Monday, November 7, 2011

Let's Play Some Moneyball

A few days ago I saw Moneyball. Everyone at the theater received a lovely gift bag containing a Brad Pitt bobblehead doll, a pouch of chaw, and an air freshener in the exciting new "locker room" scent.

That is not true. There was no gift bag.

But I did see Moneyball.

The movie is about a general manager and his assistant who led the Oakland Athletics to an unprecedented string of twenty consecutive victories by implementing a set of controversial hiring practices based purely on statistics. These practices were originally called sabermetrics, and eventually became known as "moneyball" after the book which first chronicled the events in question.

(The movie does not address whether the principles of moneyball have spread to other sports. For example, in professional hockey, is there moneypuck? If a hockey team cannot afford a player who is missing seven teeth, can it compensate by acquiring two other players, one of whom is missing three teeth, and the other of whom is missing four teeth?)

I am not a sports fan, and normally don't see sports movies. The reason that I saw Moneyball was that the general manager's assistant, a character named Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, was based on a real person named Paul DePodesta. As I have previously noted, I went to school with Paul for many years in elementary and middle school. I saw the movie because I was interested in seeing a story about Paul, and also because I like to think that if someone made a movie about me, Paul would see it.

I haven't seen Paul in at least twenty years, but I could still pick out some differences between the real and fictional versions of him. Peter Brand looks like Jonah Hill; Paul DePodesta, to judge by internet search results, looks uncomfortably like Anthony Weiner. Peter Brand grew up in Maryland and went to Yale; Paul DePodesta grew up in Virginia and went to Harvard. And, most importantly, Peter Brand has almost no self-confidence; Paul DePodesta had more self-confidence when he was in fifth grade. He is someone whom I could imagine easily navigating the corridors of power in professional sports. He is even someone whom I could imagine being invited to play basketball with the President, kind of like, well, someone else with whom I went to school.

As I have said, I am not a sports fan, and thus the wrong person to appreciate a movie about baseball. And for the most part, it wasn't even a movie about baseball, it was a movie about people talking about baseball. (It was also a movie about spitting–most of the characters spent waaaaay too much time spitting tobacco juice into paper cups.) I suppose that the most interesting part of the story was how the general manager, Billy Beane, had to go to extraordinary lengths to convince or force other people in his organization to go along with his plans.

Beyond that I can only say that I was duly impressed by the smallness of Brad Pitt's nose, which is shown many times in profile.

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