16 September 2011 | daveygandthekeyboard
Possibly the best baseball movie I have I ever seen.
In a league where the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox regularly field teams with $100 million-plus payrolls, how do you field a competitive team with a payroll that is a mere fraction of that, at $37 million? This question could have been the basis for a dry documentary, only appealing to a legion of die hard statistical analysis baseball geeks, but instead, it forms the basis of a film that shows a great deal of heart and spirit which moves it into a statement I never thought I would be making, but here goes: Moneyball is possibly the best baseball movie I have I ever seen.
Granted, I've never seen Bull Durham or Major League, but even with that deficiency in my sports film-viewing I can say with some confidence that this is at least as good or better than Field of Dreams and at least as good or better than The Bad News Bears.
The answer to the conundrum of fielding a competitive team with a limited budget is in fact the one sought by Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. In 2001, after sending a team to the divisional playoffs only to lose in a heartbreaking game 5 to the big market big money New York Yankees (who went on to lose the World Series to Arizona), he was losing three of his star players and he simply could not afford to replace them. He hit the realization that in order to compete, he had to re-think the way that baseball business is done. No longer could he think in terms of buying his way into the playoffs (as the Yankees seem to do every year), but instead he would devise a system that would revolutionize the way that baseball is played
or at least they way a team is constructed. To this end, he constructed an unorthodox and unconventional system which at the time was completely unheard-of. Suddenly, players were valued not for home runs or batting average, but for walks and runs scored. Under this system, 3 players making 250,000 each were worth the same as one player making 7 million. And in doing so, Beane managed to field a winning team who set an American League record for consecutive wins. Critics may point out that as yet, under this system, the A's still haven't won a championship. But they were always competitive, which is more than we can say for the majority of the teams in the league who also are not winning championships and are in fact spending a lot more money.
These ideas have been around for about ten years now and are now pretty much commonplace in baseball, but at the time Beane was ridiculed for trying them. The writing is excellent (Aaron Sorkin has a screenplay credit) and draws you in even without a lot of "action." We know that Oakland will not win that final game of the series, we know that Beane will continue to strive for that elusive championship, but we still have a lot to root for and cheer for. Even my personal feelings about my own team (sigh--long-suffering Orioles fan) did not in anyway prevent me from cheering the A's improbable drive toward history. The relationship between Beane and his daughter is a nice, and helps to drive in the fact that to some, baseball is more than a game. You might even argue that this film is not so much about baseball but about the effect our choices have on our lives and the lives around us--the supposed threat that unconventional thinking presents to the status quo.
Ultimately this film is the Bad News Bears of the new millennium--a ragtag group of veterans and rookies and cast-offs come together under the visionary leadership of a general manager who dared to think outside the box. It is possible that if you have absolutely no interest in baseball, you would still like this movie for its message about resisting the urge to do what is safe and easy in favor of what is odd and maybe even crazy...and works.