Did you know that in addition to being a sci-fi/fantasy nerd, I'm also a baseball nerd?
Well, it's true. I'm a man of many talents unattractive to women. That's right baby, I can tell you what an UZR is. Would you like to spend the next 20 minutes hearing about how Derek Jeter may be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but defensively, he is subpar at best? Nah, everyone knows that. You would probably be more interested to learn about why San Francisco's pitchers appear to be running an unsustainably great HR/FB ratio yet they have been doing so for years. Any theories?
What? I don't think "Get off my porch before I call the police" is a legitimate sabermetric explanation. We're going to have to go back to the drawing board on this one. From the way you're running, I can tell you're busy, so let's skip the heavy reading and go for a quick, easy crash course: the movie version of Moneyball.
In it, Brad Pitt (as Billy Beane), general manager of the Oakland A's, has just seen his team lose in the playoffs. Now, his three star players are all leaving in free agency. And on a visit to Cleveland, his trade offer is nixed on the word of young nobody Jonah Hill.
Hill has radically different theories about how players should be evaluated. Pitt hires him away and immediately puts his plan into action against the advice of Pitt's scouts and advisers. The A's look hopeless to start the season, but after a few weeks, they start to play a different brand of ball.
As a Mariners fan whose pretty good team was repeatedly kept out of the playoffs by them, I hated the Moneyball Athletics' stinking guts, which were obviously full of beer and industrial-grade gelatin. They were a bunch of fat, no-name softball players in white shoes and skinny rejects who shouldn't have been able ot lift a bat, much less swing it. And those guys wore white shoes, too. White shoes are stupid even when you're not also wearing white pants. That should have been against the rules. Yet after seeing Moneyball, I...can't hate them.
The reason for its success comes from a truly revolutionary strategy: combining a quality script with skilled direction and strong performances. Let's talk about the actors first, because that's easiest and I'm still in pajamas here. We all know Pitt's great, right? Saying he's great is like saying frying things makes them better. We've all known this for years. Same goes for Philip Seymour Hoffman as the A's tired old manager. What is surprising is Jonah Hill, who does exactly zero swearing and shouting at people, yet is still funny in an introverted, math-nerdy way. I hear he's not even fat anymore! Are actors allowed to do that? We should probably arrest him.
The script, meanwhile, has the pedigree of one of those dogs that would sell for more than all your internal organs, as writers Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian have movies like Schindler's List, A Few Good Men, and The Social Network between them. Their writing here's fleet, funny, and wheely-dealy.
A little too much so to be realistic, though. I'm pretty sure GMs don't regularly fly across the country to trade for backup outfielders and sign players whose careers are otherwise over. Also, the real-life A's manager Art Howe is once more portrayed as a dinosaur in stirrup pants, but I guess that's what you got to do to keep people interested in a movie about grown men standing around on a tidy lawn.
Moneyball hews pretty closely to your standard film of sports triumph, but the hard facts of history prevent it from getting too "and so it all comes down to the last out of the Word Series!" and Pitt's character is well-observed as a man who failed young and now hates to lose even more than he loves to win. It's hard not to root for him unless you're a jerk. Are you? Are you? Sorry. Where was I--ah right. Moneyball is a movie about a defining moment in baseball history, but it's not just a film for fans of the game.