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Baseball Business on the Big Screen: A Review of “Moneyball”

Peter Brand:  It’s only been a few days. You have to give yourself some time to get over it.

Billy Beane:  I don’t get over these things. Ever.

After nearly beating the god-like New York Yankees in the 2001 American League Division Series, all hope seems to be lost for Oakland Athletics’ General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). He loses three of his key players to free agency – Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, and Jason Isringhausen – and is forced to rebuild the A’s.

Beane travels to Cleveland to discuss potential trades with the Indians’ General Manager when he discovers Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand is a player analyst whose opinion is valued by the Cleveland brass. Beane recognizes that and instead of gaining a player, buys Brand from the Indians and hires him as the assistant GM.

Together Beane and Brand use a philosophy no other team had ever utilized: signing players who are not necessarily power hitters, players who hit for average or players who rack up a great number of RBIs, but possess the ability to get on base.

They sign players who are on the downside of their careers, like David Justice, Jeremy Giambi, and Scott Hatteberg. Each of these players lack many of the tools needed to play the game, but have one thing in common: high on-base percentages.

Beane’s logic is simple: it doesn’t matter how you get on base. If you get on base, you’ll score runs. The strategy doesn’t sit too well with manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the two clash, disagreeing about necessary decisions such as who is in the lineup.

Although Oakland started the ’02 season slow, they eventually won 20 games in a row, setting an American League record for most consecutive wins in a single season.

The A’s overcome the odds and make the postseason, but get bumped in the first round for the second year in a row, this time by the Minnesota Twins. In the midst of the early playoff exit, the Red Sox recognize what Beane did in terms of building his team. Boston owner John Henry offers Beane a contract to be the highest paid General Manager in baseball history, which he declines.

Instead of going to the Red Sox, Beane opts to remain with the A’s, only for the Red Sox to win the World Series two years after he turned them down –  winning it all by using the philosophy Beane instituted in Oakland.

There are a few unique baseball movies out there, but “Moneyball” just might be the most unique. Based on a true story, it isn’t a coming of age flick like “The Sandlot” or a one last chance tale like “The Rookie.”

“Moneyball” is a movie that presents and exposes the business side of the game of baseball – a side of the game that isn’t always transparent to the average fan.

Right from the start of the movie you are taken into the corporate side of baseball when Beane goes to Cleveland to try and make immediate off-season moves. It really shows you how fast things happen when a baseball team’s season ends. Most people might get the impression that once the season is over the next time the team is worrying about anything is Spring Training.

That notion is quickly proved wrong right at the start of the movie.

Beane’s assistant Brand is based off Paul DePodesta, a savvy baseball expert who studied the game in and out and served as a catalyst in terms of changing the team. He enforced and supported building the A’s team by way of sabermetrics, which is defined as a system of analyzing baseball players by empirical evidence and specific in-game activity.

Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician, was “the man behind the curtain” so-to-speak, as he devised this crazy concept of sabermetrics. In fact, James wrote the book from which the movie is adapted. His ideas were was embraced by the Oakland General Manager. Beane knew exactly what he was hoping to accomplish and it shows throughout the movie.

One of the best and most relatable scenes in the movie to me was the scene that portrayed Brand breaking some potentially unsettling news to Carlos Pena. Beane had told his assistant that he might have to tell players they are cut or traded, as it comes with the job; a classic case of a boss making his employee do some not-so-fun work.

Ultimately Brand had to inform Pena that he had been traded to the Detroit Tigers.

Right as that scene concluded, I immediately thought of my internship with the Hudson Valley Renegades, a Single-A team affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays. I interned for them over the summer of 2010 and at times they would ask the interns to do some bizarre things.

One night the Renegades were playing the Jamestown Jammers, whose parent club is the Miami Marlins. One of the Jammers had been cut that day, but was still at the Stadium. He needed to be driven to the airport and they selected an intern (it wasn’t me) to give him a ride.

I saw a little bit of a parallel between the scene in the movie and the instance from my internship.

Something else I found interesting was the scene portraying the acquisition of reliever Ricardo Rincon. At the beginning of the movie when Beane is in Cleveland, he inquires about Rincon and expresses a sheer amount of interest in him. At the trade deadline the Indians are out of the playoff running. With the A’s still in contention and in need of a reliever, Beane gives the Tribe a call.

Cleveland refused to budge on a swap for Rincon citing interest from other teams, so Beane takes matters into his own hands. He orchestrates a ploy with some of the other General Managers and in the end lands the deal and acquires Rincon.

If I could take one still frame from the entire movie, it would be Brand’s reaction after he and Beane pulled off the trade. He looked like a little kid at Christmas, getting exactly what his heart desired.

What I also liked was how they threw in the little back story about Beane’s career as a player. He was drafted by the New York Mets out of high school, and instead of going to Stanford to play baseball on a full-ride scholarship he chose to sign with the Mets.

And it didn’t go well for Beane. At all.

His career was a flop and it kind of goes back to the idea of whether it’s smart to play in college or go right to the pros upon getting drafted. I’ve always had more respect for the ones that play in college. I feel you have a better chance at maturing as a player and as a person.

It certainly worked out for someone like Tino Martinez, who was drafted out of high school by the Red Sox, yet turned them down to play for the University of Tampa. He was drafted again by Seattle and eventually had a wonderful career.

At any rate, there are a few things I noticed while watching “Moneyball” that I was sort of able to nitpick at; things that didn’t make the movie any less enjoyable, but once I noticed them I picked them out.

For one, in the Ricardo Rincon trade scene, Brand is wearing an all-green Oakland A’s hat. The all-green hats, complete with black underneath the bill, weren’t introduced until 2007 when New Era released the polyester headwear to reduce sun glare. Up until then, grey was the color underneath the bill of the hat.

I only knew that because when the polyester caps were released (it should come as no shock) I purchased a Yankee hat.

In addition to the hat anachronism, the scene which portrays Beane at Fenway speaking to Henry caught my eye. Boston’s 2004 and 2007 championship banners are visible. The movie is taking place at the conclusion on the 2002 season, so the flags representing Boston’s titles shouldn’t be there.

At first I thought I had spotted another mistake, but as it turns out the director (Bennett Miller) got it right.

The scene in which the A’s were gunning for their 20th consecutive win, they are shown playing the Kansas City Royals at home. They show Mike Sweeney hit a towering drive to left field, homering to put the Royals within one run; KC eventually tying the game before the A’s picked up the 12-11 win on the power of a walk-off, solo home run off the bat of Hatteberg.

When Sweeney played, he wore a “C” on his jersey, denoting his status at team captain. In the movie Sweeney’s “C” was absent from the breast of his jersey, but it should have been. Upon research, he wasn’t named captain of the Royals until 2003.

I thought I had caught Miller on a mistake, but in the end he got me.

Overall I found “Moneyball” to be a riveting and informative movie. I wish I had seen it sooner than I had, but when it was in theaters last summer most of my friends went and saw it with their girlfriends. Naturally when I wanted to see it and asked my friends to go to the movies, I only heard the words,

“I already saw it with my girlfriend. It was really good, you should go see it.”

Yes, I should have gone to see it when it was in theaters. But I wasn’t going to the movies by myself.

Where’s the fun in that?

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