Considering how much of a fan of our national pastime I consider myself to be, considering I lived in the Bay Area for 10 years, and considering I now work for MLB, I really should have seen this movie in a theater when it came out. I have no logical explanation for why I didn’t. It’s stupid, see.
There’s really nothing like a great sports movie. Sports are inherently cinematic, with all of the key elements built right into the game, and baseball has the added plus (or minus, depending on how you look at it) of not relying on a clock, so the conflict/climax/resolution could come at any time within the nine or more innings. It’s beautiful. Baseball also has the bonus of infinitely, mind-bogglingly more stats to analyze than any other sport, precisely because of its timelessness and rigid structure, so the behind-the-scenes takes a wholly different shape from that of, say, football. I’m not sure there could’ve been a book or movie (or team or sport) that could have made stats so goddamn thrilling.
It really is crazy to think that, while I was off in Giants land in the early 2000s, watching Barry Bonds smash dingers and JT Snow save toddlers’ lives and Robb Nen revitalize Deep Purple and Rich Aurilia steal my heart forever, there was something completely different happening across the Bay. And I didn’t know about it because my house happened to be an orange and black house, and our TV received the feed that contained Duane (not Glen) Kuiper.
Once I started to get to know A’s fans in college and thereafter, I realized how truly shafted Oakland was in MLB. While we had our beautiful new stadium, broken in during that heartbreaking 2002 World Series (which, yes, I’m still bitter about, despite three wins since). And that’s what makes Billy Beane and Peter Brand’s feat so much more amazing — they worked so incredibly hard to cobble together a lineup that they truly believed in, with a fraction of the budget of most other teams, which pointed them in the direction of statistical success. And they did succeed.
The casting of this movie is superb. Not only were former professional ballplayers (like Royce Clayton and Stephen Bishop) tapped to play other ballplayers (Miguel Tejada and David Justice, respectively), but the Hollywooders in this movie also stripped away their Hollywoodiness and got down to Oakland business. It was awe-inspiring to see the stadium and the team — that I had just started to get to know — glorified in cinema, with the faces of Brad Pitt, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris Pratt and Jonah Hill making it so.
PSH and Pratt, in particular, blended right in. Of course, we all know that PSH could play just about any role, and morph into just about any character, but it’s delightful to know that “baseball manager” was on that list. His face, his build, the way he carried himself, it’s like he’d been in the dugout this whole time. And Chris Pratt — who could be a long-lost Giambi brother, in my opinion, or even a proto-Mark Canha — exemplified that certain glamour of an almost-but-not-quite-forgotten ballplayer, the one whose humility had overtaken his ego long ago. As Scott Hatteburg, he was terrific.
I wrote down a note to myself when watching this movie, and I’m not sure if it was a quote, or something I came up with on my own. I assume the former, because Aaron Sorkin wrote the script and I really can’t give myself this much credit: “The key is finding the happy balance. It’s a numbers game until you start waiting for walks.” Not a particularly deep thought, but a simple one in this game. It’s very comforting knowing that, behind all of the analysis, there was so much soul to the A’s. Not only did the numbers tell a story, but they boosted the franchise’s confidence in its own players, which in turn boosted the players’ own confidence and sent the A’s surging into September.
I’ve gotta read the book. Go baseball.