Only two sports have over the years have led to a significant library of very good movies: boxing and baseball. Now you can add Moneyball to the list of baseball-themed movies to that library. In fact, for a number of reasons, it may very well stand up as one of the best baseball movies ever.
Why is it great? You can start with Brad Pitt, who has become in my view the Robert Redford of this generation, and, amazingly, in this baseball movie he looks like Redford in The Natural. Pitt, who plays the real-life general manager of the Oakland A’s Billy Beane, carries this film on his back just as she did in another 2011 release and my favorite movie of the year, The Tree of Life. Can an actor be nominated twice in the same year in the same category?
Another element that makes Moneyball so impressive – it is the most realistic of all baseball movies. It mixes real footage of Oakland games with staged scenes that are so real you can hardly distinguish the two. Also it was shot at the Oakland Coliseum and the often-not-so-scenic environs of the old ballpark.
For those of you who have already seen Moneyball I don’t want to burst your bubble, but the movie has a good deal of fiction wrapped around the facts. But that is Hollywood and creative license is what often gives a movie its appeal and sells lots of tickets.
A number of key figures from the real Oakland A’s from that season are not in the film, either by their own choice or from decisions made by the producers.
One of those real life people not in the movie is the man who was (and is) Billy Beane’s direct boss, the team’s president Mike Crowley. I’ll bet most of you don’t know that Mike was born and raised on South Bend’s east side and went to Notre Dame. He is a great guy and a smart businessman who knows and loves the game of baseball. I asked him what he thought of Moneyball and his response was very business-like, that he hoped the attention brought to his team by the film’s success and the terrific acting would bring renewed attention and new fans to the franchise. Mike said nothing about his own involvement, so I will. It had to be Mike Crowley who signed off on the innovations the A’s and Beane brought to Major League Baseball, innovations that led to a very good book and now a very good movie.
It also helped transform how baseball teams are put together and is now a blueprint for most MLB teams. That is quite an accomplishment.
Meanwhile the next great baseball movie already has a script, and this one will not need any creative enhancements. The last day of the 2011 regular season was unlike anything I have ever seen. I watched three key games go down to the wire and beyond, saw ordinary players become heroes, great players fail in the clutch and the most amazing scene of all, the Baltimore Orioles, losers of more than 90 games, celebrating on the field as if they had just won the World Series.
It was very entertaining, which is how Mike Crowley described Moneyball. And both are good reminders of why so many of us fell in love with baseball in the first place.