The Return of Baseball and the “Moneyball” Shutout

“64. Baseball means Spring’s Here.  Football means Winter’s Coming.”  

Thomas Boswell, 99 Reasons Why Baseball is Better than Football


Yes indeedy, spring is here, because today, March 2, baseball’s Spring Training games begin in earnest.


Baseball was also in the spotlight last Sunday at the annual Academy Awards, as the movie Moneyball, based loosely on the Michael Lewis book, was up for several important awards, including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Picture.


For me, Moneyball was my Number 1 movie of 2011, over such films as Hugo (which was indeed brilliant and should have received Best Picture honors over The Artist, an anachronism of a movie which will likely be forgotten soon), War Horse (another fantastic piece of filmmaking, complete with an ending straight out of a classic Walt Disney pic), and The Help (a moving story with a great ensemble cast).


I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Moneyball was completely shut out of the awards it was nominated for, and here’s why:  If you think about it, it was way too mainstream.  It was a “movie,” not a “film” – and that is a critical difference.


“Movies” are the mainstream fare you get at your local megaplex – stuff like Transformers, the Harry Potter and Twilight and Star Wars franchises (and the upcoming Hunger Games as well), the spy thrillers and war flicks and dramedies and rom-coms.  “Films,” on the other hand, are higher art; they’re way more serious.  They’re works you have to seek out at specialty theaters, usually in a foreign language.  This is not to say that “films” are bad things; in fact, there are some which are absolutely top-notch, like Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close was robbed!) and the French/Spanish-language The Women on the 6th Floor.


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, however, is trying to be more relevant to today’s theater-goers, and trying to be more inclusive of box-office megaplex hits, which in my opinion is a prime reason why Moneyball got the attention it did from the Academy – the first baseball-themed movie to receive a Best Picture nomination since the 1989 classic Field of Dreams.


For the United States, Moneyball was like a meaty fastball served up right down Broadway; it’s a baseball movie, and despite what some sports fans might tell you, Our National Pastime still holds a mighty sway over the American public.  Even still, its further focus on the A’s front office approach to player development, which was a main idea of the Lewis book, was made into a side item – who besides hard-core baseball fans, the statheads and fantasy GMs, had ever heard of sabermetrics before?


All of this adds up to make the movie a fringe piece, a curiosity to the approximately 6.1 billion others in the non-baseball playing world (well, except the strictly Brad Pitt fans).  As I was watching the Oscars telecast, I surmised that Moneyball, at best, would win for Best Adapted Screenplay; I should not have been surprised that Alexander Payne, who was responsible for one of my favorite past movies, Sideways, would capture the prize for his adaptation of The Descendants.


All criticism and disappointment aside, Moneyball is a worthy addition to the baseball filmography, and watching it, along with other greats like Field of Dreams, The Natural, and Major League are a great way to get a baseball fan’s heart beating just a little bit faster…and just in time for the Opening Series in Japan, and the April 4 debut of the Miami Marlins at their new ballpark.


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