'Moneyball': The movie may be great – but does it do justice to the book?

Like 'The Blind Side' – another Michael Lewis book turned into a movie – 'Moneyball' is complex. Did Hollywood capture it?

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    Is "Moneyball" a movie about baseball, a Brad Pitt vehicle – or a little of both?
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With its premiere today, the movie version of “Moneyball” – based on the Michael Lewis book about the changing world of professional baseball – seems poised for success, with good reviews coming in from almost every direction.

But does the movie really do justice to the book?

"Moneyball" garnered a huge following when it was published in 2003 with its story of how general manager for the Oakland A's Billy Beane used new ways of analyzing data. Beane had a limited budget for Oakland, so he couldn’t go the traditional route of using big money to buy expensive players. Instead, he looked at criteria like on-base percentages, or how often a batter gets to base barring a fielding error, fielder’s obstruction, and other stats.

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For baseball, it was a new way of thinking, and it prompted criticism from some old-guard members of the sport at the time.

Some fans of the book worried that when "Moneyball" went to the big screen it would lose its genuine engagement with baseball. And at least one movie critic is already saying that it has. Peter Hartlaub, a pop culture critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, says the movie adaptation loses many of the book’s complexities. “The big-screen adaptation of Michael Lewis' engaging 2003 book is also filled with compromises,” Hartlaub writes. “Someone crammed 'Major League'-style sports cliches into a more nuanced story about baseball and progress – and then tried to fit a Brad Pitt star vehicle inside of that.”

But other fans of the book are saying that the movie holds up. Jon Korn, a shorts programmer for the Sundance Film Festival who writes for non-profit news organization The Bay Citizen, says he liked the book and the movie is also just fine.

Bennett Miller made a film that is about baseball the same way Michael Lewis’ book is about baseball,” he wrote. Korn says the film isn’t without missteps, but that overall, the spirit of the book is there. “Unless you can never bear to see something you loved changed in any way, 'Moneyball' the film is safe for devotees of Lewis’ book,” Korn says.

The movie adaptation of “The Blind Side,” faced controversy from readers who thought the movie was simplified and heavy-handed. “The transformation of Lewis’ later book on poverty and football offensive line strategy, ‘The Blind Side,’ into feel-good Sandra Bullock Oscar-bait didn’t help,” Korn writes of fans’ fears for the “Moneyball” adaptation.

What got lost in "The Blind Side," in the opinion of its critics? There were changes in details of the story of the Tuohy family helped footballer Michael Oher, and the movie also left out the book's consideration of how football changed, including changes in the importance of the passing offense, the quarterback, and the left tackle (which Oher played).

Will the viewers of "Moneyball" be more likely to agree with Hartlaub or Korn? Stay tuned for more online commentary.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor correspondent.

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