I re-watched Moneyball this weekend, the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis with the same title. Moneyball tells the story of Billy Beane and Peter Brand during the 2002 season, and how they used a sabermetric approach to build a winning team on a limited budget.
Following the 2001 season, the Oakland A’s lost Johnny Damon, Jason Giambi and Jason Isringhausen to free agency, and general manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, finds himself needing to replace them. During a scouting trip to Cleveland, Beane meets Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill), a Yale economics graduate who impresses Beane with his statistical analyses of ballplayers.
With Brand’s help, Beane built a low-budget team by focusing on players’ stats, such as on-base percentage. The start of the season was predictably rough, with the A’s finding themselves ten games back. Beane convinces team owner Stephen Schott to stick with the plan, and Beane then trades Giambi to the Phillies for John Mabry and Carlos Peña to the Tigers, leaving manager Art Howe no choice but to use the team Beane and Brand have designed. Three weeks later, the Athletics are only four games behind first.
The A’s launch into a winning streak that culminates in a dramatic victory over the Kansas City Royals, in which the A’s achieve a then record-breaking 20th consecutive win. The team falls short in the playoffs, however, when they lose to the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS.
Recognizing that sabermetrics is the future of baseball, Boston Red Sox owner John Henry first hires Bill James to the organization, then offers Billy Beane a $12.5 million salary to join Boston as well. Peter Brand tries to persuade Beane that he is worth the offer, however, not wanting to leave his daughter behind, Beane ultimately turns it down to stay with Oakland.
As a movie, I enjoy Moneyball. It’s dramatic, emotional, and there’s lots and lots of baseball. It sheds light on the idea behind sabermetrics. Critics argue that the movie is not an entirely accurate depiction of real-life events, excluding key players and portraying various relationships in a slanted light. It seems to me that the transition from real-life-story-to-movie presents the same challenges as book-to-movie situations: there’s just no way to be 100% true to the original without creating an hours-long film. As with any movie based on real life (or on a book), it’s worth doing your own research on the side in addition to enjoying the cinematic experience.