Making Sense of the “Moneyball” Movie
According to Joe Morgan, “Moneyball” was a book written by Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane that depicts Beane’s controversial tactic of eschewing decades of proven scouting techniques in favor of a more objective statistical analysis. Well, it was actually written by Michael Lewis and was an examination of economics in baseball, but some people like Joe took it way too personally, kicking off a “Jocks v. Nerds” Battle Royale that continues to this very day.
Anyway, it was a pretty neat book that made the statistical revolution in evaluating baseball players a mainstream topic of discussion. I’ve read the book a few times and found it thoroughly entertaining as well as informative. In fact, it’s one of the few non-textbooks that I actually took notes in. But unless you’re a baseball geek like me, there isn’t much intense drama or sexy violence that keeps you riveted (ok, well maybe the discussion about Jeremy Brown’s moobs could be seen as pretty racy).
Needless to say, I was shocked when Sony gave director Steven Soderbergh the green-light to make “Moneyball” into a film… with Brad Pitt starring as Billy Beane. Once again: while the book reached critical acclaim, there wasn’t anything remotely dramatic about the story. In fact, the epilogue has only served to undercut the superficial premise of the book: Beane’s reputation has taken a hit as his teams have failed to replicate much of the success of the ’02-’06 A’s teams. It seemed like Sony had greatly overestimated the number of Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus subscribers who might come out for this flick.
Regardless, Soderbergh was going to make “Moneyball: the movie” unique by writing in a love interest for Beane (Robin Wright Penn) and using the actual people discussed in the book to play themselves in the movie (as well as a few other twists). However, when Sony caught wind that one of these twists involved the portrayal of OG VORPY Bill James in cartoon form, they axed it, ruining the highly-anticipated acting debut of former A’s first baseman Scott Hatteberg.
When I heard this, I thought the “Moneyball” project was dead. Sure, getting Brad Pitt and Soderbergh was a coup, but with no director and a story that portends to highlight MLB draft-day minutiae, it looked like there were better odds of seeing a Paul Walker biopic. But then, instead of killing “Moneyball,” Sony did the unexpected and brought in another accomplished director in Bennett Miller (“Capote“) and enlisted “Sportsnight” creator Aaron Sorkin to rewrite Soderbergh’s script. When Philip Seymour Hoffman was added to the cast to play A’s Manager Art Howe, things got weird.
As a baseball fan and middling VORPY, I breathed a sigh of relief when I thought this film was shelved. First off, baseball fans are a sensitive bunch: while we enjoy the intellectual reputation we have over our football-loving brethren, we don’t like being made to feel like geeks. The mainstream doesn’t get us — nor should it. What other sports rely on complicated statistical formulas that study the physics of our stadiums? There are no “park effects” in football. And what the hell does Brad Pitt and Philip Seymour Hoffman know about Eric Chavez’s OBP? (I guess it could always be worse: thankfully, this movie doesn’t feature nerd-hero Michael Cera. We get it, you’re a skinny hipster who is unsure of himself in a Alpha-male world. Now, please go away and listen to “Funeral” on repeat. I can’t stand that guy.)
If the “Moneyball” movie is summarily rejected by mainstream America, it’ll be a painful indictment of what diehard baseball fans believe in. I’m not sure the community of Keith Law-loving baseball fans are ready for that… or the inevitable round of “stats don’t measure grittiness!” critiques that are sure to ensue.
Obviously, the movie studio sees something here I do not, but it’s hard to believe this movie will be very entertaining without taking some major liberties. I hope it’s a giant success that stays (mostly) true to the premise of Lewis’ book, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns into “Little Big League.” All of that aside, Lewis, Beane, Pitt, and the fans really have the least to worry about if this thing fails. Who stands to lose the most on this picture? Former Assistant GM Paul DePodesta, who will be ably-played by Jonah Hill. Doh.
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