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My first movie review

I’m going to take a crack at this for the first time here on the blog.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to critique, or if I’m supposed to give it a number out of 10, or what they normally do, and I know there are folks that watch movies and review them for a living… what a gig.  But I went to see Moneyball for the first time this weekend, and I…

loved it.  Finally, somebody made a movie about a topic that interests me.  I thought I’d never see the day.  And I don’t mean sports, there’s a hundred of those flicks.  Some good, some awful.  But I mean about the real-life, inner-workings of a team behind the scenes.  Not fantasized, made for the big screen, at least not to the extent where the story itself is fabricated.  This is the real-life industry, and they made a movie about it, and they made it seemingly realistic (as far as I can tell), and they made it well.  I was sorry to see the credits signaling the end.

Before he gets a chance, you will probably see negative comments from Paul Braverman who has no interest in seeing the movie, simply because he knows how the 2002 A’s season ended, which in his mind makes watching the movie pointless.  So I’m going to steal his thunder here before he can trash my review, but we do have that to look forward to later.  And with any luck, another rant to go with it, similar to the one I just listened to here firsthand in the marketing suite.

Now, back to the movie.

It seems, especially since marriage, that every movie I’ve been forced to watch the last two years is about some girl that thinks a guy likes her, but he really doesn’t, or some guy that likes some girl and she pretends to like him but is only doing it because she’s writing an article for her magazine on how to dump him.  You know, they’re all the same.  I’ve written before about my deep interest in the inner-workings of what GMs do, and how teams are built, and to think I was sitting down to watch a movie about that very topic.

First off, it is based on a true story, and a pretty incredible 2002 season for the low-budget A’s.  There’s real game-footage throughout the movie, but Hollywood didn’t do anything to protect the names of any of these characters.  In some cases, certain high-profile names are portrayed in a less-than-ideal light.  Nothing scandalous or anything like that, no performance-enhancing substance abuse claims or anything from that tired topic.  But you don’t negatively portray someone recklessly and falsely, that would be slander.  This just, to me, seemed like little things in the clubhouse and behind the scenes that probably did happen.  I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but everything seemed pretty realistic about how signings and trades went down, and baseball life itself.

I also thought Brad Pitt was great.  Again, I don’t know how Billy Beane is in real life, and I confess I’ve never read the book either, but Pitt portrayed him as very bright, very shrewd, very intense, and very confident in his decision-making from a position of power.  There was an arrogance that I thought made the character very likeable, and that seems necessary for a person in his position.  There were times that his personality and some of the things he said came off as humorous, but either way it was always entertaining.  Lots of scenes of his manager and advisors giving him grief over personnel decisions, and Pitt boldly dismissing them, sometimes firing the person on the spot, or just ignoring their input and going above their heads to make his team the way he wanted.  The intensity of some of the behind-the-scenes portions was great.

How do you make a movie centering on the challenges that a small-market baseball team faces and appeal to non baseball fans?  I don’t know if it appeals to non baseball fans or not, but having seen it, I would think that it could.  They took a topic that interests people like me and probably you too if you’re reading this, but certainly not everyone, and they built an entire movie around it.  They stuck to that central storyline throughout the film, and it worked.  Even if you knew the end result of the A’s season.  It was just very entertaining from start to finish.  I didn’t want to miss a word.

They also showed the stress that a big league GM must go through on a daily basis with some pretty good scenes on that topic.  Struggles with his staff, the owner, agents, the manager, and how he handled that.  And there were scenes that were more about Beane’s personal life, and the human aspect of it all, how he is away from the job which added to it and helped tie the whole story together.  There needed to be a storyline that was bigger than just one team’s baseball season, and that’s how they came to it.

I loved the scenes with Pitt dealing with other GMs, and in some cases players, and how he’d handle certain situations that would arise.  However it may have actually happened in real life, the way it was written in the movie, Beane is brilliant.  Very sharp.  I loved that stuff.  He played Beane as a guy who knows exactly what players he wants within the constrictions of his salary situation, and he goes out and makes it happen.  And a guy who knows exactly how to deal with different personalities, whether it’s his players and how to get the most out of them when his manager can’t, a manager that goes against him at every turn, or his general manager cohorts and how he’d work them over to get what he’d want.

This is probably the most juvenile movie review you’ve ever read, and I’m sure that being a die-hard baseball fan influences my review, but I’d been waiting awhile to see this movie, and it was everything I hoped it would be when I first heard that it was coming out.  Can’t wait for the DVD to come out for any bonus material.

Have a feeling I’ll be paying a little more attention this winter to the moves that the real-life Beane will make, who by the way is on the last year of his contract in Oakland.

I’d recommend the movie to any baseball fan in a heartbeat.  And if you’re not particularly interested in behind the scenes stuff like that, you’ll probably have a new appreciation for the business of the game.  Very interesting.  Never thought a movie would be made about a professional sports general manager, but it was great.

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7 responses

  1. Gene Owens

    I found a copy of the screen play on the SABR website a couple of years ago. At that time there was a problem funding the movie. Read it – loved it. Bought the book. Read it – loved it. I would have been at the theater when it opened – other than the fact that we were in that AL post season thing. We saw it the weekend after Championship #2 – loved it.

    I’ll have to look to see if there are any stats for baseball announcers reviewing movies. Your review, by the way, was great.

    Only real “complaints” I’ve seen about Monayball is that this stats-story totally ignores the the pitching rotation of the 2002 A’s – Zito, Mulder and Hudson were 68-21 in the 99 games they started and Zito won the Cy Young. Also, Miguel Tejada was the AL MVP. None of those were the “Moneyball” players. Realistically, however, “Moneyball” allowed Oakland to fill up the rest of the roster with players that could “play” their position within Billy Beane’s budget. The other issue the baseball traditionalists have is that Billy Beane has never won the “big one” using the Moneyball/Sabrmetrics approach. I suspect these are Braverman’s issues – who cares?

    The bottom line is that this movie is FUN to watch. It gets into the heads of managers and players. It lets us see a part of the game we can’t view normally. You probably see more of behind the scenes activities in March-April when Etch and Mason build the Revs; the rest of us never, ever get that insight. Moneyball lets us sit in those meetings. The on-field scenes were great. The soul-searching to make decisions was fascinating. The wheeling and dealing with other GM’s was comical!

    I thought the scenes where Billy Beane refuses to watch the games being played spoke volumes about the inner turmoil in that man’s mind.

    The scene where Billy Beane tells Scott Hatteberg that it will be easy for him to learn to play 1st Base and Ron Washington says “its the toughest position to learn” was a classic.

    If you love baseball, you have to love this movie. Its not about re-inventing the game. It is about applying some 21st century tools to a 19th century game. The fact that we can apply computer technology and analysis to a game that has it roots going back to the Civil War is a testament to the wonder of baseball. We’ve been tracking baseball stats since the Chadwick started it in the 1800’s. Sabremetrics can give you more insights into player’s past accomplishments. But, between the white lines, those 9 guys still have to pitch, hit, run and throw. Stats are nice, but the joy of the game is that it still comes down to the ball-player. They’re people, not computers. Often they perform just like the stats predict they will. But…….just often enough they do the unthinkable – ground ball going through Buckner’s legs….Kirk Gibson walk off home run…..that’s the real magic of the game.

    Get the DVD. Get the pop-corn ready, chill out and watch it again. Keep that DVD – some day you’ll want to show it to your daughter to explain to her why you have all those pages and pages of Rev’s stats.

    November 7, 2011 at 5:40 pm

  2. Darrell Henry

    Haha, nice Gene, great review yourself. That will be one of my rules for Peyton, she must watch Moneyball.

    You’re right on Braverman’s issues. Amazing, we’ve gotten in his head before he even wrote his retort. Hudson, Mulder, and Zito were unbelievable when they were together in their prime and had as much to do with Oakland’s success as anything. But, a huge part of operating successfully with such a tight budget in MLB is developing your own young talent and having them contribute before they command top-dollar, and that’s a perfect example. That’s all part of it too. Hudson – 6th round in 1997, Mulder – 2nd overall in 1998, Zito – 9th overall in 1999. And Tejada signed as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic with Oakland in 1993, and developed in their farm system.

    Under Beane’s guidance currently, while their offense is severely lacking, they do have a pretty good stable of pitchers these days too.

    They may not have won the big one, but those teams in ’01 and ’02 were scary, and they were in position to do something. In some ways, that’s the best a GM can do is give them a chance. You’ve got to have things go your way in October, and sometimes they just don’t. Fortunately with the Revs, they have.

    I think the back and forth with the other GMs was my favorite part of the whole thing. Beane’s (Pitt’s) arrogance with how he approached those dealings as the small-market guy was great, I loved it. And Washington’s line was hilarious. I don’t know how much of that was made-for-Hollywood, but I have to believe there was some truth to those conversations.

    I can’t get enough of this type of stuff, and I probably do drive Etch and Mase nuts with how much I pick their brains in March and April!

    November 7, 2011 at 7:28 pm

  3. My overall point is that Moneyball isn’t winning you a World Series…ever. Team’s that spend lavishly win the World Series. Moneyball is great for taking a team that should be in last place, and getting them to the playoffs once in a while. The A’s aren’t a consistent playoff organization, even though they do remain somewhat competitive when they should be the Royals or Pirates based on their tight-fisted owner Lew Wolff. Not real interested in this movie since I know how it ends, with the A’s NOT winning the World Series. (Pretty much the same reason I wasn’t interested in Titantic either, I had a feeling the boat would sink.) I saw a movie once, where the Yankees and Red Sox spend a bunch of money and win a bunch of championships. I think that movie was called “Reality,” by George Steinbrenner and John Henry.

    Billy Beane is obviously a tremendous General Manager to even keep that organization competitive, but good luck beating Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter in their prime with Mark Kotsay and Scott Hatteberg on one-year deals. Spending wins, it’s as easy as that. And I won’t hear the “small market” excuse. There are no small markets, just small owners. Either your owner will spend with his personal fortune to make the team better or not. Steinbrenner did that, and the Yankees won. It had much more to do with that than it does the Yankees being in New York. For years Carl Pohlad of the Twins was among the wealthiest owners in baseball, and refused to spend anymore than the minimum on his team. He was even ready to take a huge buyout from MLB to dissolve the team when Minnesota and Montreal were suggested for contraction. Some owner he was. Look at the last two owners in Pittsburgh, Robert Nutting and Kevin McClatchey, two exceedingly wealthy men who do it on the cheap, and the results show on the field.

    There are no small markets, ONLY small, tight-fisted owners. For example, what’s the fourth largest market in MLB after New York, Chicago and L.A.? Philadelphia, Houston? That’s right, it’s Toronto. TORONTO. But Toronto really isn’t grouped with those other cities and actually labeled “small market” just because they play in the same division as New York and Boston, merely an accident of geography. Calling the Blue Jays a small market team is laughable, Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America and the Jays have resources other organizations can only dream of. The team is owned by Rogers Communications, really the only telecom giant in Canada. It would be the equivalent of an American team being owned by Comcast, Viacom, Disney and News Corp. all at once. But for Rogers, the Blue Jays winning isn’t much of a priority, and they don’t win enough to make the post-season. Teams like Baltimore will cry poverty that there is a Yankees/Red Sox glass ceiling, but that’s just a cop out for winning not being as much of a priority as it is for those two organizations. If George Steinbrenner had purchased the Cleveland Indians like had planned to instead of the Yankees, would they be considered small market today? Doubtful. And of course more capital and income is available in New York than it would’ve been in Cleveland, but The Boss still would’ve spent to the max in Cleveland as he did in New York, because he wanted to win, and the Indians would’ve been a lot better off. If Jerry Jones owned the Baltimore Orioles instead of the Dallas Cowboys, would the Orioles be considered “small market?” Doubtful. Here’s some hope for A’s fans…if you want to actually win the World Series, and not make feel-good movies based on getting to the playoffs before you inevitably lose, start a grass-roots movement for Mark Cuban to be your owner, when the team finally moves from Oakland to San Jose, whenever that happens. Then you’ll see what it’s like to be in the real Major Leagues, and not Quadruple-A with the teams who dont re-invest enough into their team to win, and then have the stones to cry poverty.

    And Oakland’s rotation in the early part of the 2000s had nothing to do with “Moneyball,” so let’s not give a sabremetrics philosphy the credit for that. Hudson, Mulder and Zito were simply the best pitchers they could get, and the A’s nailed their draft picks to get them. Any team, free-spending or “Moneyball” can have a good draft. So let’s not pretend any groundbreaking, new-age scouting was responsible for delivering those three. They were a product of good ol’ fashioned scouting.

    Moneyball and sabremetrics can help you fine-tune a team and make tough decisions, but scouting and spending is still how you win at the Major League level.

    November 8, 2011 at 9:43 am

  4. Carl Owens

    I loved the movie. As for Paul Braverman, he likes to rant. I hope someone enjoys him.

    November 9, 2011 at 1:12 am

  5. Darrell Henry

    Oakland only had the 10th lowest payroll last season interestingly. Approaching middle of the pack rather than bottom of the barrel… 66.5 million.

    And yes, drafting is important for every team, but especially teams that don’t spend much, to have that young, controllable talent contributing. That, and smart signings. Not necessarily the biggest signings, but smart additions that fit.

    November 9, 2011 at 3:43 pm

  6. Paul Braverman

    But where does the meat go?

    November 9, 2011 at 5:09 pm

  7. Ron McClain

    You guys are great!!! The book is much better than the movie.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm

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