OK, I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I finally saw Moneyball last night. This is my review of the movie. It's not meant to be a debate on the merits of the Moneyball philosphy, sabermetrics, or if Billy Beane has gotten more credit than he deserves. Though there will be a couple of quibbles with historical accuracy. Enjoy - Paul
In the very first sentence of the Preface of Moneyball, Michael Lewis said he wrote the book because he "fell in love with a story." Lewis's book, at times, read like an ode to the 2002 Oakland A's and their General Manager, Billy Beane. It was a story told from the perspective of Lewis himself, who followed the team throughout the '02 season. It was a book heavy on the use of sabermetrics, and light (though not completely lacking) on personal drama.In the film, directed by Bennett Miller, the perspective is third-person, fly on-the-wall, and has the familiar structure of a Hollywood sports movie. But in this case, the protagonist is the one changing the world around him, rather than going through changes himself. Statistical analysis is boiled down, perhaps oversimplified, to the point where OBP is the only stat repeatedly emphasized. But the movie's real strength is its portrayal of the characters and their interactions. The arguments are intense, and an uncomfortable exchange between Brand and David Justice rings true.Following a 102-win season in 2001, A's GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) loses three key components of his team, Jason Isringhausen, Jason Giambi, and Johnny Damon, to free agency. In one scene, Beane talks on the phone to an agent named "Scott," who uses sleazy tactics when negotiating for Damon.With no money to spend, Beane flies to Cleveland to try to work a trade with Mark Shapiro (something that never happened in real life or the book - GMs don't fly to another team's office to do this sort of thing. But it was worked into the movie to facilitate this:). During his visit, he's impressed with a portly math whiz from Yale, who works for the Indians, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is a fictional character based on Paul DePodesta and an amalgam of other supporting players in Beane's front office. Beane promptly "buys" Brand and makes him Assistant GM of the A's.Beane and Brand set out to convince a conference room full of cliched old scouts (You've seen the "Who's Fabio" line ad nauseum in the trailers) that data gathering is the way to build a team. The scouts are interested in what they see in a player (a swing that reminds them of another ballplayer, an athletic body, an attractive girlfriend), instead of a player's statistical performance. Against the scouts' wishes, Beane adds Scott Hatteberg, David Justice, Chad Bradford, and Jeremy Giambi to the team - four players who would be emphasized throughout the movie.For the next few scenes, Moneyball strikes familiar sports-movie notes, showing montages of a team that's struggling with Beane and Brand's new philosophy, replete with skeptical voice-overs from old-guard announcers (Tim McCarver, Joe Morgan, et al) and sports talk radio callers. On the Oakland Coliseum, the banners of Isringhausen, Giambi, and Damon have been replaced by a single banner of David Justice. I have a feeling in real life, Zito, Hudson, and Mulder were prominently displayed around the stadium. The three all-star pitchers were glaringly de-emphasized in the movie - they had as much to do with the team's success as anyone. But in fairness, Zito was a guy who was overlooked because of his lack of velocity, and Hudson fell to the 6th round of the draft because of his lack of height.Billy Beane and Art Howe were shown to have had a running conflict, particularly about playing Hatteberg at first base. To resolve the issue, Beane traded Howe's preferred first baseman, Carlos Pena. This, along with Howe's complaints about his contract, were not in the book. Beane did trade Pena, but not to spite Howe. This trade, along with the trade of Giambi to Philadelphia, were portrayed as the reasons for the A's turnaround in the middle of the '02 season.Hatteberg, the erstwhile catcher, who showed a lack of confidence about playing first base, became one of the movie's heroes. You know you have an unconventional sports movie when the big dramatic moment is a walk-off home run to sustain a 20-game winning streak. As a side note, the realism of the players' swings and throwing motions were spot-on, unlike a lot of baseball movies, due to ex-ballplayers taking the roles of the characters in the film.In the end, we know what happened: The A's lost to the Twins in the '02 ALDS. Beane feels like a failure for not taking his team to the World Series. But baseball took notice. John Henry offers Beane a truckload of money to become the Red Sox GM. He declines for several reasons - his desire to stay near his family (his guitar-playing daughter, ex-wife, and her new, granola husband - all manufactured for the movie, and not in the book), his desire to win a championship with the A's, and his desire to not repeat a mistake he made when he was drafted by the Mets in 1980. Back then, he took the money over a scholarship, a decision he would regret as his MLB career fell apart (bonus points for flashbacks to the 1984 Mets).Per the movie, Beane didn't realize how much he changed baseball. But he watched the newly sabermetricized Red Sox win a World Series without him, while his own team struggled. Moneyball the movie isn't so much about what Beane did with the A's, but about how his actions changed his surroundings.