Moneyball– The Game’s Up

Brad Pitt is an interesting person in many respects. Having spent some time in and around Springfield Mo. the inside skinny about his youth is he was a regular guy. Played ball, chewed tobacco, enjoyed the ladies. A regular guy. No one saw Hollywood stardom coming. In this respect, Brad Pitt is much like the Oakland As as steered by Captain Billy, aka Billy Beane.

I have read the book ‘Moneyball’ and found it fascinating. I think the philosophy that undergirds Beane’s approach is basically right: 1) On Base Percentage is huge and more important than batting average if the issue is scoring runs; 2) you should almost never give up outs to advance runners on base. Outs you should guard with your life as there is a definite of them you have— 27, unless there are extra innings. So I went to see this movie with some anticipation.

I do like Brad Pitt in some movies. Jonah Hill however is the real revelation in Moneyball as is the redoubtable Mr. Seymour, who seems capable of playing any role known to man— in this case the dour Art Howe, manager of the Oakland As. And I went anticipating Adam Sorkin’s script, he of West Wing and Social Network fame. That boy can write, especially when it comes to witty dialogue. And I was not disappointed. Here is Sony’s summary about the movie…..

“Based on a true story, Moneyball is a movie for anybody who has ever dreamed of taking on the system. Brad Pitt stars as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A’s and the guy who assembles the team, who has an epiphany: all of baseball’s conventional wisdom is wrong. Forced to reinvent his team on a tight budget, Beane will have to outsmart the richer clubs. The onetime jock teams with Ivy League grad Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) in an unlikely partnership, recruiting bargain players that the scouts call flawed, but all of whom have an ability to get on base, score runs, and win games. It’s more than baseball, it’s a revolution – one that challenges old school traditions and puts Beane in the crosshairs of those who say he’s tearing out the heart and soul of the game. ”

I have been to plenty of excellent baseball movies (e.g. The Natural, Field of Dreams, Major League etc.) and this is another one, although, it’s not in the main about what happens on the field. You may think baseball games are simply won by those who play. As it turns out— that’s not quite true. It’s also won by the trades and acquisitions made by the GM, and it’s won by HOW you play the game. And this movie is about those latter two things. It’s more a movie about baseball philosophy then about what normally happens on the field. Even if you don’t like, or fully understand baseball, this is a movie well worth seeing. Why? Besides the fact that it is well acted and entertaining, it also reveals something interesting— the application of statistical analysis to evaluating baseball talent. While baseball is more of an art than a science, as it turns out, science can definitely help you when evaluating talent and how to build a winning team.

For two hours and six minutes, I was thoroughly engrossed in this delightful film bound to get various Oscar nods. It reminded me both of how much I love baseball, how much baseball is a game of confidence and strategy, and what a crap shoot drafting and evaluating players used to be before Bill James came along. Billy Beane may not be a genius…. but he knows one when he sees one, and Jonah Hill plays one in this movie. The critics are not always right, but about this film, they certainly are. There is a reason baseball and not football is our national pastime. If you don’ understand why, go see this film, and perhaps the light will dawn on you. Baseball is ever so much like life in America. Perhaps the boys of summer will show you why.

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