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Laramie Movie Scope: Moneyball

A baseball movie that's about more than a game

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 27, 2011 -- There are only a few great baseball movies and another one has just joined the ranks of the best ones ever made. This one is about more than just baseball, however. It is a universal story that reflects the struggle of anyone who has gone against tradition and tried a new solution to an old problem. This is a story similar to anyone who has gone out on a limb and risked everything to try something considered crazy and impossible.

Based on a book called “Moneyball,” this movie of the same name is about a pioneer in the practical application of a method of evaluating baseball players called sabermetrics. Sabermetrics is a word based on an acronym coined by Bill James, an early pioneer in the use of statistics to measure objective on-field baseball performance. Although Bill James had been publishing baseball abstracts and other material for years, starting in the 1980s, it was Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and his assistant, Peter Brand, who pioneered the use of Bill James' ideas in managing and operating a major league baseball team. This movie is the story of Billy Beane and Peter Brand and their struggle to implement sabermetrics in Oakland A's management against a lot of resistance during the 2001 season.

The film starts with Beane (played by Brad Pitt of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”) watching his Oakland team getting beat by the better-financed New York Yankees in the 2000 American League playoffs. To add insult to injury, three of Oakland's top players were taken away in the off season by teams with deeper pockets, including the Yankees and Red Sox. Beane is told there is no more money in the organization to sign top players of the same abilities as the ones being lost. His problem is, he has to find low-cost players to replace the high-priced stars he lost. He becomes convinced his scouts can't find those players because they look for talent the same way every other team does. A possible solution presents itself when he meets Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill of “Get Him to the Greek”), who is working for the Cleveland Indians. Brand tells him there are talented players being overlooked by the scouts and high-priced players who aren't worth what they are being paid. Beane hires Brand and buys into sabermetrics as a way to find undervalued players who can win games for Oakland while staying within the team's tight budget.

Beane runs into a lot of resistance from the team's talent scouts and from the team's manager, Art Howe (Phillip Seymore Hoffman of “Doubt”) who won't play some of the players that Beane hires. Eventually, Beane is able to get the players he wants and is able to force Howe to play them. It takes a while, but the team starts to win. Even when the team does win, some people in the baseball community won't accept sabermetrics. The film also shows that Beane and Brand did more than just use computer programs to get cheap players. They also worked individually with the team's players to make them better. Sabermetrics isn't just about evaluating players, it is also a philosophy about how the game should be played in order to maximize the chances of winning. That was something that Beane and Brand preached to members of the team.

The film is also about Beane's background as a former major league player. Scouts saw him as a rare five-tool player and a can't-miss major league prospect. His career, however, never came close to matching the scouts' glowing projections. He always regretted his decision to forego college ball to pursue a pro career that ended up going nowhere. This fact led him to doubt that baseball scouts really knew what they were doing. His personal experience probably made it easier for him to turn to a completely different scouting method. The film also spends a good deal of time on Beane's relationship with his daughter (played by Kerris Dorsey, although some recent articles incorrectly list the 42-year old actress Kathryn Morris playing the part of this pre-teen child) and ex-wife (Robin Wright of “Unbreakable”). One of the more memorable players in the film is Scott Hatteberg (played by Chris Pratt of “Wanted”). The acting is very strong throughout this fine cast, but Brad Pitt really carries this film. His performance is Oscar-worthy.

While sabermetrics sounds like a cold, impersonal way to manage baseball players, the film is just the opposite. Beane treats his players with respect. Its a business, but it is also a people business. Early in his life, Beane learned that making decisions based on money alone is not a good idea. He shows that he learned that lesson when he makes a big decision at the end of the film. We are all faced with these kinds of decisions in our lives. It sometimes takes a lot of courage to make the right decisions. This is a film about that kind of courage. It is not easy to write a film about quiet courage and unassuming heroes like these, but this film rises to that challenge and hits one right out of the park. This film rates an A.


Most of this film is about the historic 2001 season of the Oakland A's. It is about how a team with a very low budget managed to put together a team that matched the regular season performance of the New York Yankees, the team with the highest payroll in baseball. Other teams started using sabermetrics too and Oakland gradually lost the edge it had. Once again, Oakland has sunk down below the 50 percent win mark along with other small market teams. It is still possible for a low-budget team to win. For instance, this year's Tampa Bay Ray team is tied with the Boston Red Sox for a playoff berth with one game left to play in the season. Tampa Bay's payroll is one of the lowest in the league, while Boston has one of the highest, some $120 million higher than Tampa Bay's payroll. So maybe the point of this story isn't that money doesn't matter, it does. Heart, courage, wisdom, determination and avoiding key injuries also count for something. That is quite an encouraging thing to realize.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)