Moneyball is not a story about baseball. It’s a story about redemption and spreadsheets, and how the General Manager of a small time baseball team called the Oakland Athletics takes the method of choosing players used for 150 years and chucks it out the window. And yet it has all the hallmarks of a sports movie, including an underdog the audience roots for, a rousing speech in the dressing room and a team match that’s meant to be lost but is won in the last few moments.
In 2001, the Oakland A’s lost to the New York Yankees in the finals of the World Series. They lost because annually, the Yankees get a budget of 1.4 Billion dollars to spend on their players, and the Athletics get only 39 million. Following this season, the Athletics lose three more of their key players who go on to play for richer teams. “We’re not going to do any better next year.” states the GM Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) in a very matter-of-fact way. But in the consecutive season, they win 20 games in a row, the highest streak ever recorded in the history of baseball.
They do this by endorsing a different way of choosing players, judging them by the frequency at which they get on base as opposed to hitting or pitching capabilities. Getting on base more often means getting more runs and more runs mean more wins. This unorthodox model, proposed by a 25-year-old Yale Economics graduate (Jonah Hill) does not go down well with the scouts and selectors, but Billy sees a chance at redemption and grabs it with both hands.
As the movie progresses, the audience grasps that it is not only the team’s redemption that Billy seeks but his own too. Through a series of flashbacks, we come to know that he was picked as a Major League Baseball player out of high school but he just couldn’t perform on the big stage and was considered a failure. Redemption is also what many of the newly chosen players of the team want, as most of them are people who have been written off because they are too old, or were given the first chance but never the second one, or have some sort of physical defects.
However, don’t mistake Moneyball to be about the players on the field, it’s off the field that most of the action takes place. Apart from one, none of the players are shown individually or given any rich backstories. They haven’t shown any matches, save a couple critical moments from important matches. It’s about the failing general manager and his nerdy accomplice who are challenging traditions set a century ago.
Brad Pitt fits in perfectly into the hot-headed, arrogant yet lovable character of Billy Beane. His struggles are mostly internal and are conveyed through his actions and expressions rather than words, such as using his eyes to express a feeling and throwing anything around him to show anger or frustration. Jonah Hill also pulls off his awkward soft spoken character with splitting ease and the audience loves to watch the relationship between these two characters grow as the movie progresses.
Even though it isn’t an out-and-out sports movie, Moneyball manages to accelerate and slow down the heart rates of its audience by creating some intense, endearing and chest swelling moments. It celebrates the misfits and it celebrates second chances.
Here’s the trailer: