Aaron at the movies: “Moneyball” review

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Last night I attended an advance screening of the “Moneyball” movie, which is set for a wide release on September 23.

I’ve read Michael Lewis’ book twice and consider it some of the best, most important baseball writing of all time, but I was never quite sure how exactly it could be turned into a compelling narrative film. And I’m still not sure, but I do know that it was definitely an enjoyable two hours.

As a hardcore baseball fan who paid close attention to Billy Beane and the A’s during the period portrayed in the film there were a lot of specifics that stood out as questionable, particularly in terms of the movie’s time lines and exaggerated portrayals of certain characters (although the book is guilty of the latter as well).

However, what the movie lacked in historical accuracy it made up for in witty dialogue, likable characters, and a surprising amount of humor. I saw the movie in a packed theater and there were at least 8-10 moments where the entire audience laughed out loud, which certainly isn’t what I expected.

Brad Pitt is charming as A’s general manager Billy Beane and an effort was clearly made to portray him as far less cocky and far more vulnerable than he appeared in the book. There’s still an inherent cockiness to the character, but by making his 12-year-old daughter a substantial character and giving Pitt plenty of chances to contemplatively stare off into the distance while rubbing his stubble the main character is less brash general manager and more flawed human with a high-pressure job.

Jonah Hill is the movie’s second lead and plays the A’s assistant general manager, which is a position that Paul DePodesta actually held at the time of the Moneyball book. DePodesta reportedly refused to let the movie use his name and it’s easy to see why, as the “Peter Brand” character out-weighs him by about 150 pounds and is essentially the stereotypical stat-head, whereas DePodesta played both baseball and football at Harvard and had a completely different and less cliched backstory.

Which isn’t to say Hill’s fictional character isn’t likable, because he carried much of the movie and provided most of the comic relief as the chubby numbers guy thrust into a prominent job that’s way out of his element initially. Pitt and Hill work very well off each other and Parks and Recreation co-star Chris Pratt has some good moments as Scott Hatteberg, although the portrayal of the 14-year big-league veteran veered too close to Rudy Ruettiger territory at times.

Philip Seymour Hoffman plays manager Art Howe and is given by far the most thankless role of the movie, essentially serving as the villain to Beane’s hero. Howe’s relationship with Beane was far from ideal and he left the A’s following back-to-back 100-win seasons, but it’s hard to imagine the actual Howe being as stubborn and difficult as Hoffman’s version. Beane’s character needed roadblocks and frequent conflict, and Howe did little beyond serving that role.

While creative license was taken with plenty of time lines and specifics, the film also does an excellent job of staying true to the most minute details. They mention dozens of actual players, mostly in situations that actually existed, and all of the recreations of games featured the players who were truly involved. When you see the A’s playing the Royals and Luis Ordaz is on second base, you know they combed through the boxscores in order to get every little thing correct.

Parts of the movie dragged on and there were predictable struggles to show rather than tell when the action was lacking, but director Bennett Miller was able to squeeze more drama out of the book than I anticipated. I came into the movie with low expectations and was bothered by some of the poetic license taken in telling a tale I’m very familiar with, but the underdog story is compelling, the individual performances are mostly very good, the Aaron Sorkin-penned dialogue is funny and charming, and “Moneyball” is absolutely worth seeing.

For a lot more “Moneyball” talk, check out the podcast I recorded immediately after seeing the movie.

Jeff Mathis has an avulsion fracture in his right hand

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Diamondbacks catcher Jeff Mathis has an avulsion fracture in his right hand, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. As Piecoro explains, an avulsion fracture is when a ligament comes off of the bone and pulls fragments of bone with it.

Mathis is likely done for the season, but he wants to see hand specialist Dr. Don Sheridan, per Piecoro. He suffered the injury on Monday when he was hit in the hand with a foul tip.

Mathis, 34, hit an uninspiring .213/.276/.322 in 200 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks, but was a plus defensively. Chris Iannetta and Chris Herrmann will handle catching duties with Mathis out for at least a while.

Dodgers place Cody Bellinger and Alex Wood on the 10-day disabled list

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The Dodgers announced on Tuesday that first baseman Cody Bellinger and starter Alex Wood were placed on the 10-day disabled list. Bellinger has a sprained right ankle and Wood is dealing with left SC joint inflammation. To take their spots on the roster, the Dodgers recalled pitchers Brock Stewart and Josh Ravin from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Bellinger, 22, has had an outstanding rookie season, batting .274/.356/.612 with 34 home runs and 79 RBI in 419 plate appearances. Fortunately, the Dodgers just got Adrian Gonzalez back from the DL, so their first base situation is already handled.

Wood, 26, has had a career year. He’s 14-1 with a 2.41 ERA and a 127/30 K/BB ratio over 123 1/3 innings. He’s been successful despite his velocity declining more and more with every passing month this season. The Dodgers’ rotation is already in disarray, so losing Wood hurts even more. On the bright side, Clayton Kershaw should be returning from the disabled list soon.