Don't get me wrong: There were aspects of Moneyball that I appreciated, and as an A's fan it was almost automatically interesting and enjoyable to watch the story of an A's season, and an A's-led movement, unfold. But from critics and fellow fans, I keep hearing how great the movie was ("Best baseball movie ever!") and Moneyball is no great movie. It is, in fact, full of contradictions and inconsistencies that undermine its own premise.
Let me start with the positives. I thought Jonah Hill was outstanding, and agree that the blending of real and fictional footage was pretty masterful, capturing the atmosphere of baseball action, and making the stadium and crowds look their best, or actually better "real life". But...
First, just on a subjective note, I was less than impressed with Brad Pitt. Sure he may have reflected Billy Beane's mannerisms and speech patterns accurately, but to me the actor was the usual "generic and forgettable" presence I usually associate with Pitt. In fact, as I write this weeks after seeing the movie I have difficulty remembering his performance. And the character wasn't some "super-driven and intense genius!" so much as he was a smart guy who occasionally, out of the blue, would topple a post-game spread. Those tantrums didn't come across to me as "natural extensions of the inner fire we had sensed burning all along"; they came across as random petulant acts of a smart person channeling his inner 5-year old. But that's neither here no there, because judging actors is subjective and if you thought Pitt's acting, or the character he developed, was superb then you are as right as I am.
Now, onto the objective critiques of "Moneyball"...
Hollywood believes that Americans are too stupid to pick up on any semblance of subtlety (lucky guess), so they make unrealistic buffoons out of people they could just make out to be misguided or left behind by progress. In Moneyball, the "old school" scouts sit around a table so obsessed with a prospect's "body type" that they can't fathom how that player's performance data could possibly be relevant. Meanwhile, "avant garde stat nerds" look no better, quoted as saying things like, "It doesn't matter if he can field if he gets on base." "Wow," any actual sabermatrician will tell you, "What a ground-breaking realization that isn't at all true!" In fact, it's the sabermetrically inclined who tend to value defense more, but I guess that didn't fit the narrative.
Inconsistencies dog Moneyball throughout. The ability to get on base is glorified as undervalued and of paramount importance, but then Carlos Peña and Jeremy Giambi, two hitters known for their plate discipline, are shipped out when the team is struggling. "Intangibles" are derided as the belief systems of fools, yet Giambi is considered a "bad clubhouse influence" (despite the fact that he gets on base -- isn't that what matters???), and later Beane asks David Justice to worry less about contributing with his hitting and more about contributing his "veteran leadership". Wait, how do you drive "veteran leaderships" in again? With a well placed "RBI clubhouse intensity"?
What you wind up with is a movie that contradicts itself each time it becomes inconvenient to admit that winning baseball games is far more complicated than "old school approach vs. sabermetric approach". Hollywood likes things to be black and white -- "good guy/bad guy! right/wrong!" -- and then epically fails when life insists on being gray.
So tell me, "Moneyball," why did the A's turn their 2002 season around so dramatically and historically?
Was it because they uniquely understood how to construct a roster that was better than it looked to the naive observers who were stuck in 1950s thinking? No, because the "Peter Brand led A's" also constructed the Opening Day roster which failed beyond anyone's "worst alcoholic nightmare".
Was it because they identified a "clubhouse cancer" and got of him, high OBP and all? No, because clubhouse chemistry doesn't matter if you make few enough outs, right?
Was it because they shrewdly recognized the undervalued talent that was John Mabry? No, because John Mabry sported a career slash line of .263/.322/.405, and that's including the unforeseeable cluster of clutch hits he pulled out of his back pocket upon joining the A's.
Was it because they brilliantly understood they could replace Jason Giambi's MVP hitting production with not one but three players? No, because one of them, Jeremy Giambi, was then cast off due to factors unrelated to his batting skills.
Was it because April and May were a small sample, the cream rises, and the A's were destined, if they were just patient and "stayed the course," to reach their internal preseason expectations? No, because if they truly believed that the A's would not have felt the need to shake things up.
So which is it, "Moneyball"? Is it important to get on base or does clubhouse chemistry matter? Is defense important or not? How about "veteran leadership"? If a team is under-performing your projections, do you stay the course or do you shake things up?
Or is it baseball itself which is brilliantly complex, and the Moneyball movie that is so full of flaws and self-contradictions it should hardly be making fun of "old school scouts" and then turning around to mischaracterize the philosophies of sabermetrics? Sabermetrics thrives on being objective in the face of everything you want to believe and think you believe. And if we're being objective, Moneyball is a very flawed movie unworthy of critical acclaim.