Moneyball, a Movie About Baseball that’s Not About Baseball
Hardball Talk finally gets around to seeing Moneyball and discovered it’s a movie that you don’t have to know about baseball to understand. The reason being, the drama that plays out, the themes at work, are universal. In fact, the more likely reaction is that baseballers fall into two camps – those who like the movie but don’t approve of the Moneyball philosophy, and those who hate the moneyball philosophy and therefore hate the movie. There’s a third group, too. Those who believe that the movie doesn’t quite tell the story of the Oakland A’s exactly right. So it’s kind of news when anyone in the sports world talks about the movie in a positive way, as Craig Calcaterra does.
Mildly embarrassing confession: I never got around to seeing “Moneyball” when it was out at the theater. I don’t know why. It just never happened. Finally got to see it last night. And for the life of me, I can’t really say anything intelligent about it.
The biggest reason: I watched it with two people who were not baseball fans. Like, at all. And not just not baseball fans: one of them is a guy from Hungary who is not even familiar with baseball. He likes Brad Pitt movies, though, and he knows that I write about baseball, so I think he thought it would be cool to put us all together. It was rather sweet, actually. But I found myself, the entire time I was watching the movie, wondering how on Earth anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about the game could get anything out of it.
But they surprisingly did. Sure, I had to explain a lot of the things happening, but they quickly grokked the whole stats vs. scouts thing. The idea that young Ivy League kids with computers represented something different in sports. They picked up on the friction between Art Howe and Billy Beane. They understood the notion — based on the stuff near the end with the Boston Red Sox — that Beane’s advances would quickly be co-opted by the rich teams and then the A’s would soon be back to square one, playing the same game as the big boys and not having the money to compete. And, heck, based on some NPR report or something, the Hungarian guy said “this Bill James; he wrote the serial killer book, yes?” Yes, yes he did.
Anyway, I was rather pleased by all of that. I talk to people steeped in baseball all day and I’ve come to expect that people who aren’t so steeped think of the really inside parts of baseball like front office moves and sabermetrics and stuff as something close to impenetrable. Guess not. Very cool.
Oh, and as the father of a little girl, I’m not too tough to admit that Beane’s daughter playing that song on the guitar to her dad didn’t make it a little misty in the room.