I first read Michael Lewis’s outstanding book Moneyball a few years ago, which provides a detailed account of the innovative methods the payroll strapped Oakland Athletics used in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s to compete successfully against the more financially stable teams of Major League Baseball. Billy Beane, the General Manager of the A’s, is credited with being one of the first baseball executives to utilize sabermetrics in order to bring a more analytical approach to a game that for years had been using outdated methods to evaluate players. Although the A’s never made it to the World Series, Beane helped change the way team’s value players, and over time even the big money clubs began using his team’s statistical analysis methods.
Having read and re-read this book numerous times, I was intrigued when I heard they were turning it into a movie with Brad Pitt slated to play Beane. After changing writers and directors, this long anticipated movie is due for release on September 23rd. I had been tracking the production progress of this film for the last few years, and when I heard that a trailer was available on YouTube I jumped on it right away. For my money there is nothing better than a good movie trailer, and the Moneyball preview delivers. Probably due to my interest in both sports and the book’s topic, I’d have to say the trailer is right up there with The Town as one of the best I have seen in the last few years in terms of piquing my interest. Throw in some big name actors, an Oscar nominated director, and an Academy Award winning screenwriter and it seems to have all the makings of a quality movie.
I wondered how they would make this film appealing to the masses, since a decent portion of the movie going population won’t be interested in the baseball virtues of on-base percentage and slugging percentage. From the trailer though it appears the filmmakers attempt to build in some human elements such as Beane’s relationship with his young daughter, his alliance with an Ivy League grad (played by Jonah Hill) who changes his way of thinking, and the tension between Beane’s new school way of evaluating players and the old school scouts who had been doing things a certain way for decades. This film also runs the risk of being outdated; although the events occurred a mere ten years ago, much has changed since that time. The rest of baseball has caught up to A’s and are also using sabermetrics to exploit market inefficiencies, while still enjoying the built in advantage of higher payrolls to cover up mistakes. With an antiquated stadium and one of lower payrolls in the league, Oakland has found it increasingly difficult to bring in quality free agents to support their young pitching and field winning teams. This film probably would have been better suited for a 2006 or 2007 release when the A’s were still competitive, as despite the visionary Beane being the GM the team has struggled for the last five years.
Despite these issues, if done properly this movie will capture a moment in time in which the underdog A’s defied expectations and were able to compete with the large market teams. What they were able to accomplish in a few shorts years was remarkable and has forever changed the evaluation of baseball players. It is now commonplace for baseball front offices to employ a mix of statistics based Harvard grads and old school baseball lifers. A line in the trailer has Beane saying “If we win with this team, we will have changed the game”. This unquestionably was the case, as within a couple of years other teams begin emulating Beane's strategies to assess offensive talent, thus diminishing the Athletics' advantage. While Beane desperately searches for the next advantage his A’s can exploit, I eagerly await the film version of Moneyball to see if it lives up to the hype of the trailer and is able to capture the greatness of the book.