By SEAN DALY
Times Staff Writer
There's no crying in baseball, of course, and no one knows that better than Billy Beane, real-life, and real controversial, GM for the Oakland A's. As a five-tool prospect who turned into a major-league bust, he has been far more efficient — and maniacally driven — off the field. No tears, no mercy, for himself or others.
As a matter of fiscal necessity, Beane in the early 2000s embraced a wonky math theory in which certain no-name players (the ones the A's and Rays can afford) can be just as valuable as pricey stars (the ones the Yankees can afford). The idea is to buy runs and wins, not big names. Just get on base. Forget the pizzazz; just walk, baby.
Beane's obsession — not to mention success — with shoving new-school "sabermetrics" down the throats of old-school minds inspired Michael Lewis' bestselling book Moneyball. It took years to cinematically adapt that economic treatise — how the discrepancy among big- and small-market teams has never been greater — but as it turns out, Moneyball the movie is a wildly entertaining enterprise, an antisports flick that can still Louisville slug you in the heartstrings.
In a career-juicing role, Brad Pitt plays Beane with a blend of aging-surfer swagger and the brazen bark of Lt. Aldo Raine from Inglourious Basterds. Now 47, Pitt is still ridiculously handsome, but the age around his eyes helps sell Beane as a road-weary competitor, a guy who couldn't solve the game as a player so now he's trying to change the game as a GM. He cuts players as coldly as he was cut. "I hate losing more than I love winning," he laments.
All-star screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List) get credit for a script that zips and zings, even though most of the action takes place in offices, as Beane wheels and deals, frets and plots, a slave to his own drive. The baseball terminology is thick and real — the players' names and stats all true, too — but give credit to the scribes for spinning a detail-rich yarn that still seduces everyone. If Moneyball the book has been Hollywood-ized by director Bennett Miller to some extent, so be it; the gorgeous result is Oscar bait.
It should be noted that the film is also very funny. The main yuks come courtesy of schlubby chubby Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, as one of the few purely fictional characters), a Yale genius who sees championships behind the mundane stats of budget-bin players. These include guys like catcher Scott Hatteberg and outfielder Jeremy Giambi, the latter of whom is the brother of Jason Giambi, whose departure from the cash-poor A's is a catalyst for Beane to buck the system. In a vaguely villainous role, Philip Seymour Hoffman gets a few good laughs as manager Art Howe, who thinks Beane is nuts.
There's no love interest in Moneyball, although a subtly clever scene shows that Beane's ex-wife (Robin Wright) has remarried the exact opposite of her Type A ex, a peacenik (a cameo by director Spike Jonze) who's as gentle as Beane is gruff. Instead, all male-female relations are boiled down to the movie's true heart: the mutual admiration between single-dad Beane and his middle school daughter, played with an old-soul calm by Kerris Dorsey.
Only the kid truly understands her old man, and she tries to pound it through his head that success is, and has been, right in front of him, whether as a player, a GM or a parent. Her message at film's end is a loving jab — funny but moving — and director Miller focuses in on Pitt's tired eyes to see if Lil' Beane's message is finally getting through: You're a loser, Dad. Just enjoy the show.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.