Gooooood morning sports fans. Also, goooooood morning statisticians! Let’s all get ready to hit the field, glove in one hand, TI-86 in the other. Moneyball seems to be the next installment of Aaron Sorkin’s “technology screenplays.” Yes, I’m coining that phrase myself, and will demand payment from Mr. Sorkin.
I’m a bit torn about this film. On the one hand, it is a story about a rag tag team of athletes that may not be recognized as individuals, but, under the leadership of their star pitcher played by “Wild Thing” Charlie Sheen, they form together to create a baseball team that makes some unexpected wins against the hopes and dreams of the club owner who would do anything to see the team fail, and hilarity ensues. Well, it’s kind of like that.
On the other hand, we have the story about one man’s dream to revive a sports franchise by taking an unorthodox approach when it comes to recruiting. The philosophy behind the game is changed from trying to attract the most talented athletes to essentially learning how to play the odds on a Vegas table, where the only thing that matters is the probability of making a hit and we realize that the players themselves are just incidental names attached to a set of numbers.
With that, I’ll depart from the necessary cynicism that loomed in the back of my head while watching the film. I guess I could somewhat relate to characters who just refused to believe that the game could be changed by a simple formula, but I believe we’ve all seen that this is possible through Sorkin’s last screenplay also devoted to a world changing formula.
I’ll say that this film actually achieves great things as a story about Billy Bean. Brad Pitt really did portray a jaded ex-player whose dreams of individual greatness have been shattered. An owner who now finds himself at a severe disadvantage against franchises that can out-buy him and his team any day of the week, and who has no practical hopes of ever making a successful team with such limited funds. He was a man who risked it all and applied a completely out of the box idea to a long standing American tradition. He is indeed an entrepreneur of sorts who used odds to turn the table on a system whose own odds would say that he was destined to fail.
And ultimately, and I think this is where the film really works, it shows us that Billy Bean, although seemingly trying to apply only math to the game, will always be in love with the game. He showed a passion not just to succeed, but to be able to believe in people now disregarded by the general public. He gave opportunities to once forgotten ball-players, which did lead to some very sentimental moments in the film that create the emotional aspect of what could have easily been an emotionless idea.
Brad Pitt’s performance is supported by Jonah Hill, who really shines throughout his performance. Taking a break from his normal comedic roles, Jonah Hill is the embodiment of the personality of the Moneyball idea. A math trained guy who could never hit a ball, but knew the game to a degree that was completely hidden to any other sports analyst. It is Jonah Hill’s character that Billy Bean puts his faith in, risks everything form, and the journey they go through together is well worth watching.
Ultimately, I think the only reason this film didn’t blow me out of the water is because I always love sports stories when they are about players. I believe that individual’s stories are what drive a narrative. In this instance, and I understand that this is a story about Billy Bean and his dreams, but I would have liked to have seen more screen time devoted to the characters behind the statistics. We are presented with an instance of how one otherwise finished player is given a second opportunity by Billy Bean to shine, but not enough time was really spent to develop this emotional aspect.
On the other hand, and the reason this film will prove to be one of the more successful films of the year, it is a story about someone who loves the game. About someone who wants to persevere, who takes a giant risk, and who knows that it is indeed the individuals that make us love the game. Although numbers can drive results, it’s the beauty of the sport that will always be remembered, and those who play it, on and off the field, are the heroes that remind us exactly why baseball makes us cry.
With that, I’ll leave you fellow sports fans and math PhD’s, as I feel an uncontrollable urge to go to the casino and hit up the penny slots….(someone find me a statistician ASAP!)