And what came next: criticism of the way the film portrays the real events and ignores a lot of the details.
By Will DiGravio Published on September 18, 2021
Real Stories is an on-going column about the real stories behind movies and TV shows. It’s that simple. This episode focuses on the real story behind the 2011 film Moneyball. Plus the disputes over how these real-life events are portrayed.
Money ball Stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, a former professional baseball player who became general manager of the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are one of the poorest teams in Major League Baseball, and Beane has to get creative if he is to start winning games. In the film he asks Peter Brand for help (Jonah Hill), a geeky Yale graduate with a passion for statistics. Together they form a team of overlooked and undervalued players through the system of statistical analysis known as Saber metric. Against all odds – and the expectations of the so-called baseball experts – the A’s reach the playoffs in 2002.
Directed by Bennett Miller, Moneyball is inspired by a true story. Screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin customized Michael Lewis2003 Nonfiction book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game for the thoughtful sports film. But offone of the many things that make Moneyball what it is is as interesting as it differs from these real events. Many critics were quick to point out anything the film paraphrased or ignored. But details almost always have to change in order for a film based on a true story to be successful, and when you look at the places where Money ball As we take artistic liberties, we can begin to understand the art of customization.
And so, here’s a look at the real story behind it Money ball, as well as the real disputes over the portrayal of real events in the film.
How Billy Beane changed the game
Billy Beane’s main problem in Money ball is money. The Oakland A’s are a small marketing team and could never generate the kind of revenue that the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox can. In contrast to other sports, there is no upper salary limit in MLB. Richer teams can spend and spend as much as they want. In the film, Beane loses star players to both New York and Boston.
As he sets out to rebuild his franchise in a new and interesting way, Beane runs into a lot of skeptics. A pivotal moment comes when Beane decides to swap Carlos Peña, an aspiring first baseman, and replace him with Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt), a catcher who has never played first. Beane likes Hatteberg’s offensive skills and wants to keep him with him. Due to the tendinitis in the elbow, the player is unfortunately no longer suitable for his catching position. So Beane finds a new place for him.
The film portrays Beane as a failed former player who can give a new life to others, an executive who gets by without starting talent and who brings out the talents of lesser-known players. His risks pay off, and he’s celebrated for changing the game of baseball.
The all-stars ignored by Moneyball
But there is one big problem: Money ball skips much of the real story it represents. For one, it mostly ignores a handful of all-star players who were on the A’s during the 2002 season. At the time the film was released, baseball writers indicated that it was Neglect of three outstanding pitchers on the team: Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. In 2002, the trio pitched more than 200 innings for the team, averaging less than 3.5 runs per nine innings of the game. Translation: they were really good.
Zito made the All-Star Game in 2002. Hudson had been an All-Star in 2000. And Mulder would make his first All-Star appearance the following year. The three pitchers would play a total of nine all-star games in their career. And in 2002, the year depicted in Moneyball, Zito won the American League’s Cy Young Award, given to the league’s best pitcher.
Bane’s biggest critics within the film are the organization’s scouts. They don’t believe statistics can replace the more humane, qualitative approach to their work. The film shows the success of the A when Beane proves them wrong. But in reality, Zito, Hudson, and Mulder were all drafted into the A-Organization. In other words, they were byproducts of the old school.
Money ball also ignores shortstop Miguel Tejada, who not only reached the All-Star Game in 2002, but was also named Most Valuable Player of the American League. And third baseman Eric Chavez, who won Gold Glove six times in a row in the early 2000s, also gets disrespect. No wonder baseball fans raised an eyebrow at the movie.
Undermining Manager Art Howe
No question about it, Billy Beane is the hero of Money ball. He’s determined, and he’s the one who’s right in the end. Another of his main slides in the film is Kind Howe, the manager of the A played by Philip Seymour Hoffmann. On the screen, Howe not only expresses his rejection of Bene’s strategy, but sometimes directly defies it. After Howe refuses to start Hatteberg, Beane forces his hand and trades with Peña. If the A start winning, Beane gets the credit. The team wins despite Howe, not because of his leadership.
After the film was released, Howe, understandably annoyed, offered a more nuanced story of his time at the organization. In an interview for SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio, he said:
“When you consider that the book isn’t [a] Really cheap for me, I figured it would be like that, but to be honest it’s very disappointing to know that you’ve spent seven years in an organization and given your heart and soul for it … and that’s obviously your boss [Beane] feel for you. “
In the same interview, Howe also revealed that Michael Lewis only spent 10 minutes interviewing him for the Moneyball book. He added:
“If you ask a player who has ever played for me, he would say he has never seen that side of me.”
Howe attributed his negative portrayal to real-life Beane. After the interview, Beane responded by describing Howe’s comments “misguided” and saying he was not responsible for Howe’s portrayal in the film.
Howe was so injured by the portrayal that he almost missed an event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the team’s playoff run, according to a 2012 report by the Boston Herald. But in the end, it’s impossible not to attribute any part of the team’s success to Howe. During the five years that Beane and Howe worked together, the A’s had four successful seasons. They made the playoffs three times and twice won more than a hundred games in one season.
The real Peter Brand
Jonah Hill’s character in Moneyball, Peter Brand, is the antithesis of the professional baseball scouts he’s best at when it comes to strategy meanings. He is polite, humble, stupid, calm and looks like anything but an athlete.
The first thing you should know about Peter Brand is that there is no Peter Brand. The character is based on Paul DePodesta, currently head of the NFL football team Cleveland Browns. A 2011 Washington Post article about DePodesta states that he “wisely chose not to put his name on the film”.
One of the reasons the article cites for choosing DePodesta “wisely” is that Moneyball didn’t leave much room for nuance. At no point did DePodesta or Beane advocate abolishing traditional scouting methods, as the film suggests. DePodesta says:
“There are human elements that go into the development of the players. It’s probably a little dangerous if we just ignore that. On the other hand, for me there is no question that the data is important. Virtually everyone in the industry would agree at this point. “
It’s the kind of nuance that makes sense in real life but would really pull a Hollywood movie like Moneyball down. I mean, how boring would it be if everyone just got along?
The art of customization
Like so much in Hollywood cinema, true story or not, Moneyball bends facts into shape. Mainstream films need to have a protagonist who we can get excited about and empathize with, one who defeats the antagonist (s) and proves them wrong. Unfortunately, sometimes this means ignoring all-stars, minimizing other contributors, and losing nuances. You can find that in Moneyball.
While many baseball fans have a problem depicting and circumscribing real events in film, Moneyball never pretends to be a documentary or a piece of journalism. It takes a clear side and rolls along with it. And so we find the truth or “real story” of Moneyball not in the plot, but in the consequences of the decisions the adapters made. Moneyball and its reception are a living document of the Sabermetrics debate, a debate that continues to this day in baseball and all professional sports. It’s as real as it gets.
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Will DiGravio started writing for Film School Rejects in 2018. He also hosts The Video Essay Podcast and owns a television.