Saturday, September 24, 2011

Movie Review: MONEYBALL

Sabermetrics, a statistical analysis of baseball performance is a non traditional grading system coined by writer statistician Bill James, current advisor for The Boston Red Sox, that emphasizes players' ability to score points as opposed to old-school measures like RBI and speed. The Oakland Athletics attempt at sabermetrics in the 2002 Major League Baseball season is the subject of Moneyball, a funny and serious baseball drama produced and starring Brad Pitt, based on Michael Lewis' 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.

Unless you're steeped in statistical baseball drama, maniacally scribbling numbers and geometries in a scratchpad, sabermetrics amounts to common sense, the same sense Athletics team manager Billy Beane, (Pitt) realized after failing to win a World Series bid in 2001, while attempting to compete with financially privileged teams like The New York Yankees, who won the American League title over The Athletics in 2001.

It was Beane's conclusion money ruled baseball and without it less fortunate teams like The A's could not compete. Their best players were picked off the team with the lure of money and their scouts could not offer the mega-bucks being offered to new talent. Certainly not a new concept in major sports.

While Beane 's advisers and team owner, Stephen Schott, insisted on working within the framework of their limited budget to develop talent, not to purchase it, Beane's chance meeting with Peter Brand, (a pseudonym for statistician whiz Paul De Podesta, played by Jonah Hill), a recent college graduate scouting for The Cleveland Indians and a sabermetric nerd of the highest order, turned the tables on the 2002 season, as the two baseball hounds scouted players for Oakland with their meager offerings based on statistics ignored by other teams.

Hence the pitcher who "throws funny", (Chad Bradford), and the former catcher, first baseman (Scott Hatteberg), who never played first base before and fears the ball coming "anywhere in his general vicinity". The use of sabermetrics resulted in a much healthier season for Oakland, although not quite that championship season, and this biographical film depicting Oakland's rise from the bottom of the league to the top of their division in the 2002 season, is as easy-going and fun as a wad of bubble gum in your mouth while thumbing through a pack of baseball cards.

It also offers the warm-hearted side drama, in this case Beane's relationship with his sweet young daughter, but director Bennett Miller never allows the film to venture far outside the hardcore baseball interplay it examines. The added bit of family fluff never interferes, indeed enhances Brad Pitt's commanding performance, which exudes a confidence akin to the leisurely pace of a baseball game early in the season, brimming with the excitement of an underdog team turning a losing season around.