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Cinema in Focus: Brad Pitt’s ‘Moneyball’ a Hit, And Not Just for Baseball Fans

Film explores Billy Beane's introduction of 'sabermetrics' into the professional sport

3 Stars — Engaging

It’s no secret that professional sports are financial goldmines. What is not as clear is how disconnected the money can be from the actual ability of a team to win a game.

Though perhaps more difficult to apply to other sports in which the statistics are not as complete nor the number of games so numerous, baseball went through a change in 2002 when economic analysis combined with statistical probability to predict victory. Based on the true story of Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and a fictional sidekick named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), Moneyball is the tale of how such a change occurred.

Based on a book by Michael Lewis and adapted for the screen by two veteran writers, Steven Zaillian (Gangs of New York and Hannibal) and Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War), director Bennett Miller creates a film that displays the complexity of both the people involved and the sport they conspired to change.

Beane has a love-hate relationship with the game. Deciding to forgo a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University because of the promises of professional baseball scouts, he believed them when they said he had what it takes to be a star in the major league.

But Beane struggled on the field and off as he bombed on the field and switched to the head office, eventually becoming the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. With a fraction of the money to work with that teams such as the New York Yankees had to lure players to their franchise, Beane nevertheless was able to raise good players through his farm system.

But when he was raided of his three best players in one year by the wealthier teams, he happened upon Peter Brand, who was working for the Cleveland Indians. With a degree from Yale University in economics, Brand had developed a sophisticated system for evaluating players over the long haul. Though any individual game might not fit the system, the whole season was statistically predictable. Beane decided to try Brand’s plan.

Though it is history as to what the outcome of his decision created, we won’t spoil it for those who do not know baseball. But for every viewer, what makes the film compelling is the human dimension exploring the inner struggles of Beane as well as his relationship with his daughter, Casey (Kerris Dorsey).

The climax of the film is when Beane is offered a $12 million contract to leave his daughter in the Bay Area and take a position for the wealthier Boston Redsox. Stating that he once made a decision for money and he would never do so again, this is the underlying message of Moneyball. It may involve money, and some may participate only because of it, but in the final analysis, Beane as well as baseball is not about the money but about the game. For those who learn that lesson, life becomes more than a game.

Discussion:

» When a scout evaluates a player’s confidence by the attractiveness of his girlfriend, what do you think that does to both the man and the game?

» The courage it took for Beane to manage his team based on “sabermetric” principles is obvious. If you had been in his place, do you think you could have withstood the pressure both from the media and your own coaches and scouts?

» Beane’s belief that if he watched a game he would jinx it meant that he had to forgo his pleasure of watching baseball. Is there any superstition in your own life that is costing you the pleasure of something you love?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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