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August 5, 2011
Moping About Moneyball
Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers, and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.
David Brown has been a contributing contributor to Big League Stew, Yahoo! Sports' Major League Baseball blog, since 2008. His first book, "The Beatles Go To Mars," won first place at the School District 59 Young Authors contest in 1979. Dave lives in Chicago with his wife, Tarah, and dog, Bevo. Interact with him on Twitter—@AnswerDave.
The film premieres seven weeks from Friday, which means there's almost no chance the A's will have removed the stench from their season by then. After being the chic pick by some dopes to make the playoffs out of the AL West, they're 13 games under .500 and 12 games out of first place.
Playoffs?! They might finish dead last—and look really bad doing it.
Did you happen to see the "infield triple" by Brendan Ryan the other day? He hits a ground ball to short and ends up standing on third without drawing another throw because the A's infield failed to cover the other two bases. "Fielder's choice, defensive indifference," I believe it was scored.
Hey, let's also give Ryan some credit for using great hustle and being very scrappy. So noted. No matter, the Ryan play made me want to hustle into my nearest projection booth, slice up the Moneyball celluloid—or whatever motion pictures are etched on these days—and sell it for scrap. Film strips.
And that's too bad, because if there's something I like almost as much as baseball, it's a good movie about baseball.
Most baseball enthusiasts aware of Michael Lewis' book, regardless of whether they’ve read it or not, have seemed down on the movie project from the start. Comments from the peanut gallery (the balcony?) ranged from "How are they going to make THAT into a movie?" to "I could see if HBO did it, just not for theaters."
I fall into a third category: those who can't wait to see it. Or couldn't wait, until the A's vomited all over their season.
The entire "Moneyball" concept—or what people think it to be—has become an easy target in recent seasons for those who don't like A's GM Billy Beane, or the newfangled ways of Sabermetrics, or some combination therein. Beane's teams haven't finished over .500 since 2006, and his failures are greeted with schadenfreude.
And it pisses me off. Beane's philosophy not only bucked the establishment and stood up for the little guy, but it was right. It worked. It still works. It's not perfect. Show me the system that is.
The A's made the playoffs five times from 2000-2006 and, while the date of Oakland's next postseason appearance remains in question, there's no question that the "Moneyball" dogma has spread to all corners of the major leagues. (OK, except for the corner where Ken Williams and the Chicago White Sox hang out.)
The rise of the A's (not the "Rise of the Apes"—that's a different story) made for a very good book and, though I'm not one to quote it as scripture like some do, it made for an entertaining, informative, and inspiring read. And, in theory, it will make for a good movie.
The trailer, which also gets a mixed reaction, looks okay to me, if not great. But, as any consummate filmgoer would tell you, a great trailer usually equals "they put the best stuff in the trailer." A so-so trailer often means that there's better stuff in the movie. Call it hope. Yo, Sabermagicians, find me a ratio for this. Please.
But here's what works about it:
• The nebbish charms of Jonah Hill as Peter Brand. Though Hill seems to have lost half of himself recently in some kind of awful illness or diet, he's perfect as Beane's overweight henchman. Paul DePodesta came off as a little more confident in the book (he also comes off as not fat in real life) but this is Hollywood. Hill is perfect. Bonus: Hill (in the trailer, at least) gets to say Lewis' line about how the A's are baseball's "Island of Misfit Toys," perhaps the greatest pop culture analogy in the history of comparisons.
• The mere presence of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe. I would have picked character actor Stephen Collins, but that's why I write guest columns for BaseballPro and not screenplays for Steven Soderbergh. How can you not be curious to see how Truman Capote—or Brandt from "Lebowski"—pulls off being a major-league manager? It looks like Hoffman might have shaved his head for Howe scalp accuracy, too. Probably not necessary, but…
• David Justice trying to buy soda pop in the clubhouse without putting money in the machine. That wasn't in the book, was it? Well, it might not be accurate, but it's funny. What might be less accurate: actor Stephen Bishop playing Justice as a right-handed batter and thrower. Oh, REALLY, Ray Liotta in "Field of Dreams"?
• Someone playing Ron Washington on the silver screen! Wash is kind of the Philip Seymour Hoffman of managers; awkward on the outside but smart as a whip (about certain things, like teaching someone to play defense).
• Cinematically, it looks like the A's win the World Series. Which, we know, they didn't, or haven't, under Beane. But they did win 20 in a row that one time, plus four division titles. Besides, winning the World Series is just luck compared with a division crown. Give me the ol' 162 every time!
• I'm not sure if Brad Pitt works or doesn't as Beane. But I'm not going to dismiss him out of hand simply because he looks like one of Danny Ocean's 11, 12 or 13 friends.
Ah, it was just too perfect, wasn't it? The A's returning to playoff glory—and Beane to credibility among the know-nothings—just as Moneyball hit the box office. Well, there won't be any paparazzi shots of Billy Beane smiling on the red carpet on premiere night. He's going to be hiding, like he does during games. The A's would make me feel like hiding, too.
The team might be lost (for now), but there's still the movie. It's like my favorite line in Ed Wood, where Johnny Depp, playing a wannabe director, asks a seedy producer if there's a script. "Fuck, no!" the guy responds. "But there is a poster!"
The A's the team are in re-write at the moment, but the Moneyball movie is ready to go. Heck, I'm going to the midnight showing anyway. I might even dress up as Scott Hatteberg and recite stats at the screen.