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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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Monica: The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and was licentious. Monica also had to bear with a cantankerous mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but always respected her. Monica’s prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his baptism. 
<p>Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine (August 28) , is the most famous. At the time of his father’s death, Augustine was 17 and a rhetoric student in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy (all flesh is evil)  and was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted. </p><p>When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan. </p><p>In Milan, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her (see Quote, below). Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan as she had been in Tagaste. </p><p>She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was near the end. She told Augustine, “Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled.” She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death. </p><p>Almost all we know about St. Monica is in the writings of St. Augustine, especially his <i>Confessions</i>.</p> American Catholic Blog The Church really is my mother, too. She isn’t a vague maternal force for a generic collection of anonymous people. This Mother truly nurtures us—each one of us. And for those of us who are baptized Christians, the Church has actually given birth to us on a spiritual level.

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