing six dozen baseballs on the field and attacking a fan with a bottle, Bradley was at least traded to Oakland for Andre Ethier. Baseball's "sabermatricians", as they are called, are still looking for a number to evaluate that.

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