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Moneyball scores big by going beyond baseball

Kevin Noonan | Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“Moneyball” missed being the best movie of the summer by a measly two days. Since it was released on Sept. 23, it is technically in the “fall” category. Which is too bad, because it would have easily been the best movie of the summer, redeeming a lackluster season for Hollywood.

I tried my hardest to remove all of my own personal bias when seeing this film. I’m a baseball nerd. I love baseball and I love all the seemingly insignificant statistics and trivial bits of knowledge that come with it at its deeper levels.

Billy Beane is one of my heroes. Before I saw this movie I had read the book on which it was based, I knew the successes and failures of his system, I knew about his infamously volatile personality and I had even tried to read some of Bill James’s works, the man who pioneered the mathematical theories on which Beane based his teams.

I was not going into this movie as a casual fan interested in a unique story. I was going in as a self-proclaimed expert of the source material, skeptical that a film could capture the essence of Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” one of the most influential books in baseball history.

But they did it. They nailed it. Brad Pitt was not playing a character named Billy Beane. He was Billy Beane. Pitt was scary good. He brought Beane’s subtle sarcasm and notable charm, as well as his terrific temper to life with zero effort.

The only thing he couldn’t do was talk like Beane, because this was a PG-13 movie. It seemed like the director of the movie squeezed in as many expletives as possible, but in the book, Beane uses four letter words like he’s getting paid for it.

I, obviously, found the baseball part of the movie fascinating. This is one of the few chances baseball fans will ever get to see on the big screen how the baseball establishment does its business behind closed doors.

I also noticed the movie didn’t overwhelm the audience with baseball statistics and terminology, so non-baseball fans will not get bored with the sports-specific information.

But what made this movie great was not the specifics about sabermetrics. Rather, it was the overall focus on the human element and story behind Beane’s struggle to succeed against the established system.

At its heart, that is what this story is about. This was two men, Beane and Paul De Podesta, fictionalized in the movie as Peter Brand and played by Jonah Hill, who had an idea. They had a new way of doing things, and everyone told them they were wrong. But they believed in what they were doing, they stuck with it and in the end they changed history.

At that level, this isn’t a niche market sports movie. This is a film about American ideals and triumph over adversity, using the drama of professional sports as its backdrop.

But the story does not stop there. The film does an excellent job of focusing on the personal stories of its characters. The interactions between Beane and his daughter show him to not just be the grumpy executive that was at the stadium, but also a loving, devoted, divorced father.

All in all, “Moneyball” is a fantastic movie, possibly the best baseball movie since the turn of the century. Baseball fans will appreciate this.

Besides, any movie that takes a shot at Scott Boras deserves a pat on the back.

Contact Kevin Noonan at

knoonan2@nd.edu