Life lessons taken from a baseball flick

  • October 25, 2011

It’s been said that baseball is like church. Many attend, but few understand.

That may or may not be so. But while watching Brad Pitt’s new hit movie Moneyball, my mind kept wandering and I couldn’t help but think “this isn’t just a baseball movie. It’s about life; a metaphor about relationships, limiting irrational emotion and making improvements day after day.” (No doubt my wife’s mind was wandering in a different direction seeing Pitt up there on the big screen.)

Good baseball movies tend to hit my sentimental side and make me think of things beyond the game or the particular movie, from Field of Dreams and The Natural to Bang the Drum Slowly and The Pride of the Yankees.

Moneyball isn’t even the first baseball movie that made me think of church. That would have been Bull Durham and Susan Sarandon’s hilarious scene when she confesses:

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us…”

In Moneyball, Pitt plays Billy Beane, the general manager of the cash-poor Oakland Athletics. Ten years ago, Beane was the first in baseball to build a team based on sabermetrics, or objective, empirical evidence. He tossed away gut feelings and the “old way of doing things” and began measuring more important things like on-base percentage instead of simply batting average.

Crisply written and fast-paced, the movie speaks in monosyllables like: Buy wins. Buy runs. Rich teams. Poor teams. He gets on base. Who are you? Shake things up. This simplicity of language was the first thing that got me thinking there are lessons to be learned here. Baseball is a complex game. Life is complicated. But keep things simple. You will fare better. Keep moving.

Then there is the message that everyone has value. Sometimes others don’t see the value, but all people have value. Isn’t that what the Gospel teaches us, too?

In the movie’s case, it’s Beane’s assistant general manager, played by a nerdy, numbers-crunching Jonah Hill, who says: “Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players. Your goal should be to buy wins and in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs. I believe there is a championship team that we can afford because everyone else undervalues them. (These players are) like an island of misfit toys.”

We all know how much richer our lives become when we do the simplest things to help the downtrodden, whether that is volunteering at a food bank, visiting a hospice or even buying a street person a Tim Horton’s coffee.

Another message the movie pounded home was: don’t make decisions in the heat of the moment, measure all available data and then with cool determination make an honest choice. For example, Pitt desperately wanted his stubborn field manager (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to play one of his new recruits. Hoffman refused over and over. Instead of blasting the manager or firing him, Pitt decided to trade away players and force Hoffman to play his moneyball guys. The team went on to win a record 20 games in a row and win their division in 2002.

How many times have we reacted too quickly and said something or did something we regretted later? Emotion is not stripped away in Moneyball, but it is harnessed. A lovely message for kids and adults alike.

Finally, and ironically given the title, Moneyball strikes the right chord and reminds us that money can’t buy happiness. After Beane proves his mettle, the rich Boston Red Sox come a calling. He turns down the highest contract for a general manager in all of sports because Boston was too far from California, where his daughter lived with her mother.

Maybe there were other reasons and that was a typical schmaltzy Hollywood ending, but who really cares? It is nice to be reminded that sometimes less money makes us richer.

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