Monday, April 06, 2015

Penny Thoughts ‘15—Moneyball (2011) ****

PG-13, 133 min.
Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: Steven Zaillian, Aaron Sorkin, Stan Chervin, Michael Lewis (book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Chris Pratt, Stephen Bishop, Reed Diamond, Brent Jennings, Ken Medlock, Tammy Blanchard, Jack McGee, Vyto Ruginis, Nick Searcy, Glenn Morshower, Casey Bond, Nick Porrazzo, Kerris Dorsey, Arliss Howard, Reed Thompson, Spike Jonze

The 2015 regular season of Major League Baseball began today. There was a time when I never would’ve known it was the first day of baseball. I wish I still did not. I hate baseball. I hated it when I played it as a child. My parents made me play. Despite my hatred of it, that was probably the right thing for them to do. It did help build my character. They only made me play for so long and once I was a certain age they let me decide. The last year I played was the first year my age group did our own pitching; and the coach wisely chose me to be a pitcher. For the first time ever I actually enjoyed playing the game. No more left field. But sure enough, when I had a choice the next year, I didn’t even flinch when my parents asked if I wanted to play again. Nope! I was done with baseball.

Well, not totally done. I always loved baseball movies. “The Natural” was nearly as magical to me as “Star Wars”. “Field of Dreams” remains one of my favorite movies of all time. “The Bad News Bears”—the original, not Richard Linklater’s fairly lifeless remake—was one of the greatest comedies of my childhood. I watched every one of the Bad News Bears movies in the theater, even that lame one where they went to Japan with Tony Curtis replacing William Devane who replaced Walter Mathau as the irascible coach.

But of course, baseball movies aren’t really about baseball, are they? Of all the sports movies, baseball movies seem to be some of the most successful. I think it’s because the sport itself is so dull, it doesn’t get in the way of the human drama that unfolds out of them. They are often about the triumph of the human spirit against the odds set against us. Is that because baseball statistics are often more exciting than the games themselves?

“Moneyball” is perhaps one of the greatest of these human spirit baseball movies. Telling the true life tale of Billy Bean, a former player who never lived up to his promise as a player, tasked with managing one of the “lesser” clubs, the Oakland A’s, in a game dominated by money not available to him. The story of the A’s 2002 season was quite remarkable as they went from one of the worst clubs of the season to an unprecedented 20 game winning streak to make the playoffs. How’s them odds? Of course, the movie is about how Bean beats the odds by actually playing the odds. There’s very little baseball in the movie at all. It’s more of a card counting poker movie than one about baseball.

Anyway, the movie is remarkable. The sport is frustrating. Here’s the thing. I never watch baseball. But last year, the Kansas City Royals, clinched their first playoff birth in 29 years. In a strange twist of role reversal the Royals faced the A’s in the AL wildcard game. It was the Royals who nearly broke the A’s 20 game streak in 2002 with an amazing 11 run comeback before the A’s broke the previous 19 game AL streak record. I couldn’t help but watch that game because of all the buzz in KC, the closest city to my hometown. Plus the connection to the A’s history was a draw for me. That game was amazing, and suddenly I was a Royals fan for the last month of baseball last year.

The truth is, at the end of it all I wanted my October back. I still hate baseball. Last October only strengthened my resolve. I watched every one of those post-season games waiting, hoping, wishing that any one of them would be as exciting as that wild card game. None of them were. The least reward for losing almost every one of my evenings to baseball for a month could’ve at least been a World Series victory for the Royals, but no. Alas they played all seven World Series games and lost. What a waste. Here’s hoping that the Royals don’t go so far this year, because I’d rather spend my October watching baseball movies than actual baseball games.

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