Poll Results: Favorite Baseball Film + The Warning Sign Update

A recent film stands tall as the winner:

Moneyball

THE RESULTS:
– Moneyball: 8 votes
– The Sandlot: 6 votes
– Bad News Bears [original]: 5 votes
– Bull Durham: 3 votes
– Field of Dreams: 3 votes
– A League of Their Own: 3 votes
– Major League: 2 votes
– 61*: 1 vote
– Eight Men Out: 1 vote
– Fever Pitch: 1 vote
– Rookie of the Year: 1 vote

The write-ins:
– It Happens Every Spring: 1 vote
– Major League II: 1 vote

Some really interesting votes this time around. I expected a better turnout for Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, but it seems that *everyone* loves Moneyball. No complaints here, as any film based on sabermetrics that manages to also appeal to the non-baseball fan crowd is worthy in my book.

This Week’s Poll: As many of you know, last week brought us the series finale for the U.S. version of The Office. While the show suffered in its last couple years, it still had a hell of a run, and it was sad to see it go. In honor of one of the best TV sitcoms of the 2000s, I want to know who your favorite characters of The Office are. Since there are just so many characters, I’m making this a pick two.

The Warning Sign Update: Things have been slow around these parts, as the hustle and bustle of summer has given me little time to devote to blogging. Between going out of state and having friends and family visit here, my free time has been minimal. However, this week is looking better, and I hope to begin sharing regular content from this point on. Thanks to all who still visited during the lull — I greatly appreciate every single one of you!

Have a great week!

Movies Watched [September 2011]

Last month I focused more on my Movie Project with a handful of other films scattered in between. I liked nearly everything I watched, and I was very happy to finally see titles like Dr. Strangelove, L.A. Confidential and Cool Hand Luke. A good movie month for me, and I have a feeling October will be even more jam-packed with classics.

In order of viewing (number represents year overall total, not this month):

140) Airplane! [1980]
Airplane! [1980]

141) I Saw the Devil [2010]
I Saw the Devil [2010]

142) Limitless [2011]
Limitless [2011]

143) Rain Man [1988]
Rain Man [1988]

144) Akira [1988]
Akira [1988]

145) [REC] 2 [2009]
[REC] 2 [2009]

146) Hotel Rwanda [2004]
Hotel Rwanda [2004]

147) The Magnificent Seven [1960]
The Magnificent Seven [1960]

148) The Asphalt Jungle [1950]
The Asphalt Jungle [1950]

149) Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [1964]

150) Moneyball [2011]
Moneyball [2011]

151) The Troll Hunter [2010]
The Troll Hunter [2010]

152) Contagion [2011]
Contagion [2011]

153) L.A. Confidential [1997]
L.A. Confidential [1997]

154) Cool Hand Luke [1967]
Cool Hand Luke [1967]

Movie Review: Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]

Moneyball [2011]
Director: Bennett Miller
Genre: Biography/Drama/Sport
Language: English
Country: USA

Let me preface this by stating that I am a huge fan of baseball and of the book, Moneyball. It helps to be a fan of both, but the film adaptation was created in a way to appeal to everyone.

The movie, just like the book, focuses on the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and their charismatic general manager, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). A former baseball player who moved to the front office after he didn’t “pan out”, Beane is responsible for operating a small-budget Major League Baseball team. Oakland’s total team payroll in 2002? A paltry $39 million, the third lowest in all of baseball. Compare this to the mighty Yankees, who had a whopping $125 million payroll that year.

Yet the year before, in 2001, the A’s won seven more games than the Yankees and ended up meeting them in the playoffs. While the team wildly exceeded its expectations, this was still a grave disappointment for the demanding Beane. He was faced with an even greater dilemma that offseason in that three of his best players — Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen — were all leaving via free agency because he couldn’t afford to pay them. Now, not only does he have to follow up a tremendous 2001 season but he has to do it with spare parts in the roles of his former superstars.

Moneyball [2011]

This is where “Moneyball” steps in. After persuading a rival team’s assistant named Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) to join Oakland, the two collaborate and develop a new way to look at baseball. Instead of listening to gray-haired scouts rattle on about a player having all “five tools” or how good they look in appearance, Beane and Brand decide to focus on sabermetrics and non-traditional statistics. They seek players who can get on base by any means necessary, particularly by drawing walks. Their key stat? On-base percentage. Who cares if a guy is a liability in the field if he makes up for it with his bat? That’s the perception the two executives have, and it is perhaps best illustrated in the form of one player: Scott Hatteberg.

“Hatty”, as he was commonly known (played by Parks & Recreation’s Chris Pratt), is the perfect example of the Moneyball theory. Unwanted by other teams since nerve damage no longer allowed him to play catcher, Hatty is visited by Beane in an attempt to get him to play first base. Even though he is terrified of taking ground balls at the position, he perseveres and puts together some great moments at the plate (including an epic at-bat during the team’s record-breaking 20 game winning streak). Hatteberg’s salary in 2002 was $900,000. Giambi’s? $10.4 million.

It’s pretty freaking incredible that a team patched together with past-their-prime veterans (like David Justice) and defensive liabilities (Hatteberg) could still manage to win over 100 games and make the playoffs once again. It doesn’t matter that the team lost in the first round again — they still went toe-to-toe against teams with payrolls four times as large. Plus the concept of Moneyball revolutionized the league, and its effects are still felt today.

Moneyball [2011]

In terms of a film watching experience, you do not need to be a baseball fan to enjoy the movie (as stated above). Brad Pitt gives Beane a highly likable personality, even as we see how he is a deeply flawed man. Jonah Hill is quiet and subdued as Peter Brand, and it’s interesting to see him take on a role like this. The always excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman plays A’s manager Art Howe, who frequently butts heads with Beane due to differences in baseball philosophy. Chris Pratt also does well with his role of Hatteberg, astutely playing a baseball player who lacks confidence in himself.

The script is both well-written and intelligent, and it also has a surprising amount of humor. Screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian did a fantastic job adapting Michael Lewis’ bestseller.

As far as baseball movies go, this is one of the best. As far as 2011’s movies go, this is also one of the best. Everyone will find something to like about Moneyball, whether it’s the smart dialogue, perfect cast or the baseball philosophy.

9/10

Moneyball [Michael Lewis, 2003]

Moneyball [Michael Lewis, 2003]

Moneyball
Author: Michael Lewis
Original Release: 2003

Moneyball is the story of the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane, back in the early 2000’s when they were winning games left and right despite having one of the lowest payrolls in the league. While there have been a number of small market teams in recent years to have found success (the Twins and Rays, to name a couple), the story of the A’s is novel because of Beane’s approach to building a team. Beane and his trusting group of assistants threw traditional viewpoints out the window and focused on cold, hard statistics to lead the way. In lieu of paying much attention to standard stats such as RBIs, steals and batting average, the A’s front office focused on OBP (on base percentage) and slugging percentage. Beane, his top assistant Paul DePodesta and others were avid fans of Bill James and his followers of Sabermetrics. These guys wanted players who would take pitches and get on base, not guys who would swing for the fences all of the time or took “unnecessary risks” by attempting to steal a base. This strategy produced outstanding results. In 2001 and 2002, the A’s won 102 and 103 games respectively, and they made the playoffs every year from 2000-03. With their $41 million payroll, they were putting up comparable results to the Yankees, who were spending in excess of $125 million.

The fact that Oakland was able to compete at all with that budget is just outstanding, and reading about the methodology and the management’s thought processes behind their moves is fascinating. Michael Lewis really excels with Moneyball, as he makes baseball statistics seem as exciting as an action thriller. There are so many great stories intertwined in the book that provide even more insight into the team. We learn about Billy Beane’s failures as a baseball player and what ultimately made him pursue a job in the front office. We read about Scott Hatteberg, a former Red Sox catcher who was unable to play behind the plate anymore due to injuries and therefore lost any appeal to 95% of baseball’s teams. Beane coveted Hatteberg since he was a guy who got on base a lot, signed him to a paltry deal and then stuck him at first base where he had no experience playing (every ground ball hit his way gave him a “mini panic attack”). Hatteberg proceeded to put up some impressively consistent numbers and grew confidence on the field. There’s also a chapter about Chad Bradford, an unorthodox relief pitcher stuck in AAA hell with the White Sox, who Beane savvily acquires for practically a bag of peanuts, and then goes on to become one of the key components in the team’s bullpen. Perhaps most intriguing are the moments where we get to listen in on Beane trying to pull a fast one on other general managers, essentially working his ass off to find trades that benefit him yet make the other GMs feel like they got a “fucking A” trade. Never mind the fact that certain teams refuse to even talk to Beane since they got swindled one too many times before. The man has a gift, and he sure knows it.

There’s also a large portion of the book dedicated to the now-infamous 2002 MLB draft in which the A’s selected a bunch of guys in the first round who weren’t even on other teams’ draft boards. Although they did get some players who have had lasting success in the big leagues (albeit to varying degrees) such as Nick Swisher, Mark Teahen and Joe Blanton, they also had their fair share of busts like the “fat-bodied catcher” Jeremy Brown, Ben Fritz and Stephen Obenchain. Still, it was very interesting to look into Beane’s mind and experience his wide range of emotions when he realized he was going to be able to get all of the players he wanted.

Since Moneyball was published in 2003, other teams have adapted to Oakland’s strategy, and many have incorporated the theories into their own systems. There are still critics of Beane’s ideas, especially since the A’s never found much success in the postseason despite winning so many games in the regular season. The aforementioned playoff run from 2000-03 had the same result every year — a heartbreaking game five loss in the first round. Still, you can’t deny that the team really had something special going on during that time. It’s always fun to see David stand up to Goliath, isn’t it? Moneyball is an excellent read from beginning to end, providing insight into a creative front office while delivering entertaining side stories along the way. This is one of the best baseball books available, and I highly recommend it if you are into the sport at all.

9/10

– Also, it should be noted that Moneyball is currently being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and it is coming out in September of this year. Could it turn out as well as The Social Network? One can only hope…