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Film / Moneyball

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"People who run ball clubs, they think in terms of buying players. Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins."
Peter Brand

Moneyball is a 2011 American film directed by Bennett Miller and based on the best-selling book of the same name, following the Real Life story of how Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane built a winning team on a shoestring budget despite baseball's the-rich-get-richer environment, using overlooked advanced statistics and players to make up the competitive advantage.

Billy goes through a bit of a depression after a post season loss to the New York Yankees as he realizes that with his ballclub's meager salary, they just can't compete with the likes of teams that spend three times the amount of money they can. Destiny along with the Cleveland Indians put Billy together with Yale economics graduate Peter Brand as they start using Bill James-style statistics (aka: Sabermetrics) to rebuild the Oakland Athletics into a League powerhouse once again.

The film stars Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Aaron Sorkin co-wrote the screenplay. The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, Editing and Sound Mixing.

Tropes in Moneyball:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Wash makes his remark about teaching a fan to play first base (see Deadpan Snarker below), Billy starts tell him he's missing the point, then stops himself and concedes, "Good one."
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The real Billy Beane is not an unattractive man, but he's no Brad Pitt. Though if you ask Tara Beane, it's the other way around.
  • Affectionate Parody: A fake trailer was posted for "Too Much Moneyball" featuring the 2009 Yankees and their buying a World Series.
  • All for Nothing: Billy's attitude throughout the season if the A's don't win it all, surmising that nothing matters about their radical approach to the roster if it still ends up the same way in playoff defeat. After the season, Billy is wooed by Red Sox owner John W. Henry, who offers Billy a record deal and hires sabremetric pioneer Bill James. Henry tells Billy that Billy's ideas will revolutionize the way people think about the game, and says the rest of the league will follow suit in short order; that impact would live long past the A's season.
  • Amicably Divorced: Billy and Sharon don't bicker or argue as much as one might expect given the situation.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Billy's daughter sings him Lenka's "The Show" in a scene, even made him a recording of it, set six years before it was recorded.
    • When Beane visits Fenway Park at the end of the movie, the pennants for the 2004 and 2007 World Series Championships are clearly visible on the facade despite the scene being set in 2002.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: When David Justice thinks he's somehow above Billy's concept since he's earning a big salary, Billy reminds him that part of his salary is coming from his former team trying to get rid of him:
    Billy: That's what the New York Yankees think of you. They're paying you three and a half million dollars to play against them.
  • Artistic License: A couple of main points of drama deviate from real-life:
    • Carlos Peña is portrayed as a roadblock for Scott Hatteberg in the film, but had already been demoted to the minors by the time he was traded in real life with Hatteberg firmly entrenched as the starter (and also sporting an above-average fielding percentage). Hatteberg has also said Howe was actually his biggest supporter (while confirming that Howe and Beane did not get along).
    • Beane is depicted firing the team's head scout Grady Fuson after they clash over the team's new sabermetrics approach. In real life, Fuson was on board with the plan and left the A's voluntarily because the Texas Rangers offered him a job as their assistant general manager with higher pay.
    • Beane "shakes things up" by trading Jeremy Giambi and Carlos Peña on the same day; they were traded a month apart in reality.
    • Chad Bradford and Jeremy Giambi are depicted as risky newcomers to plug the holes on the roster; in reality, they were already on the team the previous season leading into the 2002 season depicted in the film.note 
    • The film makes no mention of the A's biggest strength that allowed them to compete with the slugging American League teams: their tremendous starting pitching, featuring three young frontline starters drafted by Beane, with the film focusing instead on the patchwork offense. They also had both the 2002 AL Cy Young award winner (Barry Zito), a budding superstar in third baseman Eric Chavez (who hit 34 HRs and won a Gold Glove award) and the AL MVP (Miguel Tejada). See Demoted to Extra below.
    • It's nighttime when the final out of the Division Series is made. The real game was played in the afternoon and ended well before dark.
    • The A’s had been using Sabermetrics for several seasons before the events of the film. In the late 80’s and early 90’s they actually had one of the highest payrolls in baseball and a star-studded lineup that was always at the top of the standings and won the 1989 World Series. However in the mid-90’s new ownership tightened their belts. Billy Beane took over in 1997 and immediately implemented the new strategy. The film makes it look like he heard about it only after his chance meeting with Peter Brand.
    • The 2002 A's actually weren't all that impressive an offensive team — they only ranked fifth in the American League in the all-important OBP, sixth in OPS and eighth in runs scored. Respectable-enough numbers, to be sure, but nothing to write home about. As noted elsewhere on the page, the 2002 team was driven more by its incredible starting rotation.
    • During the batting cage scene, David Justice tells Billy Beane that he'd never seen a general manager talk to players like Billy does, to which Billy retorts Justice never had a GM who was a player, to thematically illustrate Billy's unique viewpoint as a GM. In real life, Justice spent most of his career with general managers who were former professional players: Bobby Cox in Atlanta (who drafted him as a GM before managing him to a World Series championship in 1995) and John Hart in Cleveland. In general, it's just as likely for GMs to be ex-players like Billy Beane as they would be analytical number-crunchers like the composite Peter Brand.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: The whole point of sabermetrics is to calculate the best possible line-up for a team by using statistics beyond the traditional "slashline" of batting average/homers/RBIs, opting for overlooked metrics like on-base percentage. "Moneyball" is the process of primarily using sabermetrics to build a roster, which allows a front office to find undervalued players at potentially bargain prices while avoiding a splurge on expensive "name value" players.
  • Based on a True Story: One could argue very loosely. While the on-field results and details of player transactions are mostly accurate, there is a fair bit of rearranging of characters and lines, including the complete omission of Michael Lewis (the author of the original book), and a number of people who claim they were portrayed unfairly, particularly Art Howe.
  • Bearer of Bad News: There's a small sub-plot about Billy trying to get Peter comfortable with being the guy to tell players that they've been cut or traded. They have an entire conversation about it where Billy explicitly advises Peter against Breaking Bad News Gently — instead, you need to be firm, direct and short. "Pete, I gotta let you go. Zack's office will handle the details." That's it. Billy's advice turns out to be right on, as Peter follows it later when he tells Carlos Pena he's been traded to Detroit and Pena handles it professionally.
  • Beleaguered Assistant: Peter Brand gets colored this way, but it's mainly just him learning the ropes.
  • Big Eater: Downplayed, but Billy is regularly seen eating. Especially noticeable when he's trading for Ricardo Rincon and stuffs his mouth full of popcorn only to spit it all out when a call comes in before he can finish chewing.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The A's go on an unprecedented 20-game win streak (setting an American League record) but lose in the playoffs. Billy is offered a $12.5 million contract — the highest offered for a baseball GM at that time — to GM for the Red Sox and seriously considers it but ultimately decides to stay with the A's, content to know that he's changed the game for the better. Years down the road, other teams realize the value of these metrics and actively recruit players based on them, meaning that Billy's advantage disappears and he is left back where he started: trying to do the same things as the wealthier teams to keep up with them, but with nowhere near as much money.
  • Boring, but Practical: The various players that Beane wants on the team, in spite of their various faults, simply because they can get on base reliably.
  • Broken Win/Loss Streak: Averted. The A's go up 11–0 on the Royals and look like they'll cruise to their record 20th straight victory. The Royals gradually chip away at the lead and manage to tie the game 11–11... and then the A's Scott Hatteberg hits a walk-off home run in the 9th inning. (This scene is historically accurate.)
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: The players chosen have flaws but are still good enough at what they do to be in the majors.
  • The Cameo: Bobby Kotick of Activision/Blizzard, a friend of director Bennett Miller, as Athletics owner Stephen Schott.
  • Career-Ending Injury: Inverted. Scott Hatteberg has irreparable nerve damage in his elbow, which renders him unable to throw the ball with any kind of velocity, a necessary skill for a catcher. Beane converts him to a first baseman precisely to ignore his handicap and to make use of his other skills.
  • Composite Character: Peter Brand was based on a group of Beane's assistants/deputies, primarily Paul DePodesta, whose request not to have his name used in the film is what partially led to this.
  • Confidence Building Scheme: Billy and Ron Washington (the latter reluctantly) try to build up Hatteberg's confidence as a first baseman by lavishly praising and cheering everything he does even remotely well.
  • Create Your Own Villain: In the book it's mentioned that one baseball executive who was very interested in what Billy was doing was an assistant for the Boston Red Sox named Theo Epstein, whom Beane would discuss ideas with. Epstein would be promoted to General Manager after Beane turned the job down, and proceeded to use everything he learned along with Boston's large free agency allowance to build their World-Series-winning teams before moving on to the Chicago Cubs and doing the same thing.
  • Cutting the Knot: Despite Billy's insistence, Howe stubbornly refuses to start Hatteberg at first base over Peña out of belief that Hatteberg is too much of a risk to gamble on. Billy forces the issue by trading Peña away, leaving Howe with no other option but to go along with Billy's plan.
  • Daddy's Girl: Casey Beane and her adorable song where she repeatedly calls her father a loser.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Coach Ron Washington in the scene where Billy offers Scott Hatteberg a contract with the idea of putting him at first base, a position Hatteberg had never played:
    Beane: [First base] is not that hard, Scott. Tell him, Wash.
    Washington: It's incredibly hard.
    Hatteberg: I'm taking Giambi's spot at first? What about the fans?
    Washington: Yeah, maybe I can teach one of them [how to play first base].
  • Demoted to Extra: The biggest strength of the winning early-2000s Oakland A's teams, including the 2002 squad depicted in the film, was the elite starting pitcher rotation headed by three young, homegrown studs: Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, and Barry Zito (who won the 2002 Cy Young award). Only Hudson is depicted in the film, and it's when he starts letting the 11–0 game get away, although during a clubhouse scene you can see the back of an extra playing Barry Zito (recognizable due to his rare "75" uniform number). In addition, the offense sported 2002 MVP Miguel Tejada and a budding star in Eric Chavez (34 HRs each), who are shown but not really featured nor depicted as dangerous sluggers for the otherwise station-to-station offense.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: Played for laughs as Billy and Peter try to strike a deal at the trade deadline; they haggle with multiple teams trying to create interest in the player they have and reduce interest in the player they want, as well as haggling with the A's owner to get him to approve the money they need to get the whole thing to work.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: When the A's put together a win streak, Peter overhears a sportscaster on TV praising Art Howe as "the reason the A's are winning" and is incredulous. Billy doesn't care.
    Peter: [offended] Did you hear that?
    Billy: [dismissive] I heard 'seven in a row'. Got the Cleveland matchups?
  • Epic Fail: Subverted. They watch a video of a minor league game, in which A's minor leaguer Jeremy Brown trips rounding first base and crawls in a panic to get his hand back on the base, only for the bemused first baseman of the other team to tell the player he smashed the ball over the fence for a home run.
    • A more traditional example is shown with David Justice. As he realizes that Beane's assessment of the rest of his career is spot on (see Insult Backfire below), he goes to talk to Hatteberg in the break room to act as a mentor to him to help him out. He asks Hatteberg what his biggest fear as a player is and the exchange goes as follows:
      Hatteberg: The baseball being hit in my general direction?
      [the two share a laugh]
      Justice: That's funny. Seriously, what is it?
      Hatteberg: No, seriously. That is.
    Justice is stunned by this, and Hatteberg starts to walk off. The best Justice can manage is to shout after him "Well hey, good luck with that...", which is pretty pathetic all told.
  • Escalating Punchline: Beane when breaking it to Art Howe that Hatteberg is going to start at first. Howe again steadfastly refuses and says Carlos Peña will start. Billy informs him Peña has been traded to the Tigers, then adds several of the A's reserve infielders (implicitly the ones who can also man first base) are being demoted to Triple-A, then calls Jeremy Giambi into Howe's office to inform him he too has been traded. Howe is in Stunned Silence as he realizes Hatteberg is literally the only player he has currently who can play first.
  • The Extremist Was Right: Beane redefined the way baseball — and by extension all team-based sports — is played, simply by spitting on everything that was done before.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on Michael Lewis's bestseller, which was the gateway to understanding sabermetrics to many readers.
  • Flipping the Table: Beane flips his desk in frustration when Howe steadfastly refuses to play Hatteberg over Peña.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone with a passing knowledge of baseball knows how the A's season winds up in 2002, as it did in 2000 and 2001 (and again in 2003), losing a do-or-die game in the opening round of the playoffs.
  • Game of Nerds: Naturally. Beane uses statistics to change the way the Oakland A's recruit players and play the game.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: This is one of the main complaints about the film's accuracy, especially given that the guys being portrayed as villains were all still alive when it came out and capable of coming to their own defense:
    • Art Howe took exception to his portrayal both as a stubborn traditionalist, and also as a passive participant whose only success came due to Billy's manipulations.
    • Grady Fuson is portrayed as being antagonistic towards Billy and his approach, eventually leading to a confrontation in which he is fired. In reality, he appreciated what Billy was trying to do and left voluntarily when he was offered an assistant general manager position with the Texas Rangers.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: Inverted with Billy himself — he was convinced by scouts from the New York Mets to turn down a scholarship from Stanford to be drafted out of high school. A flameout of a short career left him embittered towards the old-school-style scouts that he butts heads with early in the movie.
  • Insane Troll Logic: The best way to describe some of the more outlandish methods that the A's management uses to evaluate potential players prior to Beane and Brand's introduction of statistics.
    Matt Keough: And an ugly girlfriend.
    Barry: What does that mean?
    [Beane hits a facepalm in the background]
    Matt Keough: Ugly girlfriend means no confidence. [...] I'm just saying his girlfriend is a 6 at best.
  • Insult Backfire: David Justice calls out Beane for his "just-for-show" antics with the team, and that with his resumé and $7 million salary, he's above Beane's style. Beane reminds him that the Yankees are paying half his salary as part of the deal with Oakland:
    Billy: That's what the New York Yankees think of you. They're paying you three and a half million dollars to play against them.
  • Intelligence Equals Isolation: Peter Brand is frequently depicted as working in his office alone on his computer (this portrayal is apparently what led DePodesta to withdraw permission to be portrayed). Beane has to coax him to go on a road trip with the team, where he sits next to David Justice still typing away.
  • Irony: Art Howe is shown fighting tooth and nail against sabermetrics and Beane's decisions about fielding specific players on their mathematically optimal positions. When Beane eventually outright forces Howe to play his players in his style (by firing everyone else) and A's start winning in unprecedented way, Howe is the one to get all the praises for assembling and training the team into such great performance. The sport commentators take it step further when they take his disgusted, resigned face expression as that of a calm, collected coach, while Beane and Brand watch the transmission in confusion, noting that nobody has a clue what's really going on.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The concept of sabermetrics, which drives the plot.
  • Jaded Washout: What Billy is trying to avoid. His career as a player fizzled and he knows if the moneyball experiment doesn't pan out he'll probably be out of baseball for good, with a high school diploma and not a lot of transferable skills.
  • Jerkass:
    • Art Howe. In real life, Beane fired him following the loss to Minnesota. Unsurprisingly, the real Art Howe was one of the movie's most vocal critics.
    • Head scout Grady Fuson. He belittles Beane and Brand every chance he gets, refuses to even consider their new approach, accuses Beane of doing it for personal reasons, then takes to talk radio after his firing and slams Beane mercilessly.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • While all the old-school scouts are mostly playing guessing games when it comes to picking potential new players, at least part of their critique against Beane's picks are to the point. Like Hatteberg's irreparable elbow damage (making him a disabled player by default) or Jeremy Giambi's tendency to party hard, which affects his trainings and performance during games. Giambi eventually starts to cause problems due to his excessive lifestyle, just like predicted. It even starts to affect his projected statistical value and Beane has to trade him away once he can't even use that as a justification.
    • Beane admits to Howe later on in the film that it was wrong of him to completely overhaul the team's personnel and playing strategy without even letting Howe in on the process so he could understand it better and just expect Howe to follow Beane's orders without question.
    • David Justice has one when he complains to Peter about the fact the players have to pay for the items in the clubhouse vending machines. While the players can definitely afford them, it's still standard practice across the other ballclubs that these items are free. Therefore, making the A's players pay for them comes across as penny pinching and is bad for the team's morale. Billy later works out a deal to get them free for the players, obviously conceding Justice had a point.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Invoked by sportscaster Bob Costas during the montage of the A's reeling off 19 (eventually 20) wins in a row, noting that baseball by its nature is full of randomness on a given day that this A's team in particular must have unprecedented fortune on their side. To wit, he points out the longest winning streak for the 1927 Yankees, arguably the most fabled and greatest team of all time, was nine.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: One of the frequent anti-Beane callers during the sports radio montages vocally resembles Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Joe Morgan, who in real life was a notoriously vocal opponent of the sabermetric movement in baseball.
  • Occam's Razor: Brand and Beane's revolutionary idea of assembling a team boils down to statistics — everything that can't be turned into numbers is simply ignored, and everything that can be turned into numbers is counted, compared and sorted. This allows them to look through things that traditional scouts would consider as a liability or a flaw, while simultaneously exploiting the fact all those "flawed" players are undervalued and thus cheap.
  • One-Steve Limit:
    • Directly averted with "Steve" itself.
      Billy: Get Steve on the phone.
      Peter: Schottnote  or Phillipsnote ?
    • Two of the three key players the A's lost in the offseason are both named Jason, slugger Jason Giambi and closer Jason Isringhausen. Giambi is referred to by either name, while Isringhausen is referred to by his surname.
  • Opposing Sports Team: Highlighted with the Yankees, as per their contractual arrangement to be the villain in any baseball movie not starring them. They don't appear as villains on the field (the team's final defeat comes at the hands of the Minnesota Twins, as it did in real life), but they are held up throughout the movie as the shining example of the big-market team against whom the small-market Athletics are trying to compete financially.
  • Present-Day Past: At one point Billy tells Peter to text him the score and a scout refers to Peter as “Google Boy” (which was an actual nickname given to Paul De Podesta — the inspiration for Brand — in the pages of the Los Angeles Times when he was the general manager of the Dodgers, which was in 2004 and 2005). While texting and Google did exist in 2002 they were not common forms of communication or a popular search engine. They certainly had not yet become a common part of the English lexicon.
  • Put Me In, Coach!: Manager Art Howe refuses to play Scott Hatteberg at first base because of Hatteberg's lack of experience at the position (in real life, Carlos Peña was also a more dangerous power threat). Beane trades Carlos Peña to clear a path for Hatteberg on the depth chart, forcing Howe to finally play him. The A's become very good very fast.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Justified. They deliberately choose players who were undervalued due to perceived flaws. In real life the 2002 A's were anything but, though. As mentioned they had the best starting pitching staff in baseball and potential superstars Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez. They were picked by many to win the division and possibly the World Series. The film glosses over all of that and focuses on secondary players. Every top team is structured the same way: a few stars, and lots of good supporting players.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Billy gives this to head scout Grady after Grady chews him out for tossing out his eye-test expertise for a sabermetric approach.
    Billy: You don't have a crystal ball. You can't look at a kid and predict his future, any more than I can. I've sat at those kitchen tables with you, and listened to you tell those parents 'When I know, I know, and when it comes to your son, I know'. And you don't. You don't.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Billy Beane, a choleric, outgoing manager and Peter Brand, his stoic and somewhat timid assistant.
  • Rousing Speech: Subverted for laughs when Billy addresses the team following his trades of Jeremy Giambi and Carlos Pena. The speech goes "You may not look like a winning team. But you are one. So...go out there and play like one." Followed by a long pause and an awkward fist pump, then Billy turning and walking away.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: The reason why Billy turns down the $12.5 million to be the GM for the Red Sox.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Inverted. A more appropriate name would be, "Screw The Rules, I Don't Have Money."
  • Shout-Out: Peter Brand is watching film on minor leaguer Kevin Youkilis, dubbing him the "Greek God of Walks" note  and talking about how scouts dismiss him due to his unnatural batting stance. Youkilis would go on to play on two World Series-winning Red Sox squads and become one of the best hitters in the game in the late 2000s.
  • Shown Their Work: With a few liberties taken with the A's roster for dramatic purposes, everything else, from the rosters and front office personnel of other teams to the correct 2002 signage on the outfield wall, is accurate, right down to referring to Eric Byrnes as "Byrnesy" as he was known around the league.
  • Speak Truth To Power: Brand telling right to Beane that he (Brand) would have drafted Beane in the 9th round with no signing bonus if he were the Mets GM in 1984, rather than the first round with a big bonus, is what seals Beane's decision to hire him away from the Indians.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Social Network, another Aaron Sorkin scripted film Based on a True Story about a subject that at first glance would not seem to be an interesting one to make a movie about.
  • Sports Hero Backstory: Inverted; part of Billy's motivation is that he was lured away from college because he was told he would be a baseball star, but his career never panned out. He's trying to find a better way to identify talent so the same thing doesn't happen to other prospects.
  • Stunned Silence:
    • When Beane and Wash visit Scott Hatteberg for the first time and inform him they want to hire him and put him on the first base, all he can do is for few seconds is just look at them, wondering what the hell they are even talking about.
    • As part of a comedic routine, when Beane breaks it to Art Howe he traded Pena, demoted several reserve players to Triple-A, and trades away Giambi in front of him, Howe is just catching breath, unable to speak out of mix of confusion and fury.
  • Sudden Soundtrack Stop: All audio cuts out when Royals star Mike Sweeney crushes a three-run homer to cut what was once an 11-0 A's lead on the way to a record 20-game winning streak to 11-10.
  • Taking It Well: Peter, being relatively new at dealing with players face to face, is long nervous at the prospect of telling a player he's been traded; Beane eventually assigns him to break the traded news to Carlos Peña and assures him to be straightforward and it'll be OK. Peter tells Peña that he's been traded, audibly and visibly nervous about the possible response. Carlos simply says "OK" at a level of calm far outpacing Peter'snote .
  • Tantrum Throwing: The fiercely competitive Beane likes to hurl and hit things when the frustration level is high.
  • Tempting Fate: With the A's gunning for their record 20th consecutive win, Billy's daughter implores him to break his routine and watch the game for once to enjoy his accomplishment; with the A's up 11, she insists, "You won't jinx it!" The Royals make up the 11-run difference once Billy arrives at the Coliseum.
  • Timeshifted Actor: Actor Reed Thompson playing Billy Beane in his playing days, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a young Brad Pitt. Doubles as Separated-at-Birth Casting.
  • Unlikely Hero: Light-hitting Scott Hatteberg hits a walkoff homer (although he did have a respectable 15 during the actual 2002 season).
  • Work Hard, Play Hard: Jeremy Giambi's philosophy as a ballplayer; he was noted for his frequent partying.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Beane engages in this with Art Howe. He and Brand carefully devise a batting order that will exploit the particular talents of their players, specifically one that involves putting Hatteberg on before Peña, but Howe stubbornly refuses to follow it, because he thinks Hatteberg is a useless player and it won't work. Beane tries to urge Howe to do what he wants, but Howe simply tells him that he's not going to make an idiot of himself at job interviews in six months' time. How does Beane get Howe to not put Peña on first? He trades Peña.