Few movies are able to communicate their main idea, using only one scene, better than Moneyball does when Billy Beane first meets with his scouts and talent developers. The scene is perfect. The film had established the depths to which the Oakland A’s had fallen in the wake of their team’s pilfering at the hands of richer organization, as well as the unwavering tiny budget Beane had to work with.
At that point, it is impossible to imagine how Beane would dig them out of this hole, but there was one thing they certainly could not do…. pretend like nothing happened, resume business as usual, bury their heads in the sand and hope everything would be okay. Pick your cliché, apply as necessary.
And what I love about the scout scene, is that Pitt doesn’t need to speak a word, doesn’t need to deliver a single line, to make all of this infinitely clear. As he sits and listens to clichés, intuition, and ‘I can feel it in my gut’ bullshit from old men with hearing aids and spit cups, who haven’t thought about how to do their job since Murderer’s Row batted in New York, the viewers, for just a moment, become mind readers.
His perceived thoughts (and subsequent lines) strike to the core of what Moneyball is about- adopting a new mindset amidst old ideology, disrupting the system, getting out from under ‘the way it has always been done.’ Because in this story, doing it the way it has always been done, even in a sport rich with superstition and belief, is lunacy. The routine had to change in the one area of American life that is most steeped in tradition and immobility- baseball. And as good as Billy’s lines are…
“You guys are just talking…”
“You’re not even looking at the problem…”
“You guys are talking the same ole’ good body nonsense, like we’re selling jeans…”
…the true gold in this scene, are the scouts’ diagnoses of why a player is worth drafting/developing.
In those lines, we can hear a world that needs disrupting. Their words embody the old men who speak them, who have power and hold on to that power and abuse that power through a lack of intellectual integrity and honest thinking. These old men represent the parts of the world that want to play by the prescribed rules when those rules no longer apply. And they blame someone or something else when they don’t get the result they want. Or worse, maybe they don’t actually care what happens. Their role is to fill a seat and do a job, and any thinking outside of those parameters is beyond them.
They are dinosaurs. And this scene portrays them this way and helps us understand the motivations of the wave of disruptors in the economy over the last two decades. No story encompasses these men and women better than Moneyball, and no single person embodies it better than Billy Beane. So I thought I’d look at some of the best cliched lines the scouts use to explain why they like a player, because they are incredible…
“I like guys like that got a little hair on their ass.”
This opener is a doozy. In the previous scene, Billy just threw his phone in disgust after getting played by Damon’s agent, and we, and he, walk into this bullshit. The logic of a line like this is ridiculous, hairy ass=good ball player. However, the info-gathering implications are frightening. These old men have been places, and we aren’t talking about Cleveland.
“Clean-cut, good face.
Yeah, good jaw.”
You wonder where an idea like this originates. I get that looks have always played an interesting role in who gets to play and who does not, starting with little kids. I have even heard the logic of this slippery slope- good looking kids have more confidence, they demand the ball more, they get more opportunities, then they become self-fulfilling prophecies. But at the point where talent scouts are using it as criteria to judge who should play in the Show, we are beyond some pee wee coaching bias. These old men think this is a reason someone will be good, and it makes me wonder why. Is it a weird inferiority complex gone awry, are they trying to amend for their own deficits by acknowledging it as a strength in others… who knows?
“Got an ugly girlfriend… means no confidence.”
I’d like a look at one of these scouting reports. What column does this go under? Actually, much more likely, this is just a kernel the old man put in the ole’ steel trap, because he is prone to ogling player’s girlfriends, and while doing so, the stray ugly girl catches his attention, with a twinge of disappointment. ‘Must be something wrong with this guy dating a girl like that…’
The layer of misogyny on this one is too hard not to notice. This is a group of men who miss the 50s when the woman was just an additive to the man, where she could be described in what she adds to the man. They’ve convinced themselves they are using their intuition, when it’s all just worldview and bias. And gross ones at that.
“The guy’s got an attitude… This the kind of guy, he walks in the room his dick’s already been there for two minutes.”
I actually kind of like this one. Not as a way to judge baseball players, but we are well past that. This just seems like a great way to describe a dude. Like I have no fucking clue what it means, but I feel like I understand what kind of guy we are talking about, for good or for bad.
This scene works because baseball is a world where this is the actual logic used. It is steeped in intuition and the ‘eye test,’ and Moneyball uses these men and this world as a stand-in for all those areas of life that think they know better, and fight like hell to avoid new ideas or new modes of operation.
These guys are begging to be disrupted.
And these quotes serve as a hilarious, and truthful look into the way some are comfortable maintaining the status quo, even to the point of absurdity, and it creates a hero out of Billy Beane and the entire generation of men and women trying to punch up and through a layer of intuition and ‘the way it’s always done.’
But I can’t say it any better than John Henry did to Billy Beane towards the end of the movie. So hear he is…
“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall — he always gets bloody. Always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins — have their hands on the switch — they go batshit crazy. Anyone who is not tearing their team right now and rebuilding it, using your model, they’re dinosaurs”
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