March 7, 2012

My article on the perplexing and yet intense, art house-paced sports film Moneyball is now up on the website.

Dunno about it really. I don’t feel anything for baseball so a lot of references and nuances were likely lost on me. Then again I really liked Ollie Stone’s Any Given Sunday. Still, if you’re into competitive team sports, the ideas and struggles in the film will hot very close to home so it’s worth checking out.

Movie review: The ascent of game science in ‘Moneyball’

BY KARL R. DE MESA March 6, 2012 1:50pm
What makes a sport? In baseball it’s the gestalt of patience and swagger, a coiled energy that waits to explode into the craved for home run. Score enough home runs and you beat the other team.
That said, the plot of this movie is simple: a perennially loser team uses statistical science and averages to break down each aspect of the ball game into algorithmic components to win.
Does that sound especially complex? It’s really not. The key word here is “specialization.” Like in an old school assembly line someone cuts the metal to manufacture the gear, someone cleans it, and someone else connects it to a cog, and voila, before long you have a car. Example: this guy is best at throwing curveballs so you need to pit him against someone with a weakness for it, and so on for each iteration. That kind of insight is on the money, get it? That’s what the term “money ball” means.
Based on a true story and in turn based on the similarly-titled 2003 book by Michael Lewis, “Moneyball” is about Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) who was once a young, would-be baseball superstar but washed out early. He choked after being headhunted by a major league team. Stung by his failure to live up to expectations, he instead turned his energies to management.

He’s the current General Manager of the small-market team, the Oakland A’s, and right now the team is in a rut. It’s heading into the 2002 season and Beane faces the renewed loss of their star players again to other big-market teams and their astronomical salaries. How to rebuild his team with a third of the big-market payroll?
Beane recruits Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) after he meets him at a power meeting where managers shop for players to trade. Brand, a number-crunching, Yale-educated economist nerd who’s obsessed with baseball, confesses to being dissatisfied as to how the game is handled by the powers that be.
Sensing a kindred spirit, Beane hires him and together they take on the system by challenging the fundamentals of the game using the oft-dismissed theories of Bill James. He then hires his new players based on said theories.
Having collected a ragtag team that everybody else passed up on (because this player was drinking too much or that player is too old), they start to execute their strategy, armed with computer driven statistical analysis long ignored by the establishment. Against them are arrayed their own team scouts and even the field manager Art Howe (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Read the rest of the review HERE.

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