12 March 2012


Twelve Things about Moneyball

12. Do you know what the Bechtel Test is? It's a gauge used to determine the relevance of women characters in a movie. There are three simple criteria: a) at least two women characters who have names; b) who talk to each other; c) and who discuss something other than men. It's kind of ridiculous, and I'm glad the husband of one of my friends explained why so that I don't have to. (See My Beef with the Bechtel Test.)

Anyway, Moneyball fails the Bechtel Test big time. (But whatever, right?)

11. I really, really like (male) character Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland A's. I like him so much that I almost wish he were completely fictional--so that nothing the real Beane ever does in real life (or never did in the movie) would have a chance to get in the way of this portrayal.

10. But my favourite (male) character is probably Peter Brand. He's just adorable. I'd like to watch his first scene again, paying closer attention to the dynamics in the crowded room. Maybe I just don't understand how men size each other up (You think??? LOL!), but my guess, when Beane went looking for him after the meeting, was that Beane was upset that Brand had blocked a deal Beane had been trying to make and was going to growl at him or something. What happened next took me by surprise, although I really liked it.

9. Apparently, something people in baseball say a lot when they're negotiating and trying to be cagey about a player they might not want to let go is, "I like him." There's a lot packed into those three words, and I think I'll be self-conscious about declaring my simple liking of something from now on.

8. You know who else uses them a lot, but usually in the second person? Simon Cowell. And he's not being cagey, either: he's hinting at an ineffable "x-factor." I've long been fascinated by Cowell's unusual talent of spotting and managing other people's talents. He doesn't work with a rubric . . . but he knows what works.

One of the conflicts in Moneyball is what the x-factor is in sport. But Beane and Brand, with their use of statistics and economics, are decidedly not following anything like Cowell's model. But (male) head scout Grady Fuson is, and it is he who argues against numbers and science, in favour of intuition and intangibles. And I'm ordinarily very sympathetic to the side Fuson is taking . . . but now my intuition is ironically siding with the stats.

7. And how could I not, when the stats get a defense such as this piece of prose:

It's about getting things down to one number. Using stats to reread them, we'll find the value of players that nobody else can see. People are over looked for a variety of biased reasons and perceived flaws. Age, appearance, personality. Bill James and mathematics cuts straight through that. Billy, of the twenty thousand knowable players for us to consider, I believe that there's a championship team of twenty five people that we can afford. Because everyone else in baseball under values them. Like an island of misfit toys.

Just say it with me now: "an island of misfit toys."

I love that image so much that I was willing to spend the rest of my life griping that Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian were ROBBED of the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, if the line originally came from them rather than Michael Lewis's book . . . but apparently, there's a computer-animated movie called Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer and the Island of Misfit Toys that went straight-to-video ten years before Moneyball came out. Oh, well . . . It's still a phrase straight out of the land where dreams are born.

6. Something that really surprised me was how funny this movie was. I laughed out loud several times. One of the most entertaining jokes was a scout's lack of enthusiasm about a player who had an unattractive girlfriend ("a 6 at best"). Apparently, it's a sign of a man who lacks confidence. LOL!!! (But I'm just an odd duck. If you watched it this the cinema, how did the audience react to that line?)

I like it (Oh, dear . . .) because it's so much more than a cheap joke. It really underlines the difference between the intuitive approach and the scientific approach. There is a level on which it makes perfect sense to judge a ballplayer by the attractiveness of his girlfriend. But by siding with stats, Moneyball is playing in a very different league.

5. And speaking of the women in the lives of the men in professional baseball . . . I don't blame this movie for not giving them bigger roles.Wives, ex-wives, daughters, secretaries, catty reporters . . . Oh, that reporter was a real witch, wasn't she? Just a stereotype, yes, but also kind of worthy of the Ancient Greek harpies and gorgons.

4. Perhaps the best female role is that of Beane's daughter--and not just because she gets the most screen time.

You have no idea how much it warms my heart that
there was a scene in a guitar store
in a sport movie.

I really like (Ahem!) the role her cover of The Show (originally recorded by Lenka) plays in the movie. The fingerpicking was cool, too. (Plectra are overrated.)

3. Speaking of music, Moneyball has a very simple, but very evocative soundtrack. Journey's Don't Stop Believing probably gets played a lot in baseball arenas before a game (Or am I wrong?), which means it was there for authenticity rather than atmosphere . . . but it fits the optimistic, never-say-die theme, anyway. We also hear The Show again after the scene in the guitar store; it taps right into this story's surprisingly bittersweet vein.

Now if only I could find screencaps of frames in which the two posters of The Clash are shown prominently displayed in Beane's office. Another nice detail that I hope is not simply for a literal recreation of a real-life setting.

2. Anyone else watch this and look up the real-life players to see whether they looked anything like the actors portraying them? (Or more impressively . . . Anyone watch this already familiar with the real-life players and able to evaluate the actors on the spot???)

Does anyone else know how they got away with casting Pitt as Beane?

I guess if you get the manner right,
the looks don't really matter.

1. Although I probably would have cast Mark Harmon to play Beane, I was impressed enough with Brad Pitt to say that I will never poke fun at his acting again.

Image Sources: a) Moneyball poster, b) Billy Beane


Angie Tusa said...

I am so sad right now. So sad because apparently they do not show the Rankin & Bass stop motion animation TV specials outside of America. They are absolute gems of Christmas entertainment!! Forget the animated film, the Island of Misfit Toys comes from the original 1964 special of Rudolph, and it's an island I always wanted to visit as a kid. I would have loved those toys to death...

Forgive me if it seems that I'm freaking out, but that special is one of those that says "It's okay to be different" and therefore has as much meaning to me now as it did when I was a little kid.

Enbrethiliel said...


I hate it when my friends are sad, so I'm glad to have a tiny bit of good news, at least. I googled "Rankin Bass Ruldoph" just now and saw that I had watched the first cartoon as a child! It was where I got the idea of Rudolph as Donner's son that I've been carrying around since childhood. =)

On the other hand, I don't remember the misfit toys at all. =( But when I first heard the term in Moneyball, I had a similar reaction to yours: I thought it was an island I would have wanted to visit as a kid, with as much longing as other kids want to visit Neverland. Sometimes I feel like a misfit toy, you know?

And you're welcome to freak out in my combox! It sounds as if I've been robbed, and you may be as indignant about this injustice as you like.

lisa :) said...

I really enjoyed this movie and I'm glad you did too!

A friend of mine stated that Moneyball was a movie for everyone because for the men there was baseball and for the women there was Brad Pitt. I took major offense to the comment, not because I have anything against Brad Pitt, but because there was plenty in the movie for female watchers to appreciate regardless of if they are or are not baseball fans (though I certainly am!).

I agree the humor was great - I don't specifically remember which lines brought them on, but there were definite moments of audience chuckles when I saw it in the theater. Also, as you pointed out, the story - with the misfit toys, the new vs old methodology, and cheering for the underdog - had themes that any viewer could connect with and enjoy regardless of the attractiveness of the male lead.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Lisa! =)

That was a bit condescending of your friend. This is an intelligent movie with a lot of heart--qualities that have nothing to do with the draw of the lead star. I thought all the actors were great in their roles.

Now, I'm not a baseball fan and knew nothing about the Oakland Athletics until I saw this. And I was kind of glad about that, because I was at the edge of my seat during the twentieth game, just like the fans in the stands. How was that scene for you, as someone who probably already knew the outcome?