Aaron Sorkin, easily my favorite screenwriter, helped write a movie featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman, one of my favorite actors, about using math to make a baseball team better. Heck, yes, I saw it the day it came out.
First things first, no it is not 100% accurate. Jeremy Giambi’s story is flat out wrong (he wasn’t new to the team in 2002). The movie also completely ignores the fact that part of the reason the A’s did so well in 2002 was that they had the league MVP, Miguel Tejada, and the Cy Young award winner, Barry Zito. If you don’t blink, you’ll see Tejada represented in the movie very briefly. Try as I might (and maybe I blinked), I didn’t see a single mention of Zito. It also credits the Red Sox 2004 World Series win to moneyball techniques, ignoring the fact that they were also helped by a pretty big payroll. So, nevermind about accuracy. As Brad Pitt as Billy Bean says near the end of the movie, “It’s hard not to romanticize baseball.” And that’s what this movie is… a romanticized view of the 2002 Oakland A’s. Accept that, and it’s a great flick.
There’s a classic Sorkinesque scene in the middle in which Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill are trying to trade for a Cleveland reliever (Ricardo Rincon). It’s not quite as good as a similarly styled scene in Charlie Wilson’s War where Tom Hanks alternates between conversations in rapid succession, but Brad Pitt’s alternating conversations over the phone is still pretty funny. The other great Sorkin-esque scene happens between Billy Bean and his ex-wife’s husband, a non-baseball fan who tries to pretend that he knows what’s going on with the A’s.
There are also some great baseball scenes surrounding the A’s record breaking 20 game win streak. I may possibly have teared up a little, but I am a sap when it comes to dramatic baseball scenes. I was pretty sure I knew how long the streak lasted, but for a brief second I thought I might be wrong and I got wrapped up in the drama. Also, the mass of A’s fans in the theater were cheering. It was an emotional moment… shut up, and stop laughing at me.
But really, the best part of this movie? It is finally the antidote to Little Big League.
Let me explain… Little Big League remains the only movie made about the Twins. It’s not that great of a movie, and it came out at the same time as a nearly identical movie about the Cubs (Rookie of the Year), but it was about the Twins so of course I saw it many times growing up. I even knew a few people who were in crowd scenes. But unlike every other baseball comedy, the Twins lose at the end of the movie. It’s not a movie for Twins fans; it’s a movie for Mariners fans… particularly fans of Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr. who are featured in the final scenes.
And so it is with Moneyball. In the real world of 2002, the A’s lost the division series to the Twins in five games. In the movie… same thing! So, while the theater full of A’s fans was feeling down in the dumps when a very skinny “Eddie Guardado” pitched the final out, caught by “Corey Koskie,” I was kind of excited. In fact, part of me wanted to clap or cheer or something… the Twins won in the post season! And that right there made a great movie into one that will probably wind up being one of my all time favorites.
Who cares if it doesn’t get everything right?