"See, I am doing something new! Now as it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" Isaiah 43:19
Moneyball is a film about charting a new and creative course of action against those who entrench themselves in long-standing traditions and presumptions... and to some degree, it's about baseball.
The movie is a dramatic re-telling (done very well, I might add) of a rather dull concept: the movement of high-level baseball executives towards relying more on analysis and sabermetric approaches to scouting ball players. But the producers of this film (and a creative writing team that includes the brilliant Aaron Sorkin) have transformed an otherwise boring piece into a David-vs-Goliath, come-from-behind tale of incredible proportions.
The story follows Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), General Manager of the Oakland Athletics (As), who is haunted by fact that, no matter how far he takes his team, he still loses the last game of the year every time. It's a sports irony that the team that loses the World Series (or the SuperBowl for that matter) is more embarrassed than the team that ended their season in last place. As the movie begins, we see that in 2001, the As went to the playoffs and lost to the New York Yankees (and in the off-season, lost three of its top players in trades to other high-profile teams, including the Yankees). Regardless of the As success, Beane can't help but feel miserable.
Into this fray comes Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a fictionalized version of a real-life executive, Paul DePodesta, a young adult economics expert fresh out of the Ivy League who believes that something new must be done to shake up the long-standing tradition of baseball scouting. Brand's method relies more on stats and numbers than on gut instinct, which is what had carried major league scouting for decades. Beane, who himself was scouted on a gut reaction to his high school ball playing and subsequently failed in the big leagues, sees that this might be his ticket to ending the curse of losing that season's last game.
The complicated sabermetric system that Beane and Brand put into place has a strikingly simple goal: to get the ball players to first base. As Brand puts it, hits mean runs and runs mean wins. So the key is not to plan elaborate moves or media-friendly personalities in the field, but to simply get onto base. One step at a time - and the first step is the most important.
While this sounds natural, the film shows that the other scouts, the news media, and the As manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) are furious of this change. For them, to ignore fielding and crowd-pleasing players is just plain silly. But Beane and Brand stick to their method, in the hope that something fresh and new will win the day.
While society lauds its greatest heroes as those pioneers who charted new territory, it is still so very difficult to try anything new. The "default" position of many people is to maintain the status quo and live within their comfort zone. Businesses, family life, sports, governments, the film industry, the media, financial institutions (and yes, even churches) prefer to keep things as safe and stable as possible.
But faith teaches us something different - though often with much resistance throughout history. Patriarchs, prophets, and evangelists have all gone against the status quo (and many have been exiled, shunned, or even killed as a result). Why? Because ours is a God of shattered expectations!
In Isaiah, God tells his people: "Remember not the events of the past. And the things that have been done since long ago, consider not. See, I am doing something new! Now as it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" (Is. 43:18-19)
For as adventurous as we want to appear, we long to keep the status quo. We like things the way they always have been and always should be. God knows this flaw and gently tries to move us to new heights. Whether in our faith lives, at home, or in our work, God urges us to never become too settled, lest we miss an opportunity or a chance to move forward and upward.
There is also a great analogy of God's desire to break the status quo with the ball playing methods that Beane and Brand proposed: just get on base, one step at a time. We often fear change because we get overwhelmed at the possibilities it gives us. We fear it so much that we forget to look five feet in front of us (or in baseball, 90 feet to first base) to realize that real change begins not with an explosion but with a footstep.
Are there areas in your life (at home, at work, in your faith journey, in your relationships, and so forth) where you feel that you're simply maintaining the status quo? As a result of this, do you feel that you're just treading water and really moving no where? Is God calling you to change - to perceive something new?
Each of us has been there - and it can be frightening to change because it means leaving the comfort zone. But God is always there with us (see Mt. 28:20 for proof), urging us on to make that change one simple step at time. It's not always going to be easy to make these new moves - and like Beane and Brand, there will be resistance from others, temptation to give up, and frustration that things aren't changing fast enough. But with God by our side, we are challenged to never give up, never surrender.
Let us pray that we may all have the wisdom and courage to uproot the status quo that might be draining us - and to try new things, to set off in a new direction, and to chart a new course towards a world that will transform us. God be with us as we go.