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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Moneyball

By
John P. McCarthy
Source: Catholic News Service


Brad Pitt stars in a scene from the movie "Moneyball."
Those who believe America's national pastime is more resistant to the corrosive effects of money than other pro sports will find equally persuasive ammunition and counterargument in "Moneyball" (Columbia).

Based on Michael Lewis' 2003 book about baseball's Oakland Athletics, this thinking person's sports flick identifies how big bucks have negatively affected the grand old game in recent decades. Yet the fundamental problem is not just the exorbitant sums players are being paid. Rather, it's that those funds are being irrationally allocated by those who ought to know better—owners, general managers, scouts and coaches.

It isn't an easy case to make on screen, particularly in a mainstream feature whose primary objective is to entertain (and thereby turn a profit). Fortunately, the true-life tale has an appealing, principled hero. His name is Billy Beane and he's portrayed by Brad Pitt. We meet Beane, an ex-ballplayer, at the end of the 2001 season. He's general manager of the A's, a small-market team that has made it to the playoffs and then had its roster looted by richer ballclubs.

Replacing talent like Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon on a shoestring budget is a herculean task. With palpable frustration, Beane challenges his old-school underlings, including a chorus of veteran scouts and his crusty manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman), to think differently when assessing player talent.

Then, on a horse-trading visit to the Cleveland Indians during the offseason, he encounters a young staffer with an economics degree from Yale. Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) advocates a statistics-based approach gleaned from the writings of analyst Bill James, who's considered a fringe figure by the baseball establishment. Using complex metrics, Brand's method consists of identifying certain skills in undervalued athletes who can be signed on the cheap. Specifically, it seeks those whose high on-base percentage will lead to runs and hence wins.

Desperate, Beane hires Brand to be his assistant and the pair meets significant resistance as they piece together a competitive squad with a comparatively miniscule payroll. The A's enter the 2002 campaign as huge underdogs. The season's ups and downs are related to Beane's own playing career, and their effect on his relationship with his 12-year-old daughter Casey (Kerris Dorsey) are also touchingly dramatized.

Director Bennett Miller ("Capote"), working from a script by two lauded screenwriters, Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, has made a mature, cerebral and understatedly wise film. There's nothing flashy about it, and the lack of hot-dogging means the movie's considerable humor has to grow organically. Viewers shouldn't expect to emerge sticky with pine tar and tobacco juice, since it's not a jock-fest offering much feel for how the game is played on the diamond.

Aimed at the uninitiated as much as diehard fans, "Moneyball" dares to be quiet and circumspect. There are no easy answers on tap; like baseball, it's about patience and believing in a process. Still, explaining the underlying theory in more detail, particularly early on, would make it more accessible. And the leisurely pacing sometimes makes it feel like an extra-inning pitchers' duel. As for the performances, Pitt and Hill are enjoyable, although the younger actor isn't completely convincing in the role.

In the final analysis, "Moneyball" is winsome because it sees beyond financial gain and number-crunching. Like the nobly motivated Beane, it respects the game while being eager to spur positive change. And it relays a timeless, double-headed lesson: Money can't buy baseball pennants or happiness.

The film contains two uses of rough language, some crude and crass language, an instance of sexual banter, a few sexist remarks, and a scene in which a player's religiosity is treated in a sarcastic manner. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John P. McCarthy is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.



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Josephine Bakhita: For many years, Josephine Bakhita was a slave but her spirit was always free and eventually that spirit prevailed. 
<p>Born in Olgossa in the Darfur region of southern Sudan, Josephine was kidnapped at the age of seven, sold into slavery and given the name Bakhita, which means <i>fortunate</i>. She was re-sold several times, finally in 1883 to Callisto Legnani, Italian consul in Khartoum, Sudan. </p><p>Two years later he took Josephine to Italy and gave her to his friend Augusto Michieli. Bakhita became babysitter to Mimmina Michieli, whom she accompanied to Venice's Institute of the Catechumens, run by the Canossian Sisters. While Mimmina was being instructed, Josephine felt drawn to the Catholic Church. She was baptized and confirmed in 1890, taking the name Josephine. </p><p>When the Michielis returned from Africa and wanted to take Mimmina and Josephine back with them, the future saint refused to go. During the ensuing court case, the Canossian sisters and the patriarch of Venice intervened on Josephine's behalf. The judge concluded that since slavery was illegal in Italy, she had actually been free since 1885. </p><p>Josephine entered the Institute of St. Magdalene of Canossa in 1893 and made her profession three years later. In 1902, she was transferred to the city of Schio (northeast of Verona), where she assisted her religious community through cooking, sewing, embroidery and welcoming visitors at the door. She soon became well loved by the children attending the sisters' school and the local citizens. She once said, "Be good, love the Lord, pray for those who do not know Him. What a great grace it is to know God!" </p><p>The first steps toward her beatification began in 1959. She was beatified in 1992 and canonized eight years later.</p> American Catholic Blog St. Paul talks about the Christian life as a race, and encourages us to run so as to win. So it’s not just OK, it’s commanded to be competitive, to strive to excel. But true greatness consists in sharing in the sacrificial love of Christ, who comes to serve rather than to be served. That means that this race St. Paul is talking about is a race to the bottom.

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
St. Josephine Bakhita
Today we honor the first saint from the Sudan, who was a model of piety and humility.

National Marriage Week
During this week especially tell each other how much your marriage means to you.

St. Valentine's Day
Schedule one or more e-cards today to be sent next Sunday.

Carnival
Create a festive atmosphere and invite friends over for one last party before the Lenten fast.

Catholic Schools Week
In the Catholic schools, parents know that their children are being formed as well as informed.




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