Moneyball Much More Than a Baseball Movie

Moneyball put Brad Pitt on the SI Cover

You don’t have to like baseball, or Brad Pitt, to like the new movie “Moneyball.”

I read Michael Lewis’ book about the revolution in the way baseball players are analyzed a few years back, and never imagined it as a movie. It was all numbers and analytics, and tucked away in there was a nice little story about Billy Beane’s decision to take a completely new approach to building the cash-poor Oakland A’s. Much like another movie adapted from a Lewis book, “The Blind Side,” “Moneyball” the movie uses statistics as a sidebar to telling a story about revolutionary game-changers in American sport.

The most surprising aspect of the story is the performance by Jonah Hill, who you’re used to seeing as a hilarious sidekick in Will Ferrell and Seth Rogan comedies, playing the nerdy economics major from Yale (a fictional character based on baseball exec Paul DePodesta) who Beane entrusts with enormous responsibility (squirming while telling a player he’s been traded) while dismissing the experienced baseball scouts who work for the A’s.

Then there’s Art Howe, the manager, who is totally resistant to Beane’s new philosophy, defying orders to play a project player (Scott Hatteberg) until Beane trades away the team’s only other option at first base.In baseball circles, Howe was given credit for the eventual success of the 2002 A’s, but based on the movie it’s amazing he wasn’t fired in mid-season.

“Moneyball” finished second, to “The Lion King” in this week’s box office race.

Pitt’s portrayal of Beane is award-worthy. Defiant and rebellious, Beane’s risky reliance on statistical info to make decisions on personnel brings him ridicule from the baseball establishment, especially when the A’s start slowly. But Beane sticks to his guns and the team eventually wins a record 20 games in a row.

In the end, of course, the A’s lost in the playoffs. And there’s no Hollywood ending. But Beane’s impact on baseball is long-lasting and “Moneyball” is much more than a simple baseball movie.