MoneyBall — More than a Baseball Story

When I read the Michael Lewis book, “MoneyBall,” my interest was the numbers-based approach to finding players being used by my local baseball team, the Oakland A’s. The reviews of the book (like this one) emphasized how author, Michael Lewis delivered “the most revealing, enlightening look ever written on how a baseball team actually works. This is extraordinary reportage about an important new approach to running a team.”

What A’s general manager, Billy Beane was doing seemed really interesting to me.

I remember when I heard that a movie was being made of Moneyball, I was kind of wondering how that was going to translate to the screen.

Michael Lewis, in an interview when the book was released, said that it was “the story of an idea, and the people who seem to be the main characters are subordinate to the idea.”

ML: I think the idea will spread, slowly for a few years and then all at once.

There’s a reason even the best new ideas take time to spread. People become overly invested in the things that they think they know, which is usually whatever it was they knew when they were young. The old guys must retire or die before the new ideas gain traction. The problem is especially acute in baseball because the only people who are allowed to introduce new thoughts into a big-league clubhouse are people who played professional baseball.

Having said that, only a fool would buy a baseball team and hire to run it some baseball insider who disdains or misunderstands the Oakland model. Fools sometimes do get their hands on enough money to buy baseball teams, but the odds are against it. And if you step back from American society and ask “What kind of people are getting rich these days?” the answer is increasingly “People like John Henry.” That is, people on the nerdly end of the spectrum, who have a comfort with both statistical analysis and decision-making in an uncertain environment. And these people, increasingly, will demand that their teams be run along rational lines. The price they will pay for this is that the pleasure of owning a team will be somewhat reduced, as there will be a lesser role for their whim, and they will be compelled to cede much of the decision-making to professional management.

So, in essence, the idea is being told through supporting characters, right?

Let’s fast forward to my Saturday night when the red Netflix envelope containing the Moneyball DVD finally got opened. I set aside special time to make sure I was awake and paying attention. And what I noticed straight-away was that it wasn’t a baseball movie. Baseball was the setting like some movies have a war (an event in history) as the setting.

It was clear to me that the reason Moneyball had “legs” and even make it as far as achieving Oscar nominations, was because of it being about an idea. And more so, in my eyes, it was about the influences that drove Billy Beane to do “out of the box” thinking for the Oakland A’s.

> Replacing key players: The A’s lost some players (i.e. Jason Giambi to the Yankees, Johnny Damon to the Red Sox) and had big holes to fill.

> No more money: The owner told Mr. Beane to work with the budget he was given.

> 5-Tool Failure: One backstory was Beane’s “money” decision to skip his Stanford scholarship and take his “five-tool” skill-set to the New York Mets.


> Family matters:
Another was his relationship with his 12-year old daughter, Casey. There’s a song called “The Show” that seemed to steal the show:

My take?? I thought the movie was well-done and well-paced. In some ways, it was better than the book it was based on.
I found myself especially motivated to do some research.

One article I found (‘Moneyball’: How audiences fell back in love with screenwriting. Plus, Brad Pitt’s sexiest dimension), emphasized the writing.

It mentioned how “the film’s not-so-secret weapon is its screenplay, written by the powerhouse team of Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network). Moneyball may be a sports movie, but what it really is is one of those happy, gabby, super-smart talkfests that take you back to the pleasures of movies made during the wisecracking days of the Hollywood studio system, when action and F/X and “visuals” hadn’t taken over everything, and talking — whether in snappy screwball comedies, ingeniously ominous film noirs, or teary romantic melodramas — was really all that actors and actresses could do. Moneyball isn’t a movie about swinging a bat and spitting tobacco. It’s a heady, digital-age story of salaries, statistics, front-office politics, and the art of the deal that lurks behind the art of the game.

He hit it right on the nose. And being a fan of Sports Night where Mr. Sorkin is listed as the creator, I had a good feeling going into my viewing session (yes, I made note of it when I put Moneyball into my Netflix queue).

Another article I found was an interview with the director, Bennett Miller (‘Moneyball’s’ Bennett Miller: It’s Not a Baseball Movie, It’s ‘The Wizard of Oz’) where Mr. Miller mentions he didn’t see Moneyball as a baseball movie:

It’s really the classic, universal, timeless story: the search for wisdom. It’s “The Wizard of Oz,” it’s King Arthur. You’re misplaced from home, from the life you’re supposed to be living. There’s disharmony, and you can find yourself facing some impossible adventure or task with the understanding that if you do this, order will be restored and you’ll be returned.

He further elaborates:

“… for me, it is about the guy who is struggling to do something that could ultimately turn out to be redemptive. It’s a portrait of a guy, Billy Beane, who’s involved in a very dynamic, personal struggle, and one that I think is absorbing, engaging, engrossing, interesting and relevant. And if you get into the core of that, and then that works, then you can ask the question, what role does baseball action have in that story?

…And I think that’s something pretty much everybody can relate to. You get to a certain age and ask yourself, Is this really my life? What if I had made different decisions? Do I concede that this is my lot, or do I begin to challenge the notions I was reared in and the things that led to this life?

Yeah, and that’s why Moneyball is a winner in my eyes. It was a universal story well told.

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Comments

  1. Check out this http://tinyurl.com/7bwz98d. From Sept 2011. Michael Lewis’ take the Moneyball legacy.

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