A revealing glimpse of the great spectacle of professional sport

At about 90 minutes, Moneyball has a streak showing the 2002 Oakland A chasing the American League record of 20 straight wins. But, with the record in sight, Oakland looks set to blow it up.

In the 20th game, they throw a big lead. But then an unlikely hero approaches the plate, the bat meets the ball. . . and it started from there. A home run. The stadium explodes with joy. It’s stuff that tingles the spine. And that’s about the only concession Moneyball makes to standard sports movies.

Call it Rocky’s problem. After Sylvester Stallone’s 1976 film showed an underdog struggling against all odds – with a workout montage on a rousing soundtrack – the model was set for sports movies. They’ve become Disneyfied over the years, the shape of every story as obvious and telegraphed as a romcom.

Michael Lewis’s 2003 book (Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game) is not really a sports book. It’s more of a book about economics and statistics that have been applied to sport.

If you’ve read any of Lewis’ other books, like Liar’s Poker, The Big Short, or Flash Boys, you’ll know how he writes. Essentially, Lewis is great at communicating incredibly complicated business concepts. As you read it all sounds exciting and clear, even if your mind is racing just to keep up. The concept is probably beyond your reach to fully understand it, but it seems so close that you are ready to follow in its wake, grabbing what you can understand.

Moneyball was not an obvious choice for a film adaptation. It’s not about the fame or romance of sports, it’s about the uncompromising business of professional sports. Plus, it doesn’t really have a story structure, only has one main character, and there’s no reward or ending.

But Brad Pitt was a fan. His production company reclaimed the rights, and screenwriter Steve Zallian (Schindler’s List; Mission Impossible, Gangs of New York) got to work shaping the story.

There is a veracity in the way events are represented in Moneyball

Steven Soderbergh (Contagion, Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich) arrived as a director and began recording interviews he planned to insert into the film as inserts. But just five days before filming began, the studio got cold feet over Soderbergh’s plan to have real baseball players play in the film. A timeout was requested, Soderbergh moved on, and two new signings were made: director Bennett Miller (Capote, Foxcatcher) and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (that thing you love with the catchy dialogue).

The story follows the Oakland A’s, one of Major League Baseball’s poorest teams, and their attempts to compete with spending giants like the Yankees or the Red Sox.

General manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) once again saw his team be stripped of pieces during the tight season and became disillusioned trying to play what he sees as a rigged game. He hires statistician Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) and decides to follow what the numbers reveal rather than what people’s eyes see, believing they must find value in players who are missed by others. thus opposing the wisdom received among his own. the staff and pretty much everyone in baseball.

The show

It might sound complex, and ideally you would be a baseball fan or at the very least aware of how American sport works, but the film’s secret sauce is how it makes itself accessible to non-sports fans.

Pitt transforms the movie star charm at 11, continuing his gradual metamorphosis into Robert Redford, and has a superb double act of comedy with Hill (“Would you rather get shot in the head or five in the chest and bleed to death?” ? “Are these my only two options?”).

The cast is uniformly bright with the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt, and Robin Wright. And they know when to temper baseball jargon with lines (“Do I sound worried? Because you’re getting on a plane. These things crash all the time.”)

There is also a lot of heart in the spotlight. The most important relationship in the film is that between Beane and her 12-year-old daughter, played by Kerris Dorsey. Dorsey performed a song during her audition that impressed director Miller so much that he used it as the film’s emotional coda. Fittingly, the song was called The Show, an American term for Major League Baseball. “I have to let it go / and just enjoy the show.”

Brad Pitt as General Manager of Oakland ‘A Billy Beane in Moneyball. Photography: Columbia TriStar

But for dedicated sports fans jaded by the Mighty Ducks model, the way events are portrayed in Moneyball hold true. A first scene sees the club’s scouts reunite with Beane as they attempt to rebuild a roster that has been cleaned up by clubs with deeper pockets. Men who have spent too much time with the sun on their deeply wrinkled faces go shopping and spit tobacco.

“He can’t hit a curve ball.”

“Yes, there is work to be done, I admit it. “

“And an ugly girlfriend.”

“What does it mean?”

“An ugly girlfriend means no trust.”

Beane can’t hide his disgust at what he hears, exactly the kind of archaic thought he wants to eliminate from the club, but the scene feels genuine, which has surely been helped by the fact that almost everyone in the piece beyond Pitt was a true professional baseball scout. The scout who is credited with the girlfriend quote later clarified that he had been misrepresented – he didn’t think an ugly girlfriend meant no trust, he feared it would signal poor eyesight.

And many fans have to relate to Beane’s struggle to watch the games. Turn the radio on and off. Change channels on the TV. To go for a tour. Everything to avoid the torture of sitting and watching this thing you care about so much (“I hate losing. I hate it. I hate losing more than I even want to win.”).

And of course, there’s the bigger, more brutal reality – how things don’t always end in glory. Beane’s ultimate dream is to “win the last game of the season”, but he never does. This is exactly how most fans watch the games, hoping to be crowned the best, but painfully aware that you are much more likely to lose.

Worse, Beane’s methods are co-opted by the big guys. The Boston Red Sox try to hire him, but when he turns them down, they simply use his methods on a larger scale and on a larger budget. They end their 86-year wait for a World Series two years later. Again, the little guys find themselves underarmed. And Beane is back where he started.

Home Run

But it’s normal that a film about dismantling the system also tears up the script. The book and film both end with the story of a portly slugger who launches into the bat. He makes contact with the ball and runs to the first goal, before having a rush of blood to his head and doing something he never asks his overweight body to do – he decides to give it a try. to get to second base.

To his mortification, he slips and falls, and in his panic tries to crawl to the first base on his hands and knees. At this point the crowd and all the players laugh at him. All his nightmares came to life. Until he understood why they were laughing at him. The ball he hit went 60 feet over the fence – he hit a home run and he didn’t even realize it.

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball

Brand: “It’s a metaphor. “

Beane: “I know it’s a metaphor.”

Beane’s methods have since been co-opted by all of baseball and gradually spread across all sports, from the NFL to football to even the GAA.

It seems fair and fair that a decidedly modern sports film demonstrates how free thinkers are often not the ones who benefit from their own innovations. Often times someone else gets the glory. So just enjoy the show.

Sara R. Cicero