Friday, October 17, 2008

Non-Fiction Dialogue re: Moneyball the Motion Picture

So, yes, I'm spending two posts on the same subject, but the awesome Katey Rich at Cinema Blend had this to say while I was talking with Skye about the announcement and working on the other post:

I don't really get how you make a movie based on a non-fiction book that's about statistics, but I guess it can't hurt to get Brad Pitt on board. Variety says that the actor, who's apparently having a busy day today, will possibly star in an adaptation of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, about a baseball team manager who uses a complicated computer system to pick his players.

Maybe this is the kind of thing that sounds thrilling to the people who read box scores and know the RBI of every player on the Red Sox, but the rest of us may be left a little cold. I guess that's where Brad Pitt comes in-- just focus on his nice blue eyes, and let the numbers and figures wash over you. Anyone who's read the book want to enlighten me on why this movie is a good idea?

I felt it would be appropriate and usefull to use this space to write a response and take a more serious look at how a Moneyball movie would work.

Moneyball, the practice (named after the book), is about stats. The book touches on those stats, but it's not what it's about. The sabermetric revolution fueled the A's front office revolution, and thus sabermetricians are strongly drawn to the work, but there are no charts or graphs. There's no break down of how Win Shares are calculated or how to judge a replacement-level player. Hell, there isn't even much time spent on why batting average sucks and why on base percentage is the best invention ever.

Moneyball, the book, is a story. Brad Pitt is going to be playing someone whose early life came easy. Friends, girls and sports were all easy because he was so incredibly gifted. He was so talented the Mets thought higher of him than Darryl Strawberry (for those who aren't aware, Darryl Strawberry owned baseball, it's just that drugs owned him). But, despite all the talent, Billy Beane just couldn't make it in the pros. Completely un-conventionally, he, instead, became a genius front office man, and one who was constantly in the pursuit of players who are nothing like himself.

And that's what the movie would primarily be about: Beane's rise, fall and resurrection as something new. And he's an interesting character. He wants life to be scientific and composed and runs his team the same way, and at the same time he's an emotional wacko liable to do anything at any moment (like throwing a chair through a wall because of a bad draft pick).

On top of the life of Beane and the excellent, half-eccentric/half-composed character Pitt gets to play, you have the team he builds. His ideas for how to build a baseball team spat all over baseball tradition, something people either laughed at or outright reviled; both in and outside of the A's organization. You have the drama of the oft-cited (and over dramatized) scouts vs. stats argument. Mostly, you just have a team doing something that people either hate or don't understand and being successful at it even though everyone says they can't be. You have this team with a fraction of the payroll of the Yankees being better than the Yankees.

And from there, you go to the players. A bunch of misfits that every team thought sucked for some reason or another and wouldn't give a chance, and the A's saw something in them no one else did that made them awesome. It gives you an entire cast of characters; underdogs. Most notably Scott Hatteberg, told his patient approach was killing the team and selfish everywhere he went before he gets to the A's who think he's a godsend and he finally gets to feel like he belongs. Or Chad Bradford, a funny little guy with a weird delivery kept down by the White Sox before the A's unleash his potential as one of the most devestating pitchers in the bigs.

The whole story is full of that. Quirky, interesting, misfit characters who are all better than everyone else thought. Major League with real names and more drama.

You have the team losing its star, the defending MVP (villain?), and everyone calling them dead before they have an even better season without him. And that season comes with the help of a record winning streak after a struggling first half.

And that 20th-consecutive win gives you ultimate drama. In front of a huge crowd, the team blowing an 11-0 lead. Your prime characters are involved, as Bradford falls to pieces before Hatteberg (with someone else's bat) pinch hits and drives in the walk-off home run to win it.

I'm sure it would be "Disney'd" up. Maybe the A's win the World Series. Some people are made out to be better, worse or quirkier than reality for the sake of drama and entertainment, but most of the enjoyment is already there in how things really went down.

Essentially, you have a great baseball story with a compelling central character, quirky side stories, heroes, villains, underdogs and drama. And it's based in the reality of a revolutionary front office that changed sports.

Moneyball makes for a boring video lecture. Moneyball makes for a thrilling baseball movie.


Grif said...

Oh, and RBIs and Moneyball?

Very, very incompatible.

Rook said...


Goose said...

I see Katey got the "Morganized" version of the book.

Grif said...


She's awesome, though. Just not a sports fan to my knowledge.

Skye said...

Another one! From the SFChron:

Quotes from Billy himself, even. (Guys, I'm so excited. Should they let Zito play himself?!?!)