On Men and “Moneyball”

From SABR member Judy Johnson at Seamheads.com on October 18, 2011:

“Moneyball” is a film full of men speaking largely in monosyllables.  This could mean that its screenwriters possess a vocabulary roughly equivalent to that of a five-year-old, which is clearly not the case, or it may suggest that the world of baseball is full of Neanderthals who grunt for a living, which on some level might be true.   But I think there’s more going on here.

The complexity of baseball is belied by the apparent simplicity of its vocabulary and its basic numbers, such as 3, 9, 6-4-3, and 0.

Monosyllables function eloquently and purposefully in “Moneyball.”     They are deceptively simple words that create important, urgent, and witty rhythms; they cut through nonsense in getting at the essence of baseball; they represent an earnest attempt to apprehend the truth of a game and its people, and perhaps an accompanying desire to manipulate these truths.


Monosyllables are important in “Moneyball,” because it is against the backdrop of simple language and old ideas that bigger words and newer ways of thinking about the game begin to make sense and gather momentum: “We create him in the aggregate.”

“The what?”

The veteran scouts sitting around a conference table at this  “dump” of a major league facility are real men playing themselves, speaking in monosyllables as they evaluate other human beings, and the screenplay is better for it, gruffly and endearingly so.

As numbers become higher and the formulae more challenging, the characters’ syntax grows more complex, as do their relationships.  In Bill James’s world, numbers are language.   When Billy Beane challenges his new assistant, an easy numeral comically gives way to higher digits.  At the same time, the film’s language moves from monosyllabic speech to phrases that are more sophisticated both syntactically and morally, and the new partnership subtly shifts to a higher intellectual and emotional level.

“I asked you to do three.   How many did you do?”

“Forty-seven … actually, fifty-one, I don’t know why I lied just then.”

Read the full article here: http://seamheads.com/2011/10/18/men-and-moneyball/

Originally published: October 18, 2011. Last Updated: October 18, 2011.