There’s been a lot of criticism among the sportswriting community about the new movie “Moneyball,” based on the best-selling book of the same name by Michael Lewis chronicling the 2002 Oakland A’s and how they changed their approach to building a team after being gutted by the loss of key free agents to big-market teams after the 2001 playoffs. Much of the criticism is levied at the factual basis of the movie. Several columns I’ve seen have picked apart what’s true and what’s not in the movie, railed against the portrayals of certain characters, and generally criticized the fact that this is a movie to begin with.
That’s true among some of the diehard fan base as well. One friend of mine – a lifelong baseball fan like I am – said he couldn’t understand why this was a movie to begin with. The A’s didn’t even make it the World Series, he reasoned. This could be about ANY team that tried and failed. He missed the point of the movie, but then again he hasn’t seen it, or even read the book. This is a story about thinking differently, bucking the odds, sticking to your guns, and believing in what you’re doing when nobody else does.
I agree with some of the critiques of the movie if you solely compare it to the real story of the 2002 A’s and pick apart everything that doesn’t stack up. There’s barely a mention of 2002 A.L. MVP Miguel Tejada or Cy Young Award winer Barry Zito, or the two other star pitchers, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder. Chad Bradford is made out to be the ace of the bullpen when in fact he was an effective if unspectacular reliever. Certain player trades and signings have been changed a bit to fit the broader story. And the portrayal of manager Art Howe is about as off-base as any fact-based character portrayal in recent memory. The real Art Howe – a tall, slender, tanned, and affable longtime big league player and scout who managed the A’s at their most recent heights in the late 1990s-early 2000s – was and is nothing like the pasty, schlumpy, grouchy and pretty selfish character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I knew Art Howe back in the 1990s, when he was a scout for the Dodgers organization and I was working in their minor league system. He’s a great guy. But the character Hoffman plays makes a great foil for Beane in the film, as does the Grady Fuson character who clearly is also a dramatization to a certain extent.
I think there’s two key points to be made here. One, this is a movie – a DRAMAtization based upon the book that has been altered substantially to appeal to moviegoers. The book itself was controversial when published because it was openly critical of many within the baseball establishment, and this of course upset many within that establishment – including not just scouts and executives but also the writers who cover them.
Two, I can’t think of a fact-based sports-themed movie in the past 20 years that didn’t take liberties with the truth to paint a more appealing picture for audiences at the cineplex. “The Rookie.” “Rudy.” “Miracle.” The list goes on.
Bottom line – this is a movie worth watching. Brad Pitt absolutely nails his role as Billy Beane and is simply compelling. Jonah Hill, as the fictional Peter Brand (an amalgamation – and dramatization – of former A’s assistant general manager Paul DePodesta and others), adds humor and heart to the movie. But this isn’t just a movie about baseball executives trying to build a team with no money, or about bucking the establishment. This is also a movie about a father and a daughter. Anyone who watches the closing scene and doesn’t feel something beyond a baseball flick just doesn’t get it. It’s based on a true story, but that doesn’t make the story in the movie 100% true…and it doesn’t have to.