‘Moneyball’ Movie Review

August 25, 2021

Malcolm Gladwell proposed in David vs. Goliath the need for an inferior opponent to defy convention in order to survive. The Oakland Athletics baseball organization is a quintessential demonstration of this demand imposed by the natural circumstances of needing to compete with teams with necessarily larger fan bases and therefore larger purses to build wins. Billy Beane, the General Manager of the team from the bay, resorted to baseball statistical analysis to reveal players which would deliver numerically predictable outcomes in a way which baseball talent scouts could not perceive.

 

The issue of “qualitative versus quantitative” analysis of a player’s skills, in other words, was challenged and permanently recorded in baseball history as successful thanks to the 20-game win streak the 2002 A’s team caused as a result of necessity being the mother of all inventiveness, when, their marquee players – such as Jason Giambi – became free agents, and the club could not afford to match the salaries offered by other teams. Moneyball, directed by Bennett Miller and co-written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and adapted from Michael Lewis’ 2003 book of the same name, does a wonderful job of biographically illuminating a silent suspicion of baseball scouts and their sense of superior judgment of talent based on descriptions such as “great swing” as opposed to more brute facts about the player getting on base. Such hostility by the experts is typical in the annals of written history; wherein there is a sense of pride underlined by material motivations to resist adaptation. In the end, as the film mentions, the Oakland A’s were able to field a team at more than a fifth of the price per win as the New York Yankees.

 

Such daring to push ahead, with no guaranteed outcome of success, in order to progress the arts, is commendable. Mr. Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Mr. Beane, too, is a healthy reminder of the natural willingness of the male sex to extend itself in directions not asked for nor required; it is simply a willingness to take a chance; a risk of, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, pitch and toss; thereby benefiting the society – and baseball sport in particular – at large. Indeed the film silently celebrates a realm of natural law, where failures occur and reality bites. This is the way all human life has been accustomed to, and something that cannot be denied or severed, for loss of such arduous experimenting within the human condition.

 

Mr. Jonah Hill monotonically offers his role as the baseball “quant”, who is as equally obsessed with the pursuit of perfection to make efforts at corresponding on base percentage with salaries to provide the General Manager a north star amidst the havoc he is creating in his organization who have no incentive to change their evaluating behavior of what makes a good starter. A .250 batting average, for example, does not reveal the true occurrences of being in a scoring position like on base percentage statistical measurements. True, numbers abstract the actual baseball playing experience. However, they provide more objective qualifications of what makes a baseball player a “good deal” – in the sense that this player is being overlooked like a shrouded publicly listed company because its business does not serve a mass-consumer market.

 

And my review cannot be complete without celebrating the life of Mr. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and his characteristic masterful scenery playing the skipper Art Howe who is just as adverse to picking up the new swing of things as are the scouts whose livelihoods are effectively being shaken to the core. His character’s deadpan delivery with his interactions with Mr. Beane give us a sense of the politics involved in any organization. He will not budge until Mr. Beane and his persistence, like the flow of water, finally erodes the resistance by the Manager in playing the game how it needs to be played: more like moneyball than a game of going yard at each at-bat.

Grade: B

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