Brad Pitt is sitting in a room full of character actors. When talking about films, calling someone a character actor seems code for them not being handsome enough to be a star. Unlike Pitt, who is so muscular in his role as Billy Beane - the former big league outfielder turned Oakland Athletics General Manager - that he could be a WWE wrestler. It's a scene from the movie "Moneyball."
Beane is impatient and dismissive to his scouts - the character actors - and all but tells them their years of experience, their livelihoods, amount to nothing but guesswork, and their opinions will no longer be valued. Instead, they will be replaced by a human computer.
The way they will win, Beane said, it by looking at certain statistics and making decisions from them.
"Moneyball" has received great reviews, and it has been promoted as a film about a maverick bucking the system, the little guy taking on the rich teams.
But it's a flawed film.
I don't really write movie reviews. Because of my cynical nature, almost every review I'd write would be negative, so if you haven't seen the movie, don't decide to see it or not see it based on this. But while most see "Moneyball" as a triumphant story, I see it as a sad one.
Scouts have been a part of baseball for as long as the sport's been around. One of the best scouts in history, the late Tony Lucadello, made his home in Fostoria. He signed Mike Schmidt and Ferguson Jenkins, among others. There were a few books written about him. I couldn't help but wonder what he would think of sabermetrics, or of Blackberry-carrying Yale graduates taking over his profession.
The scouts in the movie are portrayed as potbellied simpletons. Art Howe, a manager of three big league teams who had a long career as an MLB infielder, is seen as a chubby, disagreeable man who had little or nothing to do with the A's success.
It's true that the A's tied for the best record in baseball in 2002, with an overall salary of about $41 million. The Yankees had the same record that season with a payroll three times that. But any business worth as much as the A's were could not be called mom-and-pop. When I see "Moneyball," I see a grumpy, arrogant man in Beane, working for a multi-million dollar corporation, outsourcing his employees.
In any other context, Beane would be the villain. The scouts would be the sympathetic characters, like factory workers being told they're no longer needed after 30 years of service. In their place are statistical analysts, computers, projections.
But Beane, whose teams have never even reached the World Series, and his assistant, a numbers expert named Paul DePodesta (or, in the movie, the fictional Peter Brand) are the heroes.
I had other issues with the film, mainly the factual inaccuracies. But I won't waste your time with that. If seeing JFK, Remember the Titans and Sound of Music have taught us anything, it's that the phrase "based on a true story" usually means vaguely kind of sort of inspired by something that happened in real life.
I don't disagree with many of the concepts expressed in Michael Lewis' book, which the film is (ostensibly) based on. But it's not a perfect system. Beane's A's haven't made the postseason since 2006 (other teams have adopted his methods). DePodesta's short run as Dodgers's general manager is generally considered a failure. J.P Ricciardi, another Beane disciple, struggled to find success when he was the Blue Jays' general manager.
While no one can deny Beane's success in the early part of the last decade, the real story of Moneyball to me is how another piece of the sport's culture is being phased out. The stories of a scout finding a kid in a small high school no one knows about aren't around anymore. They're replaced by videos and YouTube sensations.
Maybe Beane did help to alter the game.
But it makes me sad.
So did the movie.