What I liked most about the movie Moneyball is that it’s a feel good story within itself. It starts off suggesting that the reason the Oakland A’s lost to the New York Yankees in the 2001 ADLS is because they were out-salaried. Then the team loses three of its big-name players to bigger markets.
The GM, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), can’t convince the owner to increase the 2002 budget, so he takes it out on the team’s collection of seasoned scouts. “Blah blah blah,” he mimics with his hand as they run through the usual criteria used for considering up-and-coming and free-agent players. “He’s seen in Vegas too much.” “He doesn’t have the confidence because his wife is a six, at best.” Billy offers no solutions, but only frustration.
It’s by chance that, while going through his usual motions of horse-trading with another team, Billy stumbles upon a new methodology for ranking players. Enter Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a baseball aficionado and techno-nerd. The analytical data used by Peter is so in-depth it made me wonder where the human element of each player began on paper and the machine element ended.
The season starts out shaky as under-appreciated manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) holds firm on who plays what position in spite of the GM’s insistence that an unorthodox approach needs to be given a chance. Since baseball is a business, Billy is forced to make some heartless trades that force the skipper to do things his way. As a result, the A’s start climbing up the division ladder and even challenge the all-time record for consecutive wins. It’s at this point where I felt the movie was trying to create a special moment. And it does. What’s funny is I don’t recall this historical moment from only nine years ago. (In fact, I think I’ll probably be more apt to always remember that fictionalized moment in the movie Tin Cup where Roy McAvoy holes out, from 250 yards away, the final hole of the Championship tournament.) But for this movie’s sake, the moment illustrates how a bunch of over-the-hill and no-name players can come together, rising above both the excessive commercialism and sanitized tedium that makes up the sport today, and make history.
The team’s record in 2002 was only one win better than the previous season. And they once again lose in the ADLS, only this time to another small market team, the Minnesota Twins. It’s this data that makes me appreciate the movie as merely a noble highlight of the game of baseball rather than as a tale of a revolutionary league-changing strategy.
Billy Beane’s still the GM for the A’s and the team’s record has been average overall since 2002. After offering Billy the highest salary for a GM ever, the Red Sox go it alone, eventually breaking the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 while using both a big salary and sterile computer analyses. I suspect the romanticism of the movie hides the fact that big market teams can still make use of the new system of ranking players to help maintain their continued degree of big-payroll success. And, of course, once every team in the league has adopted this new approach, then it’s back to square one, i.e., trying to find a way to beat a big market team with a low salary.