Moneyball is the latest Brad Pitt movie, which opened Friday at theatres. I think Pitt is a great actor; however, I went to see the movie because baseball was the subject. Specifically, this movie was the true story about Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics and his quest to compete against the more monied teams such as the New York Yankees in the early 2000s. By using statistics and percentages, Beane and his assistant played the odds by signing unknown players depending on their numbers such as on-base percentages. Of course, Pitt played Beane. In the movie, Jonah Hill played his assistant named Peter Brand, based on the real assistant with a different name. What happened when they implemented this new way of choosing players? They started out that season losing game after game, and the movie portrayed team manager Art Howe's reluctance to get on board with Beane and Brand as the reason for so many early losses. Once Beane traded away Howe's favorites and he and Brand's choices started to play, the team turned around the season and then had one of the longest winning streaks in baseball of 20 games in a row, still the American League record. I won't spoil the outcome of that season, but Beane and his assistant did change the way the rest of baseball, including the wealthier teams, choose and analyze players.
I love baseball movies even though I am not enthralled with today's Major League Baseball and the constant signing of players to outrageous contracts. Just think of Bull Durham, The Natural, Eight Men Out, and Field of Dreams. I think this movie is just as poignant. Billy Beane started out as a hot prospect that didn't pan out. He started scouting and worked his way up to the general manager's position. When his team lost Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon to free agency, the team was in dire straits. He had to wheel and deal and hope the numbers theory worked. Beane is portrayed as being divorced with a teenage daughter, even though several scenes show him clearly wearing a wedding ring. In real life he was remarried and had twins at the time. I read that Kathryn Morris played his wife, but her scenes were cut. I guess this was to make Beane more of an underdog, and it works.
There were a couple of other great actors in the movie that I love to see, but one of them was not the right casting. Reed Diamond had an uncredited role as Mark Shapiro, general manager of the Cleveland Indians. He is probably best known for his years on Homicide: Life on the Street, one of the best police dramas on television for a few years. Philip Seymour Hoffman played Howe, the A's manager. I thought this role was grossly miscast. Let me show you why:
--the real Art Howe
I remember Art Howe as the third base coach for the Texas Rangers for many years during the Bobby Valentine era, and he was one nice looking man back in the day. In short, Hoffman is no Art Howe. Hoffman is a great actor, but I don't think sports movies are his forte. He is better suited to more dramatic roles. He was not very charismatic at all in this role. This miscasting was all I could think of during different scenes Hoffman was in. He did have the unhealthy, pudgy major league manager look a la Whitey Herzog and Tommy Lasorda, but he didn't have the sparkling blue eyes Art Howe look. No, no way.
--Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Art Howe
Aside from this miscasting, I do recommend the film, Moneyball, based on the book by Michael Lewis. It was a longer than usual movie, but I didn't really notice the time. Moneyball is another great baseball story to enjoy.