Share

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 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.

19 Comments on this Post

  1. Being British and not a fan of sports, I haven’t a clue about baseball, and I understood the film just fine. I normally wouldn’t watch sports movies, but I tend not to watch films which haven’t been particularly well-received by critics unless they have some points of interest for me, and most sports movies don’t tend to impress too many critics. Unfortunately, though, the baseball aspect turned many British moviegoers off, and the film tanked over here.

  2. Profile photo of Sasha Stone

    the baseball aspect turned many British moviegoers off, and the film tanked over here.

    No worries. I’m sure War Horse do just fine.

  3. K J Bacon

    I’m not allowed to like this movie as I live in Seattle and that streak is still a sore point with us. Will never see Invictus – I grew up in NZ. Ka Mate! Ka Mate!

  4. julian the emperor

    It is a wonderful movie, not so much because of the universality of its message, as because of the ambiguity of its main protagonist. Billy Beane is kind of an enigma to me; he is so melancholic at heart that it doesn’t matter whether you find him likable or unlikeable, you just sense that he is a deeply complex man. And the script (and obviously, Pitt himself) makes this enigma come to full life; a guy caught in a permanent grip between winning and losing, success and failure. Is he a winner or a loser and does he even know the difference? What’s a victory on the field if you fail as a father, as a man? And what’s the worth of 20 victories in a row, if you lose the last game of the season?
    Moneyball is a triumph because it insists on it’s protagonist’s complexities, rather than settling for redeeming or straightening out the inherent traumas of his existential condition. It refuses to take the easy route.

  5. Tero Heikkinen

    It’s very hard to understand the phenomena of baseball. It’s 100% American – no-one else plays that.

    I liked Moneyball, but I also thought that it was ABOUT baseball. Not just about the money. Baseball is just too boring to look at. Hard to make real drama. Something like Field of Dreams is less, cause it’s a fantasy – just like the game itself. Something you never see in real life is a fantasy.

  6. Someone mentioned Invictus. This is the movie that Invictus tried to be, but wasn’t.

  7. @Tero Japanese people play baseball. http://www.npb.or.jp/eng/

  8. “…it’s a movie that you don’t have to know about baseball to understand.”
    then
    “Sure, I had to explain a lot of the things happening…”

    Stark contradictions, don’t you think? I watch movies from the middle east that dig deeply into Islamic culture, yet I seem to be able to grasp the goings-on without anyone having to explain stuff.

    And it’s ABOUT baseball!

    Anyway, the great thing about Moneyball is that I couldn’t spot any flaws. It’s solid from start to finish. Nice job by Miller and the writers.

    @Tero, you’re confusing baseball with American football. Baseball is big in the Caribbean and in Eastern Asia.

  9. I liked Moneyball but as a baseball fan I did not like the way the film dealt with the Oakland players or the way Art Howe was portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I did like Brad Pitt’s performance, especially the scenes with Beane’s daughter.

    I wouldn’t call it a great baseball movie but it’s definitely a good movie movie.

  10. Unlikelyhood

    Tero – 100% agreed the other day when you named the four locks of the BP race and corrected a bunch of over-enthusiasts for woody and Spielberg. But whoa, what a whopper today! Baseball has a 16-country tournament!

  11. I think most great movies address more than their immediate subject or setting. Is The Deer Hunter a war movie? Is The Godfather a mob movie? Superficially, yeah, but they manage to submerge themselves into personal relationships or, in Moneyball’s case, the tension between tradition and progress, moneyed elites and underdogs. Lewis’ book took the story of the 2002 A’s beyond mathematics and into Beane’s driven attitude toward building a substantial collection of parts as both a reflection of his own ambition and as a fuck you to the unfairness of baseball’s economics. As an Angel fan, I reaped the immediate benefits of market shares very recently while fans of the A’s watch their top young pitchers traded away because their team simple doesn’t possess the resources to build around them…Jesus, I’m getting really into it now. Sign of a good film.

    Then again, I read baseball statistics for fun, so I’m the sort of wackjob who would enjoy a completely rote baseball production of Moneyball. Whatever. I might still give Miller best director for this one. Stylish stuff.

  12. I’m an SF Giants Fan, I love baseball, and I loved this movie.
    Of all the movies I’ve seen this year, this one just might be the best.
    I wasn’t expecting such a well-written, well-acted, thoughtful, and touching film about baseball.

    Just a slick film.

  13. One of the films whose praise is completely baffling to me, especially given the misleading portrayal of the team

  14. I live in Europe, but I thought Moneyball was such an interesting film. I have no clue when it comes to baseball, but what I saw was a complicated character study and a damn fine film with great script and editing. I dig the film, Pitt’s performance and Sorkin’s screenplay.

  15. Nikhil Arora

    Moneyball is very much about baseball. I love your spirit Sasha, I love how you champion certain films and stick by them till the end, or even further.

    But I strongly disagree here. It is about baseball. But it SEEMS like it isn’t. It works on many other levels, hence it FEELS like a film about much more. It took me two viewings to get the baseball jargon. Only then could I get past it to see the other layers and appreciate the film in its entirety. But the “baseball-ness” is also what holds the film together, allows it to remain rooted. It’s like the peel which keeps the orange together. Just because the peel doesn’t make the juice, you don’t discredit its existence.

  16. If anything, baseball is MORE popular in Latin America than the U.S.A. It’s not as international as soccer or even basketball, but it certainly expands well beyond the Star Spangled borders.

  17. Tero Heikkinen

    OK, so you proved me wrong. They DO play baseball outside USA, too. I have just never seen that, we don’t see the game on TV (unless cable). My only understanding of the sport comes from movies (Field of Dreams, Moneyball, Bull Durham, Eight Men Out, The Natural and what have you).

    Are there any non-American baseball movies?

    But there is something touching about the passion you have for baseball – like when fathers play catch with sons. The game itself does not interest me at all.

  18. @Tero

    Baseball is mostly boring unless it’s the playoffs or World Series. When I was a kid I used to leave it on while I did my homework. But you can listen for when something is going to happen. So I could conjugate french verbs until the count was 0-2 (two strikes). I mostly watched it for the cute players. (I haven’t changed lol) But when it really gets going and it’s bottom of the ninth with two on and two out, it can be the most thrilling sport ever. As someone who has been a fan of the sport and gone to fan celebrations in both New York and Boston, even I can’t describe how much it means to people. I lived in Manhattan when the Yankees won in 1996. It had been a while and the minute the game was over you just knew you had to go outside. Everyone was walking around smiling like idiots. And there was this atmosphere, I mean the actual air, that was so different. It was like everyone was floating. Everything felt so light. That many happy people changed gravity. lol

    I was back home in Massachusetts when the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004. That day the air was different too. It was like a ghost town. It was spooky quiet. If you saw anyone they were very tight-lipped. People around here who hadn’t let a day go by in their lives without complaining about the Red Sox suddenly seemed to not know there was such a thing as baseball. People were avoiding eye contact. Just “Hi how are you? How’s the kids? Okay, bye.” No one wanted to accidentally say the word “red” or “socks” or “base” and “ball” too close to each other. There was too much to lose. Anything that could possibly jinx it must be avoided at all costs! Just pretend nothing is happening. I don’t even like that team and I knew not to do anything. I sat on one end of the couch and my Old Ma on the other watching the game in silence and then during the 7th inning stretch when they were ahead, I looked at my mom, didn’t say a word but made a face that said “hey maybe they can win this” lol. That following week people acted at once like Jesus had come back and made everyone millionaires, and like they didn’t know who they were. They were so used to being “losers” they lost their sense of self. lol

    I don’t know what it is. I don’t know if it’s running around the bases having accomplished something, or making it home safe, or maybe it’s because you have to wait so long for something to happen that makes it so special when it does. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a baseball movie that captures that actually feeling that baseball can give you. Other sports movies have done that with their sports Victory, Bend It Like Beckham, Miracle, Rudy, and of course the numerous boxing films from Rocky to The Champ to The Fighter to Warrior. Heck even Ice Castles got the job done. They get to you somehow. But Moneyball didn’t do that for me and honestly neither did The Natural. I think the latter was more about baseball than the former. I think Moneyball is about baseball in the way that Any Given Sunday was about football. It’s about the behind the scenes but not about the game itself. That’s why it didn’t do anything for me. They lost me when they didn’t finish showing the A’s season. Win or lose, I don’t get why they did that still. That’s why I think of it more as a biopic than a sports movie. I thought when they chose to do that it declared that it was about Billy Beane not the sport. I guess people who were more interested in the story of the character probably liked it more than I did. I wanted to know what happened with the team as I hadn’t been paying attention to baseball during that time and I thought that was the way the story was headed. There was no triumph but there wasn’t tragedy either. No thrill of victory or agony of defeat. I needed one of those.

Leave a Comment

Warning: Assholes get their comments deleted