Spoiler alert: I essentially unpack the whole movie in this review, which I consider a leadership parable.
Once upon a time…
There was a young leader–we’ll call his name Billy–who was frustrated with the way things were going for his baseball team. Year after year, he and his fellow coaches and players would follow the same program that had always been done in baseball. And every year, they would fall short. Their small franchise couldn’t compare to the large mega-teams with the fancy facilities and loads of income, though they kept trying to imitate the success of the mega-teams’ program.
Billy was fed up with banging his head against a wall. He was tired of thinking that the same programs would someday miraculously produce different results. This fatigue forced him to begin rethinking the very paradigm and philosophy behind the game. His team wasn’t a mega-team, so why bother acting like one? He began to openly doubt and question not onlyhow things were done, but why they were done in the first place. He approached the elders of his team with a radical new philosophy and approach, asking them to be on board with a sharply different direction. They didn’t like it. Change is always hard, but this particular change felt heretical to the game of baseball, a move towards death instead of life. Billy disagreed. He knew that without adapting to new vision and values, they would become extinct. It was a huge risk–this had never been done before!–but something that Billy strongly believed needed to be pursued.
Part of the shift was finding value in players who didn’t necessarily fit into the former paradigm. Instead of judging people by their appearance or girlfriends or past behavior, Billy only cared about how they would fit on their team with their particular skills. Many of these players were being given second chances, offered grace instead of rejection and hope instead of defeat. This would not be a team built around star players or singular champions. This would be an actual team, a cadre of fellow-minded players who would utilize their particular gifts in order to win the game.
Billy put his new ideas into practice. Their team started off with a losing season. For all the theories and ideas that seemed right on paper, the losses seemed to reveal otherwise. Billy’s decriers had plenty of fuel for their criticisms. Some angrily abandoned the team; others quietly brooded as they waited for an opportunity to move elsewhere. But Billy was tenacious, having a long obedience in the same direction. He believed that while things appeared bleak in the short-term, it was the long-term results that truly mattered. Baseball is a game of patience–there are over 160 games in the regular season, many of which last well beyond the ninth inning. Billy was practicing patience.
Then something began to shift. The team began to win. And win. And win. Soon they were on their way to setting a record winning streak, accomplishing something that no one else had seen in the history of baseball. The public who had previously demanded Billy’s head on a platter were now cheering for the team he had created. Strangely, the credit was given to other leaders on the team; Billy was rarely mentioned as the driver behind the success. But Billy didn’t mind; this wasn’t about him. Only the mission of a winning season mattered, not personal praise or recognition for creativity and triumph. The team set a record, inspiring millions as their risky innovations paid off. That also didn’t matter much to Billy. For Billy, success was determined by the long-term fruit of the season. He wanted to win the last game of the season.
Billy eventually was recognized for his risky leadership. He was offered a great deal of money from a mega-team to come lead, showing the world that he truly was a valuable leader and person. But, for Billy, value wasn’t found in the money or the recognition. He wasn’t doing this to create a successful season or build a fantastic program. He simply loved the game. He loved his family too, and was not willing to sacrifice his relationship with his daughter for the team he cherished. Billy continued to pursue risk and innovation, all while striving to make sure his team won the last game of the season.
…and everyone lived happily ever after.
Billy’s story in Moneyball is true, not in the sense of being entirely historically accurate with its characters or timelines, but in that it resonates the deeper truths of faithfulness, risk, innovation, and what truly matters most. I wonder if those in the church, particularly in youth ministry, recognize some of those truths revealed in Billy’s tale. I wonder if we might not be inspired to take steps of faith and obedience, taking risks for the sake of the mission.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1210166/