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Sabermetrics Hit the Screen, Successfully, in ‘Moneyball’

'Moneyball' is a home run.

I'll admit it—I was skeptical about the idea of a Moneyball film adaptation. When I first heard about the idea, I think I mockingly dubbed it "On Base Percentage: The Movie."

Sure, Michael Lewis' 2003 bestseller—about Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane and how he used proprietary statistical analysis to overcome a miniscule team payroll—is a great and important book that tells a fascinating story. Cinematic, however, is not a word that comes to mind.

The Social Network proved that a movie about data-crunching and business strategy could be exciting, and Moneyball continues the tradition while updating it to baseball. It's not perfect—there are pacing issues, and it probably should have been about 15 minutes shorter—but Moneyball is still a supremely entertaining work.

Directed by Capote's Bennett Miller, the movie tells the story of the 2003 Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). A former highly-touted prospect who flamed out during a brief playing career, Beane imposes a system of "sabermetics," adapted from the work of legendary statistician Bill James, to overcome the team's low payroll and the departure of three star players.

With the help of a young Yale grad and numbers wiz (Jonah Hill), Beane butts heads with the crusty baseball lifers in the team's scouting department, as well as manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman, reuniting with his Capote director in the most un-Truman Capote role imaginable.)

While it follows some of the beats of a typical sports movie—the scrappy underdogs, the Big Game at the End—Moneyball is unique in being the first such film with a general manager as its hero and statistical analysis playing such a huge part. It's the movie baseball hot stove and transaction junkies have been waiting for their entire lives.

The film omits a couple of the book's best scenes, the ones involving the baseball draft, but does include a great punchline concerning catcher Jeremy Brown. And while the structure is untraditional, the film's last 20 minutes are especially inspired.

True, a few things ring false—general managers don't generally fly to other cities for trade negotiations, nor do they ask that opposing GMs stock their clubhouse soda machine as part of a trade. As a lifelong Minnesota Twins partisan, I remember clearly that their elimination game against the A's in 2002 was a day game and not a night game. And while a Kansas City player is introduced as "Raul Ibanez," the actor playing him bears no resemblance whatsoever to the current Phils' left fielder.

Moneyball followed a tumultuous path to the screen, with directors shuffling in and out and the script re-written numerous times. The screenplay is credited to Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian—Oscar winners both—with Stan Chervin getting a "story by" credit. There's nothing wrong with the script, but I can't help but get the sense that had Sorkin written the movie solo, it would have been even better.

The best baseball book of the '70s, Jim Bouton's Ball Four, was never adapted into a movie, although it certainly should have been. The best baseball book of the 2000s now has, and it's thankfully not a disappointment.

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The Silver Screen Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

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Roll Credits: Moneyball

Directed by: Bennett Miller

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Chris Pratt, Robin Wright

Rated: PG 13

Length:2 hours 6 min‎‎utes

Appearing at: Ritz 5 Movies

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