Moneyball (2011)

Biography, Sports Drama
Starring: Brad Pitt (Billy Beane), Jonah Hill (Peter Brand), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Art Howe)

For a widely (often heavily) consumed pastime, sports never fully got the silver screen treatment it warrants, it seems. And widely debated is the answer to what the best sports movie is. Personal tastes and subjectivity aside, unanimous endorsement among a subculture’s insiders often is enough indication of resonance and authenticity (think the Godfather in mob circles). Rarely is such feedback advertised to have been involved in any production phase. Apart from mob films.

Following an abrupt transition to the following offseason, the first thing to jump at you is that a) it’s a two-hour flick, hence why b) the glaring omission of what got the Oakland Athletics to the ALDS the year preceding the season in question. Being only vaguely familiar with baseball while well aware of MLB’s perpetual big- against small-market (a nicer name for farm teams versus perennial contenders) is more than ample background to sit through Moneyball.

Thematically, this film is courageous insofar as its protagonist being portrayed as. No longer content with the status quo, Billy Beane, a onetime promising prospect and abject failure in retrospect, now helms the same Oakland Athletics he played for. In the Arrigo Sacchi mold, that one does not need to be a horse in order to become a jockey, a manager need not be a great player to prove his mettle. The catalyst of the change in philosophy is not a painful loss per se, but one to an unfair system that lacks a level playing field. The adversary here is less an opponent circled on the game schedule than tradition itself.

The journey Billy Beane embarks on next is summed up as a figurative leap of faith. The only moment he is shown to play ball, the one time he broke character, is when he poaches a Cleveland Indians front office employee. And even that was a chance encounter. Hired as assistant GM though in name only, for Peter Brand is an analytics advisor in scope. The duties entail utilizing an approach to assessing talent so radical and unorthodox to the mustache Pete ways of the sport itself. Therein lies the blind faith required for this to first be implemented successfully, and then patiently allowed to yield enough games for a verdict to be reached. A fool’s errand in a results business as the trial and error can only be conducted live.

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The scouts, manager, and a few players either oppose or view the idea with ambivalence. But Peter Brand, the only man in baseball to want to champion sabermetrics, believes. And as such Beane is steadfast once again after doubt seeped in the onset. What follows next is the stuff of legend as a horrid first start to the season culminates in a 20-game winning streak, a division crown, and ultimately a playoff berth and elimination in the same round as the year prior. Sabermetrics is vindicated while Beane quite isn’t yet. He is sabermetrics. Insomuch as analytics are the poor man’s only fighting chance. It is Cinderella’s glass shoe.

The endeavor was a league-wide storyline all season, garnering Billy attention of both extremes. The accolades are credited to the team manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) although for Beane, he could care less. In staying the course, and willing this thing to work, surely would have brought closure to the once promising prospect that never lived up to the scouting reports. For him it is more ethos than an ego thing. In turning down a lucrative offer by the Red Sox, Beane stays true to his credo of staying the course. The Sox went on to win their first title in 86 years thanks to the system they asked him to implement while Beane is yet to find one. But had Beane played a part in ending Droight, you’re left to wonder, how big, and how sweet, a victory would that have meant? How much of that would have been his effort? Sabermetrics eventual appeal is not down to who wore the shoe better, rather how the more privileged daughter added more to a bigger wardrobe. One funded much more lavishly. It is simply the case of how money is akin to sunlight. Where it shines something will grow. The denouement contains much in the way of suspense, although diehards know how the story unfolds.