Who thought a movie about sport and statistics could be inspiring?
Sport + statistics = ?
Moneyball is a movie about sport, which is always going to be a tough sell for me. While I love strapping on the boots and running onto the field, sitting down to watch a game of rugby really isn’t my thing. I’m not much of a spectator. A movie about baseball, a sport I really only know about from watching American movies and TV? You’re really going to struggle to get my attention. On top of that, make the movie about baseball statistics? I mean really?? A movie about baseball and mathematics and you expect me to want to sit down in a cinema for two hours and watch? The only way a movie like that could be watchable was if it had a great cast and an entertaining script.
Fortunately for Moneyball, it has all of the above and more.
What is Moneyball about?
Moneyball is the true story of the Oakland A’s baseball team. Saddled with a budget a tenth of the size of the major teams, the A’s are struggling to afford to compete against the big boys. When their three best players are lured away to other teams with offers of larger pay checks, general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) doesn’t know what to do. He dreams of winning a championship but knows that he doesn’t have the resources to do so. When Beane discovers Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a sports statistician, the duo work together to challenge the conventions of team selection. This movie demonstrates that if you can’t beat the big boys by playing their game, then maybe it’s time to play the game differently.
There was a great danger that this movie could have devolved into countless scenes of Excel spreadsheets. After all, on the surface this movie is all about maths. But to think that this was the sum total of what this movie was about would be to miss the point. This is the story of a man who aspired to greatness, yet didn’t make the cut. Beane had dreams of being a baseball superstar. He showed a tonne of potential, yet he never managed to take his career to the next level. Now he’s the general manager of a struggling club, dealing with a failed marriage and desperately trying to maintain his relationship with his daughter. He still dreams of greatness, but reality doesn’t seem to be on his side. Brad Pitt does an excellent job of giving us a character that should, by all rights, be broken. Yet he refuses to give up. Paired with Jonah Hill, the two bring a very likable relationship to the screen, producing many laugh-out-loud moments. This isn’t a comedy, but you’ll be laughing none the less.
Thinking like the Oakland A's
The story of the Oakland A’s should be of interest to Christians for a couple of reasons. Firstly, take the concept of the under-funded Oakland A’s versus much richer teams. Then replace the A’s with the local church and the rich teams with the rest of the world. What we have here is an example of how trying to compete with the world on the world’s terms may not be our best way forward. The conventional wisdom, especially in youth ministry, is to put on a big, fun event that will bring in a lot of people, and then, once you have them all in one place, you can share the gospel with them. The idea behind this is that it’s possible to compete with the world on the world’s terms. The problem is, the world has far more options and a far bigger budget than the average local church. Even then, I’ve seen our local council try and put on a youth event, with a big budget and lots of entertainment to bring the young people in. And the event was a fizzer. The odds are against you before you even begin.
Like the Oakland A’s, we need to rethink the game. Beane and Brand pulled apart the team, looked for their hidden strengths, the gold that laid untapped within them. And then they did everything they could to bring that gold to light. As a Christian church, we have something that the rest of the world undervalues. Yet it is something that is uniquely ours. And it is something that should be front and centre in our ministries. We have the gospel.
”But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
We have a message that points people to salvation. We have a message that contains the only means someone can be in a right relationship with God. Yet the temptation is to take this message and hide it. To concentrate on the trappings of this world to win people over. Why play the same game as the world, when we have something that is of greater power right at our fingertips?
Looking below the surface
The Oakland A’s abandoned the practice of looking for the players that were the most impressive, the best looking. Instead, they looked for the undervalued skills that these players possessed that could lead to victory. And in response, they got results. How often do we overlook people in our churches because they aren’t the up-front, extroverted superstar? How about that faithful young person who rocks up to church every week and is always the first person to say hi to a newcomer? What about that girl who has a great prayer life and is always looking for new things to add to her prayer list? Or the bloke who, always without fail, is the one to set up for church, without anyone ever noticing what he’s doing? God has given us all kinds of gifted people. Like the Oakland A’s, we need to think outside of the box when it comes to the people at church. What great things could we do for the kingdom if we harnessed all of their skills and not just the obvious guys?
The final word
Moneyball is a film that I thought wouldn’t interest me. Instead it had my attention the whole time. It’s funny and engaging. If you’re looking for a movie that spends 80% of the time showing people playing baseball, this isn’t that movie. Instead, it’s a fascinating look of what goes on behind the scenes of a baseball team and, in particular, the story of a man who sought to find a better, more fair way of doing things. It’s a movie that I enjoyed and would recommend.