Baseball and Books and Movies and Reviews
So, Moneyball. The movie.
Loved the book. In fact, pretty much love all baseball books. Certainly more than watching the game, except for my annual summer trip to see A ball in various U.S. cities. But we digress.
So Michael Lewis' book was outstanding, but went to the film version today fully prepared to hate it. Generally speaking, movie versions of top-notch books don't succeed, at least not for me. Mostly, they just annoy.
Well, this one surely succeeded. It's different than the book but true to the spirit. Don't know Billy Beane, but the image I got from the book was precisely what a nicely-understanded Brad Pitt delivered. Jonah Hill always gives me the giggles just looking at him, but as Beane's right hand man he is perfect as the non-baseball traditionalists.
The scouting meetings were perfect, the collision between old-time baseball men and the new wave of thinkers. Philip Seymour Hoffman was, not surprisingly, just excellent as the stubborn manager Art Howe, and the way in which the story of Beane's relationship with his daughter, not a major part of the book, was comfortably woven into the fabric of the movie was pleasing.
And how about Chris Pratt, hilarious on NBC's Parks and Recreation, as Scott Hatteberg? Just perfect, and, like Pitt, nicely understated.
The problem that some will have with the movie, of course, is the same problem they had with the book, and that's the belief that since Beane's Oakland A's never won a championship or were able to continue the success they had while they owned three top pitchers, that all the theories in Moneyball were bogus. That's not true; if there was an error in the theory, is was that it left no room for complementary philosophies and didn't account for the reality that the money disparity in baseball just isn't going to allow the small to challenge the large on a consistent basis.
Moreover, a big reason why the A's couldn't maintain their Moneyball success is that so many other teams took notice, at least to some degree, and started shopping for players with on-base percentage and the like, crowding the market.
Hard to say how Moneyball fits with the long list of top baseball movies, from Bull Durham to Field of Dreams to The Natural to Eight Men Out to whatever ones you like. It certainly can't match some of those movies for sheer baseball poetry. It does, however, walk an interesting tightrope between challenging baseball dogma while still maintaining the love-of-the-game fabric of many of the other movies.