Moneyball is a film that gets better every time out, but it’s relevance to the modern game of baseball struck me this most recent rewatch; especially those who seem to have, and have not, taken its lessons to heart.
And a lot of that might have to do with how amazing Brad Pitt is in this movie.
Brad Pitt stars as the Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, who is handsome, smart, savvy and can eat constantly and still look like Brad Pitt. The film is great material for Pitt and he knocks it out of the park (rolls eyes). The part not only allows for him to display those adjectives listed above, but this portrait of Beane allows us to see a man on the edge, quietly and unconfidently trying to make his life work in every facet of it.
Struggling to be a great GM with the least amount of assets to do so. Terrified of failing at this giant gamble to overhaul how he values players and who he puts in on the field. Frustrated with a coach who just doesn’t get it. Trying to be the best Dad he can be when his daughter lives a plane ride away. Projecting confidence whenever anyone is ever around him, yet barely holding it together when he wanders off to be alone. Which is often.
Brad Pitt as Billy Beane is one of the best character portraits of the last ten years and the star’s performance can go toe to toe, possibly even top, anything else in his filmography. It’s what makes this film so powerful, so rewatchable. Pitt gives you another angle to pick up on every watch of Moneyball, but you just want to be this guy when he is wheeling and dealing behind his desk as GM of the Oakland Athletics. He is so great in the few scenes he is negotiating with his players, his coach, his scouts and his fellow general managers; ripping through Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian’s brilliant screenplay. These are the set pieces of the film. These are the scenes that suck you in when you are watching. These ballets of brilliance Beane is allowed to put on wow us, Pitt never missing a step, making us wonder if we could pull off something like that.
And there are 30 GM’s in Major League Baseball that are trying to be Brad Pitt.
This is where I think this movie’s influence has weighed most heavily on the MLB. Moneyball has got to be every front office employee’s favorite movie. Right? Who doesn’t want to be Brad Pitt? Who doesn’t want to be as good at their job as Pitt’s Beane is in this movie. And I’ll go even further, a lot of these guys think they are probably as good, or better, than this genius Bennett Miller directs on the screen.
And they might be.
Advanced statistics have come so far since 2002, when Moneyball takes place, and every team is taking them beyond seriously. Shifts, launch angles, pitch rotation, the stats go well beyond the box scores and the data you have can make or break your season. Moneyball, the book, started this revolution, but not everyone listened. By 2011, Brad Pitt made it sexy, and almost every GM wanted to be his Billy Beane. Squeezing every ounce of value and paying talent as little as possible. In the few years that followed the film, the veteran big time contract was almost a thing of the past and you were going to have a hard time getting paid if year 4 or later on your hopeful new contract were north of the age of 30. Players were doomed to never reap the profits of baseball once “moneyball” became a thing, their bosses figured this out years ago, and I’m not quite sure the players have quite yet.
The scene our front office fanatics probably love the most in Moneyball, is the one where Beane destroys his room of scouts who are just not getting it. Beane is talking down to them, telling them they’ve got it all wrong, asserting he knows best. Out with the old guys, and in with the computers. It’s a great scene. And it does a great job at laying the first couple bricks in this character portrait of Pitt’s brilliant Billy Beane. The saberheads must eat this up.
But the biggest lesson of that scene isn’t being taken by the people that need to take it.
Beane, in rationalizing why he wants the guys he wants, dehumanizes the players to nothing but a price. A price that isn’t fair to the players or their talents, but is fair to the bottom dollar of the team and the computers that run it.
And the problem has only gotten worse since 2001. Worse since 2011. Worse since 2016. Teams have a stranglehold on players and they are doing everything in their power to pay them as little as possible. How are players supposed to ever get their piece of the pie when many can’t get out from under team control until their late 20’s, but teams stop paying the majority of players after 30. Every deal, big or small, is a team friendly one today. Millions of dollars in value are left unpaid to the players, and it all started around that conference table with Brad Pitt making GM’ing sexy.
The front office got their hero in Moneyball, they can be Brad Pitt.
I don’t know how the players are going to get theirs…