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The greatest baseball movies are all about making change. Whether it's a league filled with women whose husbands are off fighting a war in A League of Their Own, someone completely upending their livelihood after hearing a mysterious voice in Field of Dreams, or a kid breaking out of his comfort zone and embarking upon a life-changing journey in The Sandlot, these all-time greats are always about something bigger than the 27 outs that determine victory or defeat. The same could be argued for the 2011 Brad Pitt drama Moneyball and its retelling of Billy Beane's unorthodox approach to building a winning team during the Oakland Athletics' historic 2002 season.
There are plenty of reasons why Moneyball should take up space in the pantheon of great baseball movies, with everything from the film covering perhaps one of the biggest shifts in the way the game is played in the history of the sport, the way it balances the head and the heart, and how it tells one of the greatest underdog stories you'll see on the screen, to just name a few. So, with the sports drama streaming on Netflix and it being that time of year when baseball is getting a lot more attention than normal, now is the perfect time to make the case for Moneyball.
It Is About A Major Paradigm Shift In The Game Of Baseball
No one ever said change is easy, and Brad Pitt's Billy Beane finds this out the hard way time and time again as he sets out to change not only the way his team operates but how the game is played entirely in Moneyball. It doesn't take long to notice that the movie isn't really about the 27 outs on the field, but the major shift that Beane ushered in at the turn of the 21st Century. More time is spent focusing on how the world reacts to Beane and Peter Brand's (Jonah Hill) new way of thinking than what's happening on the field, and that's actually one of the best things about the movie.
We can watch any number of baseball movies that show every blown lead, a walk-off home run (though we do see that here), or time a coach cost himself a victory, but you can't find another movie that better explores the major paradigm shift in baseball that Beane started to bridge the gap between teams like the Yankees and Athletics in terms of market size and payrolls.
But Still, It's All About The Love Of The Game
At the same time, however, Moneyball is very much all about the love of the game. But instead of spending most of the movie on the field showing how great the game is and overlooking its flaws, Bennett Miller's 2011 sports drama comes in like a friend who loves you but isn't afraid to let you know that you really need to make some changes in your life if you want to grow and become the person you want to me. At the very core of it, Moneyball is about facing the hard realities about yourself, the way the game of baseball is played, and doing everything you can to become better, even if that means changing everything you know and hold true.
It Is An Underdog Story In Every Sense Of The Word
Everyone loves a great underdog story and that's what makes sports movies so great. I mean, where's the fun in watching a movie about a dominating team that has nothing to learn and sits atop the standing all year? The money is in the chase, and Moneyball is all about the undervalued team, its general manager, and the gutsy (and evidence-based) decisions that are made so that a team with one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball can even think about standing up against those big-market teams with all the money (and free agents) in the world.
And like any good baseball movie, Moneyball also shows the fight on the field told through glimpses along the way and the A's rise through the AL West standings, all leading to one of the greatest moments in sports movie history.
The A's 20th Consecutive Win Is Still One Of The Greatest Movie Moments
About halfway through Moneyball, right around the time Billy Beane makes a series of moves that changes the look of the team, much to the chagrin of manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the A's go on a historic run leading up to Oakland's history 20th consecutive win, aka one of the greatest movie moments.
From the dramatic lighting that almost appears dreamlike to the decision of only having atmospheric tones play instead of music to the way the team blows an 11-run lead and comes back with one of Chris Pratt's biggest moments in Scott Hatteberg's walk-off home run, it's nothing short of magic. And don't even get me started on Hoffman's delivery as the hardheaded Howe as he makes his decision to put in Hatteberg as a pinch-hitter. Magic, I tell you.
It Perfectly Illustrates The Insanity Of Sports Superstitions
Billy Beane rarely watches a game in Moneyball and whenever he does, his team tends to lose or come close to it. Seems crazy, right? Well, not if you consider how crazy people are about their sports superstitions. During the St. Louis Cardinals' 2011 World Series campaign, a friend and I got together to watch game one of the NLDS, which the Redbirds lost. After that, we said we wouldn't watch a game together for the rest of the postseason.
Little did we know but the Cardinals won it all that year, and we didn't watch a single one of those victories together (we didn't even text or call during the games for fear of messing with the baseball gods). Even after the Cardinals' epic Game 6 victory in the Fall Classic and assurances that St. Louis would win the deciding seventh game, our superstitions didn't allow us to enjoy the game together. No movie captures that feeling better than Moneyball, even if it's hard to believe at times.
A Great Baseball Movie Is Celebrated Across Generations, And Moneyball Does That
The only thing my dad and I enjoy as much as watching baseball is watching a good movie, and the two of us would often go to the local theater Sunday afternoons and catch an afternoon matinée. And while memories of most of those movies have been lost to time, there's one that sticks with me all those years later: Moneyball. It has been nearly 10 years since we saw the retelling of Billy Beane's story, and we still talk about it (I had multiple conversations with him before starting this piece).
We still discuss the smallest of details, random players, the history of Art Howe (and how my dad thinks "the guy from the Farmers Insurance commercials should have been cast), and look back on the movie quite fondly. And that's perhaps my favorite thing about the movie: the way a father and son can find some commonality and joy in something as small as a movie about a team that didn't win the World Series (or the American League pennant).
And while it seems that the sentimentality of seeing a baseball movie with my dad (which happened to be our last theater experience before I moved 700 miles away), at the very core of it, Moneyball is an incredibly written and directed movie with one of the best casts you'll see in any movie (sports or non-sports) and should be considered to be put on the list of great baseball movies.
What do you think about Moneyball? Do you think it should be held in the same regard as Bull Durham, The Pride of the Yankees, and For Love of the Game, or is it not one of your favorites? Either way, sound off in the comments below.