Year Released: 2011
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
(PG-13, 126 min.)
"How can you not be romantic about baseball?" Billy Beane
You don’t need to be a baseball fan to love this film. It’s bigger than that. It’s really what America is all about, or at least used to be – the little man bucking a system that is rigged against him.
Moneyball is based on the true story of Billy Beane, a highly recruited baseball player whose career in the game flamed out very early. What he couldn’t do on the field, Billy determines to do in management, taking his poorly funded Oakland Athletics all the way to a championship, if he can.
And with a third of the payroll of the big market clubs, he almost makes it in the 2001 season, stopping just short of his goal. But even here, Billy’s success becomes a handicap. His team’s success and prominence has merely made his three star players all the more attractive to the big market clubs, who promptly offer them mega salaries and steal them away.
Conventional thinking isn’t going to work here, something Billy (Brad Pitt) knows even if the seasoned scouts offering up their traditional advice do not. They are into speed and power, and even things like how good looking their players are. These wizened scouts even cast a critical eye at the wives and girlfriends of potential recruits, anything to get the fans into the stadium.
The backstory of Billy’s brief baseball career lets us know why he distrusts their judgment, as we learn through a series of flashbacks. Young Billy, just graduating from high school and about to head off to Stanford on a full scholarship, seems to be everything that a scout could hope for. He is handsome, wholesome, with astounding power, speed and grace. So Billy does what most 18- year-olds would do; he forfeits Stanford for the promise of riches and glory, a promise that never does pan out.
No wonder he is looking for a better predictor for success than the traditional wisdom. And he gets that in the person of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) a portly,“brainy, number-crunching, Yale-educated economist.” They ignore the flesh and blood players and concentrate on their statistics, selecting just a few, such as on base and slugging percentages, that will translate into wins. It’s actually quite simple, according to Brand. “Your goal shouldn't be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins. In order buy wins, you need to buys runs.”
Actually, it is even simpler than that, according to Beane – just getting to first base, by any means possible. That means getting walked is every bit as good as getting to first the old fashioned way.
This new concept and his money shortages mean that Billy has to pick up underrated players on the cheap who might not look good by traditional measures, but who meet his very specialized criteria. What he ends up with is a team of misfits. His roster is filled with players who are too old, injured, and often graceless on and off the field. Also a misfit of sorts is bean counter Peter Brand with Jonah Hill doing his standard clueless nerd imitation. He never quite fits in with the scouts, all ex-athletes themselves, who resent his presence. You can’t help but think of the boardroom as a kind of a glorified high school locker room, with Brand being the fat kid with glasses who always finds his locker rifled through or sabotaged by the others.
Billy, the general manager, also has some problems with the team manager, who traditionally gets to run the game the way he sees fit. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays this saturnine character, sporting just the right body for his part, a protruding belly so common in ex athletes gone to fat in management. The dual indignities of a buzzed haircut and a ubiquitous baseball cap seem enough for someone like Hoffman, credentialed with a 3-tiered name as well as an Oscar winning performance in 2005’s Capote, to cement the permanent scowl and bad attitude that anchor his character in the film.
Pitt has a grand time as Billy Beane. He puts his wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth and spits into a Styrofoam cup with ritualistic precision. Billy chomps down twinkies, bowls of nuts and ice cream with the same abandon he does the baseball stats and only lets down his feverish preoccupation with the game in the very touching scenes with his daughter, Casey, played by Kerris Dorsey with the same natural star quality that we saw so early in Dakota Fanning.
Pitt also captures the complexity of Billy’s character, especially the driven loner who can’t bear to watch the game in person, retreating to the workout room to receive text updates from his stat man, Peter Brand. He also avoids getting too close to the men, refusing to travel with them on the road, needing to stay aloof so he can sack them with a dispassion one might reserve for trading baseball cards rather than real flesh and blood players. However, it is actually refreshing to see the business model presented without the usual villainous overtones. Billy actually demonstrates the least painful way to cut a player, sparing any soft-soaping. It is brief and lethal, like a gunshot to the head rather than one to the gut.
This is a movie about ideas, based on statistics, no less. There are no special effects, no romance, and it is clear of melodrama and false sentimentality. Yet it not only gets on base. It scores a home run.
Despite my earlier potshots about ex athletes turning to fat, there’s not one ounce of it on Pitt’s Billy Beane. That in spite of an eating regimen that might get him into the junk food hall of fame.
When his daughter Casey visits, he sweetens things up with home made ice cream sundaes, scooping the ice cream at the counter and squirting on the chocolate sauce straight from the bottle. Casey completes the task with an aerosol shot of whipped cream. These cozy scenes with his daughter give us a welcome break the other Billy, the statistically driven competitor going for broke in his chosen game.
At any rate, I’m providing an excuse to indulge in a triple treat of dangerous pleasures - ice cream, fudge sauce, and whipped cream. This recipe even includes fresh brownies, if you like. Yum!
Brownie Hot Fudge Sundae
This is a recipe that makes 20 sundaes. Pair it down to your own needs.
1 package fudge brownie mix, family-size
1/2 gallon mint chocolate chip ice cream
8 ounces Cool Whip
20 whole maraschino cherries
6 ounces chocolate chips
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 can (14 ounce size) sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat oven to 350. Grease bottom of 13x9 pan. Prepare, bake and cool brown mix following package directions. Cool completely. Cut into servings.
For fudge sauce, combine chocolate chips, butter, sweetened condensed milk, and vanilla extract in medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and slightly thickened.
For each serving, place brownie on plate. Top with scoop of ice cream, fudge sauce, and a dollop of whipped topping. Garnish with maraschino cherry.
Recipe Source: cdkitchen.com