Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I finally saw Moneyball the other night.

Yes, yes, I know, I am late to this party, but for me to see a 2011 movie in January 2012 it’s like a regular moviegoer going to the Hollywood premiere.
I don’t see many movies these days until they come out on DVD.
Hey. I just realized something. I must have been one of the first to get the movie from Netflix! That should count for something.
Anyway, Moneyball is the story of how general manage Billy Beane turned the Oakland A’s into winners by ignoring traditional baseball figures (batting average and RBIs) and going by the new numbers put forth by the so-call statistical genius Bill James, who rates the most important thing about a player not his batting average but his on-base percentage added to his slugging percentage (OPS).
That probably would have gotten me to watch it by itself, but I also was interested because of Beane. I had seen Beane pay when he was with the Class AA Jackson Mets back in the early 1980s and I was the sports editor of the Clarion-Ledger newspaper.
I found the movie, which stars Brad Pitt, who also is the producer, enjoyable and interesting, and it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours. Much better than the Red Box a friend of mine is always talking about.
Just don’t take it literally.
When I first saw this movie previewed on TV (since I don’t go to the movies), the first thought that crossed my mind was this: What have the Oakland A’s won recently?
The answer is, not much.
They have yet to make it to a World Series and they have been to the playoffs only twice since the time setting of the film, which was in 2002 when they won 103 games but lost in the first round of the American League playoffs. They made it back in 2003, but have done so only once since then (2006).
So I’m not sure if the premise of the movie, that Beane unleashed this great revolution on the baseball world, is all that solid.
At the end, a tagline cites that the Boston Red Sox used the same principles Beane followed at Oakland to build their 2004 World Champions, which kind of seemed rather lame. Still, the numbers and theory is interesting, and if there’s anything a baseball fan likes better than numbers I’m not sure what it is, unless it is different interpretations of numbers.
It’s not just that that bothers me about the movie, though. No, it’s the toying the writers do with the story.
Actor Philiip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe.
A’s manager Art Howe is treated brutally, and several incidents are portrayed inaccurately.
For instance, in a radio interview available on the Internet, Howe notes that it was he, not Beane, who broke the news to a player he was being cut (and just five days before he would have qualified for major league baseball’s lucrative pension, something the movie ignores completely).
Howe also notes that the early scene where he asks Beane for a contract extension didn't happen:
No. 1, his agent always handled Howe’s contract negotiations, and Howe would not have approached Beane in a hallway in the training complex to confront him about it.
No. 2, Howe didn’t need a one-year contract extension in the first place. He was already covered for 2003  because of the rollover provision in his contract.
Frankly, I’m not sure why the scene was in the movie in the first place other than to try to make Howe out as more of a villain. The movie people had to create some sort of conflict to make Beane more of a hero, I guess.
At the end of the credits, it is explained that some characters and incidents have been changed for dramatic effect -- shoot, even the name of Beane’s assistant was changed, not to mention the movie has him coming on board just before the 2002 season when he actually had arrived in 1999.
It always disappoints me when Hollywood people decide they have to jazz up a story because the truth, in their eyes, isn’t dramatic enough.
Hollywood did it with Glory Road, the story of Texas Western’s basketball season that ended with a team of five black starters beating Kentucky’s all-white lineup in the final game for the NCAA champioship.
The movie begins with Don Haskins supposedly beginning his first season as coach when he had been there for five years. Some of the players he (in the movie) brought to El Paso (the school now is the University of Texas-El Paso, or UTEP) that 1965-66 season had already been there for a year or two, and there was no playing of “Dixie” or Confederate flags waved at the national title game as the movie shows.
Secretariat is an overall entertaining movie, not to mention a great horse, but it gives you the impression Penny Chenery’s Meadow Stable would have gone under had not Secretariat come along at that moment. Actually, Riva Ridge had done that the year before when he won two (Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes) of the three Triple Crown races, losing only in the Preakness.
OK, OK. I already hear you saying, “It’s only a movie.”
That’s what the makers of Field of Dreams said when baseball fans criticized them for making Joe Jackson a left-handed thrower and right-handed hitter (a rarity in baseball; Rickey Henderson is the only good one who comes to mind) instead of the other way around.
But nobody thought Dreams was anywhere near a true story. (I don’t think.) Moneyball and those others I mentioned are supposed to be telling you the story of something that actually happened.
If they want to add character composites or add things for the sake of drama, then go the extra step and really fictionalize it, like Hoosiers.
Movies portraying historical events can be done accurately. All the President’s Men pretty much did it. At least the director didn’t have Nixon going to the Washington Post newsroom to challenge Ben Bradlee to a fistfight. (That’s a scene I would have liked to have seen, especially in real life.)
Did the changes made to Moneyball, Glory Road and Secretariat  really add anything to their stories? I don’t think so.
I’m looking forward to seeing Red Tails (probably next year on DVD). I hope it sticks to the truth because it’s a great story (first told in a TV movie back in the '90s) that needs no embellishment.
I hope I don’t see a scene where some white Army Air Corps colonel is sitting in his office whistling Dixie and sitting in front of a Confederate flag as one of the black pilots from Tuskegee approaches him. Unless that really happened, of course.

No comments:

Post a Comment