Moneyball is not only one of the best baseball movies of the modern era, but one of the greatest sports films as well. It tells the story about how the sabermetric model was first introduced into the MLB and how the Oakland A’s changed history. Of course, Athletics’ fans would probably prefer the title, there’s no denying that Billy Beane and Peter Brand will be remembered forever.
Let’s take it back to 2001, when the A’s have lost to the New York Yankees, and Beane has to watch all of his star players walk out the door. His job security is threatened as he struggles to string together a team on a small budget in time to win games for the following season. It’s a daunting task, one that many critics happily weigh in on.
Luckily, Beane gets lucky pretty easily into Moneyball. He meets Peter Brand, a Yale economics grad, who’s working at the Cleveland Indians when Beane coincidentally finds him. If this was a rom-com, then this was their meet cute that inspires the rest of the film. Brand is considered a radical and a bit of a nutcase by almost everyone in baseball because of his progressive ideas of determining prospective players’ values. Of course, Beane is quick to believe him because at this point what else does he have to lose? Their partnership is officially sealed when Brand admits he would have drafted Beane (a former major league player) ninth despite many fans expecting him to be a big hit. It’s the blunt honesty that inspires the GM to make Brand is new assistant general manager.
Shaking up any kind of long-standing tradition is bound to inspire anger from people afraid of change. Moneyball makes it clear that everyone within the A’s organization is upset over Berne’s decision to buy into the sabermetric model for picking new players. The most vocal member is head scout, Grady Fuson, who takes issue with the change in the status quo quite angrily. It leads to his firing, but not before hitting the airwaves to slam the direction Oakland is heading. Ever since Friday Night Lights it seems like a staple of all sports related entertainment to have the protagonist listening to a radio show that is meant to deflate him.
Naturally all of the players that Brand suggests are considered major duds by everyone else. However, Beane stays the course and assembles his new team with the entire world looking down on him. Manager of the A’s, Art Howe, chooses to completely ignore the Beane/Brand lineup in favor of just playing the people he likes. There’s something unique about Moneyball to watch a group of older men fight so hard to prevent any kind of progress in a sport. It feels like there’s a real struggle with shedding tradition in order to achieve something new and different in the modern time. This movie accurately represents the real fear people face when they need to take a jump into the unknown in order to discover a better way of doing things.
When the season starts, Oakland begins playing miserably. Everyone assumes this means the sabermetric has failed and baseball can begin to move on. But Beane isn’t going to give up without a fight, and he quickly trades away their first baseman to force Howe to cooperate. In fact, Beane goes so far as threatening to trade away all of their former players if the manager can’t let them try out the new way. From that point on, the A’s are nearly unstoppable. They go on a nineteen game winning streak, which ties the longest in MLB history.
The real climax of Moneyball takes place in a game against the Kansas City Royals where a win could have them set a new record and a loss would be a major hit to the team’s confidence. While it seems like things could go south, Oakland eventually pulls through with a last minute on-base hit. Now grabbing national attention, the A’s have cemented their place in history. Unfortunately, the team doesn’t walk away with a championship because they once again lose in postseason. Beane is upset, wondering what they could have done differently to have a successful season.
Yet the real win for the Beane and Brand is when the Boston Red Sox call to offer the former a job as their new GM. It comes with a 12.5 million dollar paycheck which would make him the highest paid general manager in the history of athletics, not just baseball. Suddenly, every team in the league is looking at the sabermetric model as a future and Beane is the man who introduced it to the league despite all of the hatred. He ends up turning down the offer to return to the A’s, but the Sox do go onto win the World Series only a year later.
Moneyball doesn’t introduce anything new to the plot of a sports film because at it’s heart it’s still an underdog story. Yet, superb acting, writing, and directing set it apart from many of the others that have made this list. It isn’t a cult film or one meant for just baseball fans, it just a terrific movie. It leaves viewers with an important message: don’t be afraid of trying something new. Every great progress in history is because someone wanted to change the way things have normally been done. Despite the early criticisms, the Oakland Athletics will forever be known as the team to introduce the sabermetric system to the MLB and that’s an achievement many wish they could have.