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‘Moneyball’ Doesn’t Need to Be Accurate to Be a Classic

It’s our latest entry into the Sports Movie Hall of Fame

(Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

Moneyball was nominated for six Academy Awards, but never got to take home any hardware. Well now it has a more prestigious honor: Induction into our Sports Movie Hall of Fame. Bill Simmons and Chris Ryan discuss why the movie is a classic, even though it took a handful of creative liberties.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Every Movie Takes Creative Liberties

Chris Ryan: I know that when this movie came out in 2011, a lot of people had problems with its accuracy. Not only its accuracy to the book but the accuracy in terms of how it represented that season and whether or not it was telling a much different story than the truth. And I totally understand that. But here we are in 2016. Do you really care what happened on the 2002 Oakland A’s? Like is that the important part? … If Moneyball had never come out to taint your memory of that team, would Mark Mulder’s accomplishments be that much more dimmed this year? Now we have this great movie, and then, if you like the A’s, you know what Barry Zito did back then, right?

Bill Simmons: I don’t think people realize that every movie that’s based on something takes dramatic liberties [with] whatever the facts actually were. But in sports, it’s like, “We know what the facts were.”

C.R.: Yeah. Totally. Totally. I mean you often see that with these movies that come out you know like really soon after or during historical moments, whether it’s Zero Dark Thirty or W., the Oliver Stone movie.

B.S.: Or Primary Colors.

C.R.: Snowden.

B.S.: Yeah, all that stuff.

C.R.: [When] people try to make movies right on the back of history, I think the audience’s expectations and familiarity with the story is such that they are not willing to forgive mistakes. And nobody is going to be more unforgiving than a baseball fan, and especially baseball fans that are into advanced metrics.

‘Moneyball’ Swept the 2002 A’s Pre-Existing Talent Under the Rug

B.S.: The Carlos Peña thing is kind of a red herring. They made it seem like this guy was the Rookie of the Year. “He’s been amazing. Oh, [Billy Beane’s] going to take such a gamble and trade him to get [Scott] Hatteberg.” And meanwhile in real life, they sent [Peña] down because he was hitting like .190. That’s a tough one. I wish they would have finagled that. They made Chad Bradford seem like this amazing guy and actually the guys who did well on that team I don’t think were people that were part of the Moneyball strategy.

C.R.: I mean Eric Chavez is in it, right? And he got cut.

B.S.: Jermaine Dye had a big season. He was there.

C.R.: Yeah. Terrence Long was on that team.

The Movie Is Really About a Different Way of Looking at Sports

B.S.: They had good pitchers that were there already. But I think it was more of the mentality of just, “We gotta do something different.” And the fact that they thought they could replace Jason Giambi, who was the MVP, and they just looked at what his stats were and [were] like, “How could we piece this together with multiple people?”

C.R.: With his brother [Jeremy Giambi], Scott Hatteberg, and some other guy that nobody had ever heard of.

B.S.: And what are the inefficiencies to exploit? Which is really the lesson of the movie … and something that has completely changed sports over the last 15 years.

C.R.: Absolutely.

B.S.: One of quotes in here was: “People are overlooked for a variety of [biased] reasons [and perceived] flaws.” Jonah Hill says that.

C.R.: Yeah. The island of misfit toys.

Though It Was a Little Disrespectful to Scouts

B.S.: [There’s] the scouts and the old guys and that classic quote of when they’re talking about one guy. [A scout’s] like, “He’s got an ugly girlfriend.” That’s the way scouts talked back then. They just didn’t look at things.

C.R.: So do you think it’s offensive to scouts the way [that] they characterize them?

B.S.: I would hope it was offensive to them because they completely marginalized them and made it seem like their way was dying.

C.R.: And they make it this Freudian thing almost where it’s like Beane’s revenge against the scouts who lied to him about how good he was. Or just didn’t accurately project what he was going to do.

B.S.: Yeah, they make that a theme in the movie and I don’t know how accurate it was about what stemmed Billy Beane’s resentment of this whole system.

C.R.: That’s in the book, right. Like there’s some stuff in the book about him being a five-tool player.

B.S.: Yeah. I would say some of that had to exist.

C.R.: But is the implication in the book that he’s like, “I would’ve just like gone to Stanford, or something, if it hadn’t been these guys who dissuaded me from doing that?”

B.S.: Well the part that’s unrealistic is when he asked Jonah Hill, “when would you have drafted me?” He’s like, “I looked at your stats. Ninth round.” C’mon.