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Taking a chance in Moneyball

You've got to feel for Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). The man loves baseball. And as general manager of the Oakland Athletics, he clearly knows a thing or two about the sport. But then his team loses a crucial game and three of his top players are poached by richer teams. How is he meant to compete in the Major League if his limited budget can't give him what he wants?
During a negotiation with another team, Billy meets Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). He's an economics graduate from Yale University, which makes his presence somewhat strange. But even though Peter's never played baseball, he also knows a thing or two about the sport. He uses sabermetrics, a complicated branch of statistics, to spot potential stars. And as nobody wants to hire players who are injured, aging, or just plain weird, he's able to buy them for a fraction of their true worth.

Billy hires Peter to help rebuild the team. At first, this doesn't seem like a good idea. But then things change. Will the computer-generated gang of misfits go from 11 losses in a row to break the record for most number of straight wins?

Most of the drama is off the field


Don't roll your eyes and dismiss Moneyball as another underdog cliché. This is not the average sports movie. There are no slow-motion slam-dunks or bone-crushing touchdowns right before the time runs out. Instead, most of the drama takes place off the field. That's a relief for people who don't know the rules of baseball. (I still haven't figured out what "on base" actually means.) It's also a relief for diehard fans who already know how it all plays out and want a look behind the scenes instead.

Director Bennett Miller (who won an Oscar for Capote in 2005) does a great job integrating footage from the real games. (The movie is based on the true story as told by journalist Michael Lewis in his book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.) Sometimes the pace gets a bit too slow. Perhaps limiting the subplot about Billy's family problems would have kept things moving (or at least resulted in a movie that isn't over two hours long). And yet, mostly thanks to Oscar-winning screenwriters Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and Steven Zaillian (Schindler's List), the end result is worth your time.

About the battle between head and heart


At its core, Moneyball is about the battle between head and heart. The rational approach to making decisions seems safe because it's tough to argue with hard sciences like statistics and maths. That's why Billy was able to trade or drop players, casually, in a number of scenes. It wasn't personal; it was just business. But logical thinking can be a problem if it assumes that the future always equals the past. Yes, we're repetitive and predictable, but believing nothing unexpected will happen or that people can't change is naïve. Life is too complex.

Yet relying on your heart to make decisions isn't always best. Sometimes we use intuition or gut instinct as a way to justify being lazy and not thinking things through. Either that or we wind up with wishy-washy and somewhat irrational explanations for our decisions. For example, the veteran scouts in the movie don't pick players with ugly girlfriends. Why? Because it means the guy has no confidence and won't play well on the field. Um, okay.



The only way to explain his failure


It's fascinating to watch Billy struggle to reconcile both views. Initially, he believes in following your heart. That's why he signed up with the New York Mets as soon as he graduated from high school when he could have gone to Stanford University on a full athletics scholarship instead. Maybe the fact that things don't work out the way he was promised is the reason he quickly embraces Peter's view. It's the only way to explain his failure. And yet it doesn't help him shake off his superstitious refusal to watch the games in case he jinxes them.

I guess there's no reason you can't believe in both views. In other words, you do the rational thinking and hard analysis before going with your gut instinct as a final check. That's what I did when I had to decide on a major job opportunity a few years ago. After several weeks of listing pros and cons, I just flipped a coin. I can still remember the overwhelming sense of relief when it landed the way I'd hoped. That's when I knew the decision was right.

Having the guts to decide


Ultimately, the most important thing is not how you decide or what you decide; it's having the guts to decide in the first place. It was tough for Billy to go against a century of baseball tradition and a horde of tobacco-spitting veterans, but he had the courage to do so anyway. It was his decision to make and he was prepared to live with the consequences. That's powerful.

We'll never know what Billy's life would have been like if he went to college. But it doesn't matter. He made the most of what life gave him. Some might even say things worked out for the best because he went on to have a much bigger impact on baseball. It's the same with so many other things in our lives. Just because things don't work out the way we want them to, doesn't mean they won't work out for the best in the end.

I guess that means there's no need to get upset when things go wrong. We can always hope for the ideal outcome, but we should also learn to make peace with whatever we get. Yes, life has a funny way of doing whatever it wants, but it also has a funny way of working out. You might as well take a chance and see.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Running Time: 2 hours, 11 minutes
Age Restriction: PG (L)

About Eugene Yiga

Eugene graduated from the University of Cape Town with distinctions in financial accounting and classical piano. He then spent over two-and-half years working in branding and communications at two of South Africa's top market research companies. Eugene also spent over three-and-a-half years at an eLearning start-up, all while building his business as an award-winning writer. Visit www.eugeneyiga.com, follow @eugeneyiga on Twitter, or email moc.agiyenegue@olleh to say, um, hello.
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