Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane's successful attempt to assemble a baseball team on a lean budget by employing computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.
Mr. Lewis spent most of the 2002 season with the Oakland team and had full access to GM Billy Beane, Asst GM Paul DePodesta, and their process in putting together a team that would contend for the American League title ... all under the severe handicap of ridiculous salary constraints placed by team owners.
In this movie, Brad Pitt is spot on as Billy Beane - the cocky, tobacco spitting former jock trying desperately to put his stamp on the institution of baseball. Due to some lawsuit of which I know nothing, the DePodesta role is renamed Peter Brand and is played by Jonah Hill, who looks absolutely nothing like Mr. DePodesta (who played baseball at Harvard). Despite this, Mr. Hill does an terrific job of becoming the statistical whiz who can analyze data and place value on players ... a skill he is obsessed with even 10 years later.
Watching Beane trying to communicate the point of change to the old school scouts is simply priceless and painful. Years of scouting based on body type and girlfriend ranking is replaced by statistical data spit out by Brand's computer. The real fun comes when the team's field Manager, Art Howe (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), flashes his bah-humbug attitude, bucks Beane's system and continues coaching old school ... from the gut. It's not until Beane takes away all other options that Howe is forced to follow the new plan.
Baseball fans know that Bill James is the godfather of sabermetrics in baseball. For years his formulas and calculations were ignored by owners, managers and scouts. Thanks to the A's success, ALL teams now utilize some form of sabermetrics combined with old fashioned scouting. Every measurable event in a game is tracked and results are analyzed. Many fans say it has sucked the joy out of the game. Others say it has provided opportunities for players previously ignored. I prefer to look at it as the same in any industry ... everyone looks for a competitive advantage. Never ignore a tool or approach that can make your company more profitable or your team more competitive.
Being a long time Texas Ranger fan, I must mention some of the ties to this story. The Rangers current manager, Ron Washington (portrayed by Brent Jennings), was an infield coach on those Oakland A's and gets a few scenes. Grady Fuson was the Head Scout for the A's and later came to the Rangers as co-GM or Asst GM (depending who you ask) but had a very limited stay. Mike Venafro was a relief pitcher for the A's who gets traded in 2002 so they can pick up a more valued reliever to take his spot. It should also be noted that current Rangers GM Jon Daniels and his talented staff have a place for sabermetrics and their formula has worked.
The director of the movie is Bennett Miller, who was responsible for the excellent "Capote", which also starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Bennett's DP here is Wally Pfister, who works frequently with the great Christopher Nolan. Pfister's camera work here is superb. The amazing writing team of Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin provide a script with sharp dialogue and just enough baseball lingo so that everyone can follow. Supporting actors include Chris Pratt (Parks & Recreation) as Scott Hatteberg, poster child for sabermetrics, Robin Wright as Beane's ex-wife, and fantastic writer/director Spike Jonze as Wright's zenned-out new husband and the polar opposite of Beane.
I need to make a point about the performance of Jonah Hill. His movies "Superbad" and "Get Him to the Greek" are not my type of movies so I was never a big fan. That changed when I saw "Cyrus" last year. During the Q&A after this screening, Mr. Hill pointed out that "Cyrus" was the bridge that allowed him to be cast in this movie ... his bridge to drama. He went on to state that his acting heroes are Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray because they have had successful careers in both comedy and drama. I can honestly say that it is easy to see Jonah Hill having a Bill Murray type career, especially since he has now lost so much weight - a significant weight loss after the filming of Moneyball. He is no longer the funny fat guy. He is a talented actor.
- Sep 14, 2011