Opening 2 Feb 2012
You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy Moneyball. It’s a success story, as well as a lesson in economics. In 1979 Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) caught the eye of baseball scouts (although he was also talented in football). He could chose between a contract with a team or a scholarship at Stanford. He chose baseball, burned out fairly quickly and never reached expectations. In other words, he was jobless without a college degree. In this true story, however, knowledge of baseball led to a management position, which is where Billy is when the film opens. In 2002 his team, the Oakland A’s, is at the bottom of the charts and broke. His coaches hire inexpensive rookies who make their marks and then are snapped up by richer teams, leaving the A’s scrambling for new players once again. Two events catch Billy’s attention: Bill James writes theories about potential guidelines for hiring athletes, e.g., “let the other team make mistakes”; Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) methodically analyzes player statistics to predict a winner. Naturally, the old timers are not impressed and Billy must trick or terrorize them to force a new way of thinking. Naturally, he is successful and his team wins.
It’s so exciting to see the Oakland A’s lose 14 of 17 games and then win 16 games straight, their longest winning streak in 25 years, then 17, then 18. By then I was holding my breath in anticipation and comparing Moneyball to the excitement and anticipation of Das Wunder von Bern in which the Germans win the World Cup in soccer for the first time after WWII.
Based on a book by Michael Lewis, Brad Pitt fits the part of Billy Beane, constantly chewing gum or snacking, while talking on the phone. Watch the film and tell me whether you think he is wearing a wig. Philip Seymour Hoffman is fine as the sceptical field manager who resists change, but I vote for Jonah Hill as the Yale-graduate who knows his computer. Directed by Bennett Miller (who made Capote), the baseball players are actually actors who can hit a ball or minor-league players who can act – selected from over 750 who tried out. Malcolm Gladwell, writing about Steve Jobs of Apple Computers in New Yorker magazine, said that the inventor is important, but it’s the tweaker who makes the impact and in this case, Billy Beane is an excellent tweaker of the system. When watching the film, it helps to have a basic knowledge of baseball vocabulary, but not absolutely necessary, as my baseball-novice German colleague said. (Becky Tan)