One would really have to be a huge baseball fan (or live in Oakland) to even know who the heck Billy Beane is.


As a player, his biggest claim to fame was his total failure as a prime pitching prospect and a complete washout as an outfielder with the Mets (the team that drafted him), the Minnesota Twins, the Detroit Tigers, and the Athletics - with whom he still works.


As his pathetic playing career spiraled to an end, he convinced the A's team management that he would be a fine and dandy advanced scout. He could, in essence, find players just like he was and avoid them at all costs.

Over the next few years he was promoted to assistant General Manager and then ultimately followed Sandy Alderson as general manager of a team with a market so small it really couldn't afford to compete with the likes of the Yankees, Angels, Red Sox or even their neighbors across the bay, the San Francisco Giants. The new owners, being frugally challenged assigned Beane to find a way to make a competitive team within a two dollar budget.


This is what director Bennet Miller's latest docudrama "Moneyball" is all about. You'll remember Miller as the director of "Capote" which won Phillip Seymour Hoffman a Best Acting Oscar for his portrayal of Truman Capote.


But Truman Capote was a very well know quantity. Moreover he was, flamboyantly an interesting character to start. People know about him - not all the details - but enough to bring them to the theater to see the film.


Miller will be counting heavily on the waning popularity of baseball and the timing of releasing the film just as the playoffs begin. He is also counting on the popularity of Brad Pitt to draw the audience. Mind you Pitt, though popular in the tabloids for his romantic endeavors - has never really been a big box office draw.

Yet this is why "Moneyball" succeeds. Despite flaws in the actual timeline of events.


Pitt plays Billy Beane. He adds this jutted out lantern jaw pose - that he perfected in "Inglorious Bastards" - to make Beane look more like a hard thinking, take charge kind-of-guy.


The film takes us behind the scenes of the Oakland A's at the time they just finished losing Jason Giambi to the New York Yankees because the A's could no longer afford him.


Faced with the challenge of replacing his hitting and run production with a low budget Beane seemingly has his back against the wall. That is until a visit to the Cleveland Indians to discuss possible trades, he notices that the head office guys constantly turned to a low level young man for advice. The young man, Peter Brand (played brilliantly by Jonah Hill) is using his own philosophy called sabermetric principles to get the same production out of undervalued players.


Beane convinces Brand to jump Cleveland's ship and come work at the A's. Brand's idea is to get run production out of discount players by analyzing how runs are scored rather than how a player performs. This is a concept that is lost on the teams head coach, Art Howe (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who believes in old school management and is also concerned about his own contract.


Beane, nevertheless backs him into a corner and Howe obliges Beane and team ownership. Of course, there are inaccuracies throughout the film; the time frames to begin with... but that is the magic of "Moneyball".


With his cast of talented actors, Miller manages to make an insignificant nano-second of baseball history seem important. He makes and uninteresting person...interesting.


"Moneyball" wins as the right movie at the right time of year, even though the A's are not contenders, it tells a fun story of how their practices became the norm in today's baseball climate.   -- GEOFF BURTON