The only thing 'Moneyball' is missing? The 2002 Oakland Athletics

Editor’s Note: Please welcome my friend Thia Bonadies to the site. I approached Thia last week about reviewing “Moneyball” here since she may be the biggest A’s fan I know and has written professionally. It’s my pleasure to present her piece.

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So, Moneyball. Yeah, it came out. A while ago now– well, at least in ‘movie reviewing’ terms– however I, myself, have not read one of them. Nope. Not a single one. Unless you count typing ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ into Google the day it premiered only to see that the coveted website had given the Brad-Pitt-turned-Billy-Beane film a whopping 95% on their “Tomatometer”. Which is rarer than you’d think – I mean, as in almost unheard of. Almost. And, regardless of where you stand on the whole pro/con Billy Beane argument (which at this point is so zzzzzzz to me that even mentioning it makes me roll my OWN damn eyes), seeing something – ANYTHING – with a number THAT big, that also happens to be connected with the Oakland Athletics, is something every A’s fan is using as a source of pride. In fact, through some bizarre and non-sequitur form of mind-mathematics A’s fans have developed in the last few years – as a way to formulaically convince themselves NOT to trade in their green and gold hearts for a sparkly new black and orange one – that rating, and the movie itself, was almost, like, a reward for getting through the 2011 season. And, the 2010 season. And while we’re at it, the three seasons before that, as well.

In the years since Moneyball has become a technique in the baseball world, there are two types of A’s fans: those who are “with” Billy Beane and those who, well, aren’t. Me, I’m a member of “Team Against.” But, honestly, it’s probably only because that’s the stance my father has taken over the years and – doing his job to raise me as a loyal fan of the White Elephants, even in losing seasons, I just kind of copy him in every opinion possible.

The A’s have not had a winning season since 2006 when they followed up their ALDS sweep of the Twins by getting broomed by the Tigers in the ALCS. Sitting in the movie theater – which I saw opening night at Oakland’s own Grand Lake Theater (because watching it at another venue would be true fan blasphemy) I couldn’t help but remember watching all those games wishing and hoping for another outcome.

The movie itself was perfectly executed. And, yes there were some obvious places where the filmmakers took creative license to make it into a “better”(?) story. For instance, there’s a scene where Beane announces that he wants to have Jason Giambi’s brother, Jeremy, as part of the 2002 team. But, all of us A’s fans can’t ever forget (no matter how hard we try) that Jeremy was already part of the squad – no doubt spending 2002 reeling from his infamous not-sliding-into-home play during the 2001 Division Series, the very faux pas that resulted in the Yankees ultimately advancing to the next round of the playoffs. But, considering that Moneyball is a movie – and not real life – fictionalizing parts of what really happened seems necessary and not sacrilege. And, in general, although I’ve never personally met Mr. Beane, from what I can tell Pitt played him to a T. From his hot-headed temper to his mannerisms to his perfect hair, it was a movie that was more about Billy Beane, the man, than the A’s themselves.

From a filmic perspective, it makes sense that the A’s weren’t heavily featured in Moneyball. From the earliest scenes in the movie, Beane makes it very clear that he doesn’t really see the players in a personal light: he doesn’t watch them play– he listens to the games on the radio instead; he doesn’t take an interest in their lives– he sees them as statistics. To him, they’re merely walking, talking W’s and L’s and as long as he keeps a fair distance they’re expendable, tradeable, DFA-able, et ceter-able if need be. So, from this perspective, it only makes sense that screenwriters Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin and director Bennett Miller would keep the A’s presence more OFF the screen than ON. Which, they do. Throughout the 133 minutes I spent sitting in that theater, however, I found myself waiting in on-the-edge-of-my-seat anticipation for the scene that drastically featured the personalities of that fairy-tale team. Because, the movie had to have it, right?

Surely no motion picture about the 2002 Oakland Athletics wouldn’t include a scene with Barry Zito – the team’s ace pitcher whose 23-5 record won him the Cy Young award despite not making it past the American League Division Series, right? I mean, there certainly had to be a part that showed Zito’s lovable downward-dog-on-the-field self goofing off with his “Big Three” companions, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder, right? No? Ok, well there would most definitely be some sort of montage that highlighted the notorious twenty-up, twenty-down streak, right? Something that showed how truly remarkable that 2002 roster was, right? Just a little – just a TINY – something that showed them laughing, and fooling around in the dugout, causing us fans to think, “Jeez, these dudes look like they’re having so much fun – I wish I could be their friend,” which is what we were ALL thinking, be tea dubs. But, that clip…that clip that showed how absolutely infectious that team was – as a whole – how absolutely magical the summer at that dilapidated coliseum in Oakland was, how fun it was to watch Miguel Tejada come up to bat, how great it was to see Oakland in the MLB limelight, that clip just never came.

Yes, the movie included the A’s twenty-game winning streak – it’d be impossible to make a movie about that year in baseball without doing so. But, even so, the scene left me feeling hungry and dissatisfied. It made it seem like the 2002 A’s were a total fluke. Like they weren’t even really ‘that good’. Like the entire country wasn’t watching them. But they were. Everyone was.

When I left the theater I ‘got it’. I understood that a movie about Billy Beane, the man couldn’t simultaneously be about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, the players. It just couldn’t. Not when the two are so separate. Regardless of my longing for ‘more Zito’ (because yum!), ‘more Miggy’, ‘more A’s’, what happened as I was exiting the theater is what solidified Moneyball as a film for me: I heard people who said they didn’t like baseball say they ‘loved’ the movie. And, that’s what it was. A movie. Nothing more. Moneyball did a stellar job of showing that you don’t have to know anything about baseball, or baseball history, to fall in love with a movie about one. So, job well done, Moneyball cast and crew – or should I say, job HELLA well done. And, hey, it could’ve been worse: it could have been another movie about the Yankees or Red Sox…

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