Clichés often contain little nuggets of truth. But they have become so trite their usefulness is squandered. Thank goodness for sports announcers (and movies) that aren’t afraid to pull out all the stops when it comes to A-games, textbook plays and cheering for the underdog.
Our family knows a little bit about underdogs. We’re fans of a hockey team that’s been in rebuilding mode for years. Yet whenever a young player begins to show promise, he’s lured away by some club with a bigger budget. And that doesn’t just happen in hockey. As far as Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), the Oakland A’s general manager, is concerned, his 2001 Athletics team is merely an organ donor for franchises with deeper pockets. With a paltry $38 million payroll compared to heftier $100 million plus budgets, the A’s can’t even buy a win.
Enter computer geek Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Using his Yale economics degree, he suggests a different approach to player selection. Scrutinizing the statistical information of each athlete, he scientifically computes a hitter’s chance for getting on base. He then assembles a potential team based on data instead of gut instincts.
With no viable option, Billy decides to take a chance on Peter’s analytical assessments of the league’s most underrated players. Buying the competitors’ contracts for a song, Billy brings these forgotten boys of summer together for spring training. But the A’s coach, Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), isn’t buying into the tactic and plays hardball with Billy when it comes to putting the new guys in the game.
Long time baseball fans may be familiar with Beane’s radical reforms and the ramifications they had on the sport. (Some suggest they helped the Boston Red Sox break the Curse of the Bambino.) But even those who haven’t heard of Beane or been to a baseball diamond should consider this entertainment option. Thankfully most of the action (if baseball can be accused of having action) takes place off the field in backroom bargaining sessions or tense management meetings where Peter’s sabermetrics come in conflict with established scouting practices. (And only someone as young and inexperienced as Peter Brand would have the audacity to brandish his idea in the face of opposition from the old boys club.)
Two strong sexual expletives tossed in with a roster of other profanities are this script’s biggest concerns for family viewers. However, the movie’s most powerful message has to do with money. It would seem those with the most can boast. Yet each of the underrated athletes that join the struggling Oakland A’s has something to offer, even if it’s not a surplus of confidence. Though they suffer a dismal start to the season, something changes for these underdogs thanks to a general manager who doesn’t deviate from his plan. In a world where spectacular hits make headlines, this is a nice reminder that a winning organization is often made up of more than just a few high-priced superstars.