October 22, 2011

Moneyball: Within the framework of a baseball story, a real depiction of human emotions


Hi Frank – I don’t share your enthusiasm for Bull Durham (story posted on October 18), but I completely agree on Money Ball.

I saw the movie last week in a theater with about five other people ---they were enjoying the senior citizen discount while I had finally lost faith that Bonita was going to have the time on the same day that I was able to go to the movie.

Naturally, the movie had a different approach than the book; less emphasis on the team building aspects. Still, I thought it was a great performance by Brad Pitt that captured the pathos of a high draft pick from whom so much was expected – not everyone fulfills the goals others set for them. But the key was the relationship with his daughter. Just fantastic. I told Bonita it was the best movie I had seen in at least 10 years.

This is what you want in a movie -- within the framework of a baseball story, a real depiction of human emotions.

As an aside, I have always thought that the people who choose to deride Billy Beane as a “Money Ball” guy missed the entire point of the book and the underlying approach taken by the A’s. The critics (and baseball’s establishment – at least those who piled on the concept) thought Money Ball was about using computers (i.e. Sabrmetrics) to the exclusion of traditional scouting methods.

What the book and the concept was really about was the survival of an underfinanced baseball franchise finding a way to compete with high budget teams that are in a position, under the present system, to sign all the key free agents and that can afford to make mistakes in their budget.

The key for Oakland was the brilliance of “Building a Giambi” out of three players with an emphasis on on-base percentage when those skills were undervalued (or not valued) by the overall marketplace. In a nutshell, it was captured by the idea of signing Scott Hatteberg for almost nothing. When the rest of the baseball world saw a sorearmed catcher with below average power, the A’s saw an on-base machine who they thought they could teach to be a first baseman.

Also, the A’s were able to see through the star persona of a player like Johnny Damon who will probably last long enough to get 3,000 hits, but really does little (compared to the salary he has drawn for the last 10 years) to help his teams win. Fans see him as a winner because wherever he has been his teams make the playoffs. A more realistic view would be that he has always signed as a free agent with teams with such overwhelming offensive skills that they have been able to overcome the weakness of his defensive game, the non-necessity of his declining running game and his overrated bat.
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Bruce Paynter is an attorney and a long-time hobbyist from Chicago. He and his wife Bonita promoted the highly regarded 1983 and 1989 National Sports Collectors Conventions.


Darrell said...

Bruce, I have yet to see the movie but you are so right on about the misunderstanding and ignorant criticism of the concepts Beane used. Ask many of the critics if they had READ Moneyball, and they will say no, much like so many who were critical of Ball Four many years ago.
Likewise, Johnny Damon is a GREAT example of an over-valued commodity. Yes, he may also have "intangibles" and be a great guy, but I see no reason why intangible value gets tangible rewards.

Darrell said...

Also, while other teams and managers make fun of Moneyball, EVERY team now uses these concepts, and those that use them poorly simply do not win. That is the ultimate justification.