Moneyball And 9 Other Sports Books That Would Make Terrible Sports Movies
Well, the highly anticipated movie adaptation of the Michael Lewis bestseller Moneyball finally hits theaters tomorrow. It stars Brad Pitt and is coming out right as MLB’s pennant races are getting interesting, so all signs point toward financial success. But does that mean it’s actually going to be a good sports movie?
Personally, I kind of doubt it. For one thing, the book is primarily about ideas, not athletic performance. And the ideas the book is about are hardly what you would call “inspiring.” You could say Rudy was all about ideas, but they were ideas like “heart” and “perseverance”—things that stir the emotions. Moneyball, on the other hand, is about fun stuff like “market efficiencies” and “statistical analysis.” Yay?
Yet the biggest reason I think the movie adaptation of Moneyball will be a disappointing sports film is that I know going in that [SPOILER ALERT] the Oakland Athletics don’t win squat. Sure, they make the playoffs, which would be incredible if they were in the same division as the Yankees or Red Sox. But they’re not. So either the movie fudges recent history (no one remembers 2002, right?), or this is going to be a sports movie that is essentially about how a team fails in the end.
And don’t even get me started about how Lewis over exaggerates the role of Billy Beane’s “market efficiencies” and underplays the influence of old-fashioned baseball assets like top-notch pitchers (Zito, Mulder, and Hudson) and juiced sluggers (Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi).
Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how the requirements for a good sports book are substantially different from the requirements for a good sports movie. So, in honor of tomorrow’s release of Moneyball, here’s a list of 9 other good sports books that would make terrible sports movies. Let me know if I missed any obvious choices.
9. Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, by Joan Ryan
This is a book about the physical and psychological trauma caused by the rigorous training practices in the world of competitive gymnastics and figure skating. You know, stuff like anorexia, bulimia, low bone density, stunted growth, delayed puberty, debilitating injuries, depression, suicide, and the loss of childhood innocence. Sounds like a fun read, doesn’t it?
Well, though it is depressing, it’s also a powerful and eye-opening read that is sheds light on important stuff. But it would make one hell of a bad sports movie. In fact, they actually did make a movie adaptation of this book. It starred Swoosie Kurtz and aired on the Lifetime network (“Television for Women”). That tells you just about all you need to know, doesn’t it?
8. The Breaks of the Game, by Dave Halberstam
Reporter Dave Halberstam followed the Portland Trailblazers around during their underwhelming 1979-80 season, when they went 38-44. It gives a great insider’s look at all the behind the scenes stuff in the NBA fans don’t normally get to see—egos, business, social life, personalities, and so on. So it’s a pretty great book for the serious sports fan. But would anyone really want to watch a sports movie about a terrible basketball team? A documentary, maybe, but not a “true-to-life” adaptation.
7. Baseball’s Great Experiment, by Jules Tygiel
This is probably the seminal book about one of baseball’s most important figures: Jackie Robinson. But it doesn’t just stop with Jackie. Tygiel also discusses the struggles of other black players over the course of about 12 years, painting a larger, more complex picture than the one Major League Baseball gives us that one day a year when everyone in the league wears #42.
Now, maybe you think this would make a great sports film. And you might be right. But I have a hunch that any major Hollywood studio would sensationalize this book and reduce the important issues it covers to little snippets that play well with test-audiences.
6. Three Nights in August, by Buzz Bissinger
This book gives a fascinating look at the minute details of day-to-day life in major league baseball, mostly from the perspective of one of the most successful managers of all time. It really is quite interesting to learn what goes on in the dugout when the team is and is not on the field. But Three Nights would make a pretty stupid movie. It’s tells the story of how a team (the St. Louis Cardinals) wins an important series against a heated rival (the Chicago Cubs) in the midst of a pennant race. If those “three nights in august” cemented the division championship for the Cardinals, yes, it would be a cool movie. But, like two weeks later, they lost 4 out of 5 games to the Cubs at Wrigley field and were essentially eliminated from the post-season. These sorts of historical facts are big buzz killers for sports movies.
5. Chi Running, by Danny Dreyer
Who couldn’t make use of a book that teaches you how to run all zen-like, providing access to new levels of physical fitness and spiritual awakening? In fact, I just added this tome to my cart on Amazon. Maybe I’ll finally not hate jogging.
Still, it’s quite obvious this book would be a terrible movie. But they’ve made movies out of boardgames and Disneyland rides, so I wouldn’t put it past Hollywood to give it a shot.
4. New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding, by Arnold Schwarzenegger
For someone looking for a definitive book about the history, culture, and essential techniques of bodybuilding, this one is for you. But a movie based on this book would really suck. It would just be, like, an hour and a half of dudes doing curls and drinking protein shakes. On the bright side, it could star the author himself, which might be a first for a sports book turned sports movie.
3. Unconscious Putting, by Dave Stockton
I’m going to let the Golf Digest description of this book do most of the talking:
“Stockton’s breakthrough concept is that every player has their own Signature Stroke, which is unconscious. Good putting comes from the mind, Stockton says, not from a series of stiff mechanical positions. With visualization, the right frame of mind, an efficient pre-putt routine, and connection to the individual internal stroke signature, any player can make far more putts. Putting has always been taught as an offshoot to the full swing, when in reality it is far different- almost a different game. Unconscious Putting will help players get out of the rigid, mechanical, overthinking trap.”
Are you serious? A whole effing book about putting? You know what, I think I’d actually like to see this made into a movie. It would be so bad that it would actually be good.
2. Football for Dummies, by Howie Long and John Czarnecki
Coming soon to a theater near you, from the director who brought you AC/DC Back in Black Liner Notes and IKEA Billy Bookshelf Assembly Instructions, comes a new film that will be sure to touch your heart and change your life: Football for Dummies, starring Bradley Cooper and Jessica Biel. (Narrated by Morgan Freeman.)
1. The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, by Bill James
No book in the last 30 years has changed any sport as much as The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract has changed baseball. Teams have fundamentally altered the way they evaluate performance, select players, and negotiate contracts thanks to the advanced statistics cultivated by Bill James. But a movie version of the Baseball Abstract would just be hours and hours of a guy sitting in his basement watching baseball and doing math. So let’s hope they don’t even attempt it.
Then again, who would have thought they’d make a movie version of Moneyball?