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Keith Law did NOT like “Moneyball”

Sep 14, 2011, 10:02 AM EDT


Aaron had his review of “Moneyball” yesterday, and if you didn’t read it, you should. Today I link a counterpoint review: Keith Law’s.  It’s on his own site, not ESPN, so it’s free.

I won’t give it away, but Law didn’t like it. At all.  And it’s not just some insider baseball geek takedown. He reviews it as a film on its own terms, as he should and finds it seriously lacking.  Anyone who has read Law’s book reviews on his personal blog will be familiar with his tough-but-fair reviewing style.

Less interesting than the review of the film itself, however, is Law’s discussion of a scene from late in the movie in which a John Henry stand-in is offering Beane a job with the Red Sox.  I touched on this concept in a post the other day, and it rings resoundingly true:

Beane is sitting in what was then called the .406 club at Fenway Park with John Henry, who is about to offer him a record-breaking deal to become the Red Sox’ new GM. Henry expounds on how Beane’s method of doing things is going to sweep through the industry, and how critics within the game weren’t just trying to protect the game, but were expressing their own fears about their livelihoods. That speech applies just as well to any industry undergoing the kind of creative destruction ushered in by Bill James, Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane. Remember that when you see the next written attack on “stat geeks” who are ruining the game along with a defense of RBIs or pitcher wins.

Which, Law’s unfavorable review aside, may stand as a good reason to see the movie. Not so much for the baseball, but for the story of the price that is exacted from anyone who tries to change any hidebound organization.

  1. mrjavascript - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    Keith Law hates everything. He doesn’t like kittens. He’s a cold, cold man… Move along.

    Am I the only one who notices this trend about him. I’ve seen a lot of “KEITH LAW DOESN’T LIKE _____” in the past year or so…

    • woodenulykteneau - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM

      And did you know he went to Harvard? Just ask, he’ll tell you. In fact, he’ll tell you even if you don’t ask.

      • paperlions - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM

        Citation please.

        I’ve never seen him bring it up without someone asking about Harvard specifically.

      • trevorb06 - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:37 AM

        He didn’t like Harvard.

      • woodenulykteneau - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:42 AM


        Back-to-back tweets on August 29

        Tweet #1

        Tweet #2

      • phillyphreak - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:06 AM

        That’s a pretty weak argument even with those tweets….

      • woodenulykteneau - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:52 PM

        To an atonal porcine, I suppose it is.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 14, 2011 at 2:17 PM

        He was watching a movie set where he went to school. If somebody made a movie set in Northwestern, I’d hardly think I was throwing a superior education in people’s faces simply by noting I’d gone there while watching a movie set there. phillyphreak’s right, that is weak sauce.

      • woodenulykteneau - Sep 14, 2011 at 2:40 PM

        Again, to someone tone-deaf to such things as nuance and subtletly, that was an *example*, NOT AN ARGUMENT UNTO ITSELF. The reason Law gets asked about Harvard so much is because he mentions it so much. Which is what I said in the first place. I’m sorry you didn’t understand that. I gues I should have said it like six-year-old (i.e. “weak sauce”) to ensure it was properly understood.

      • phillyphreak - Sep 14, 2011 at 3:37 PM

        Me be thank you for teachin me good woodenuly….

      • paperlions - Sep 14, 2011 at 5:32 PM

        Do you always work so hard to find untended meaning in people’s comments. Often times, what people say is exactly what they mean. Indeed, I would bet that they say what they mean much more often than they say what you think they mean.

      • Kevin S. - Sep 14, 2011 at 8:23 PM

        And if that was the best example you could provide, then your argument has no basis. Moving on…

      • woodenulykteneau - Sep 15, 2011 at 7:05 AM

        What part of “not an argument unto itself” did you not understand?

    • paperlions - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:28 AM

      Law says a lot of positive things, about books, movies, cooking, scouts, scouting, players, organizations, and teams….people ignore all of those and focus on the negative comments he makes. No one thinks everything is great, if you only hear positive opinions from someone, you never know when they are being truthful. Law simply isn’t afraid to be fully critical (which involves both positive and negative feedback). Is having standards somehow considered a bad thing. now?

    • Bill - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:30 AM

      There’s also a lot of stuff he likes, but that’s less interesting to talk about. The thing that sets him apart is that he gives you his honest opinion on things, and in an engaging way that’s actually worth paying attention to.

      His review is pretty much what I expected from the trailer (I seriously overanalyzed that here: ), though enough other smart people like Aaron have liked it so far that I’ll try to keep my mind open when I inevitably actually see it for myself.

    • leokitty - Sep 14, 2011 at 3:30 PM

      KLaw doesn’t hate kittens, how rude. He has one that he’ll post pictures of via his Twitter account if you ask.

  2. Drew Silva - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:34 AM

    I tend to think Keith Law is great, but he did claim last month that he “hates” Risk — the board game. How can you hate Risk? Probably tried and failed to conquer Europe one too many times. Everyone knows you’ve gotta grow your forces out of Asia and South America. Psh.

    @keithlaw I hate Risk. Awful game. Never played the other. RT @just_beau: how do you feel about Risk? Ever played wooden ships and iron men.

    • Roger Moore - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:23 PM

      I hate Risk because it has terrible game balance and a single dominant, boring strategy. A fun game either has no single dominant strategy, or it has a dominant strategy that leads to exciting games. It’s not about building out your forces from a solid continent, it’s about getting a card turn-in that gives you a big enough army to take out another player, grab his cards to get another turn-in, etc. Those trade-ins get to be much more important than the territorial values, so somebody who’s been forced into a small area can win by trading in cards at the right time. When you play with a bunch of players who understand that basic dynamic, they all wind up laying back and trying to optimize their chances of getting a good turn-in, which leads to boring games. A game that gets more boring the better the players are is badly designed.

      • jwbiii - Sep 14, 2011 at 4:19 PM

        The solution to that is simple: Play without the cards.

        Law probably tried to fight too many land wars in Asia while his opponents were gobbling up smaller continents.

    • Bryz - Sep 14, 2011 at 5:07 PM

      He responded to another comment by saying that the game is luck-driven due to the dice rolls.

  3. amhendrick - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    Two comments:

    1) Law, like most professional movie reviewers, takes movies much more seriously than I do. I just want to be entertained for a couple of hours. I think I’ll like Moneyball.

    2) I think it is really hard to enjoy a fictional story about something that you know a great deal about in reality. I have a hard time watching TV shows about lawyers for this reason. Law thinks that much of the movie isn’t an accurate or fair description of what happened or the way baseball front offices work. He’s probably right, but most people won’t care.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:48 AM

      1) Law, like most professional movie reviewers, takes movies much more seriously than I do

      What? He’s a baseball scout, specifically mentioned in the book. He’s not a professional movie reviewer.

      • Alex K - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:03 AM

        And I think the quote attributed to him in the book isn’t his.

      • amhendrick - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:10 AM

        Yes, I didn’t say that clearly. I meant only that he appears to share that characteristic of professional reviewers.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:11 AM

        Apologies, I missed the commas. I blame my inability to reed =\

  4. astrosfan75956 - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:45 AM

    Keith Law is a douchbag.

  5. kirkmack - Sep 14, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Just because Law doesn’t like some prospect on your favorite team as much as you do doesn’t mean he’s a douchebag, blowhard, or whatever you think of him. He’s incredibly reasoned and thorough in his analysis, whether it is film, books, tv shows, players, cooking, or games.

    And if you think that he hates absolutely everything, you obviously aren’t really paying attention.

  6. bloogart7 - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:04 AM

    In light of the roughly 1 trillion ESPN chat questions Law gets & replies to each year asking him for his (100% irrelevant) opinion about book A, movie B, or TV show C, I’ve always wanted to send him a question that asks:
    “Hey @keithlaw, what did you think about [insert book/film/show about which your opinion means jack-squat zero]?”

    I don’t even agree with Craig that his “reviews” are all that substantial. My message to the Klaw acolytes who treat him as some sort of intellectual/thinker’s proxy: if he’s not talking baseball, do your own thinking & draw your own conclusions. As some others alluded to here, he’s a baseball talent evaluator with high self-regard. That’s it. You don’t need his seal of approval on what you read or watch.

    There, I said it.

    /immediately mobbed by 20,000 Keith Law devotees & thrown off a cliff

    • phillyphreak - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:08 AM

      He never answered a question for you did he. The tissues are in the corner.

      • bloogart7 - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:12 AM

        Not even remotely the problem. I don’t send questions into chats. Not my thing. I’m more interested in the reaction/allegiance to Law than anything. I don’t even have any animosity towards the guy. Some of his stuff I find interesting & well-reasoned (not coincidentally, it’s about 100% baseball-related), other stuff I find grating. Feel free to cast this as a sad vendetta though.

      • phillyphreak - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:16 AM

        I’m not doing that. I’m just interested in your reasoning. I’m a Klaw follower but I don’t agree with him on everything. Just because people think that he is thorough in his analysis of all of his interests (baseball, movies, coking, books etc) doesn’t mean that they think he is this all knowing being. And it doesn’t mean that they take his word as gospel.

        To be fair, I don’t really think it takes a special talent to be a movie critic or a book critic. Just the ability to read and interpret things on your own.

    • paperlions - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:22 AM

      I only read Law’s baseball stuff, but he applies the same standards for evaluation of anything about which he opines. In today’s cacophony of baseless opinion in all forms of media (especially TV and radio), it is nice to read opinions that are based on something with the reasons for the opinion outlined.

      If people didn’t respect his opinion or find it useful/insightful, they wouldn’t ask and he wouldn’t have 1) a popular personal site (which I just visited for the first time ever through the link provided above) or 2) a job at

      • ThatGuy - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM

        In fairness your number 2 reason is bullshi, because ESPN hires a lot of people that have opinions that are based on pretty much nothing. They do have Rick Reilly, Joe Morgan, etc, etc. The list goes on. But Law is pretty much the only reason to visit the site anymore.

      • paperlions - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:39 PM

        No it isn’t BS. Guys like Riley (a well-known writer before being hired by ESPN) and all of the former players have some basis for their alleged authority…their experience and ready-made notoriety/celebrity.

        Law was a scout for a short time in Toronto that no one had heard of before he started writing there. His entire reputation is build only off of giving opinions (admittedly, with a highly snarky flair), that many find entertaining and/or informative. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely that he’d still be working for them or be behind a pay wall (probably).

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Sep 14, 2011 at 2:09 PM

        You are shortchanging Klaw a bit there. He wrote for Baseball Prospectus, he was part of the front office with Toronto, and he’s a part of the BBWAA. It’s not like he parlayed a few years of scouting with Toronto into working for ESPN. He’s done a lot more.

    • JBerardi - Sep 14, 2011 at 4:03 PM

      “‘Hey @keithlaw, what did you think about [insert book/film/show about which your opinion means jack-squat zero]?'”

      Hey, you know what else means jack-squat-zero? Your opinion of the importance of Keith Law’s opinion.

      People want to ask him stuff, he wants to answer. What’s the problem? Don’t read it if you don’t like it. It’s not like he’s not coming to your house and throwing out DVDs he doesn’t approve of or anything. Why the hate?

  7. bloogart7 - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:23 AM

    I actually think that alarmingly gigantic swaths of his Twitter followers, etc., DO take it as gospel. Obviously not all do, & kudos to you for not being one of them.

    My opinion: critiques of works of art/literature/music/film/etc. are virtually always worthless preening exercises. For them to be any good, they need to offer something uniquely insightful and be exceedingly well-reasoned & well-written on their own terms. I’ve tried to get through a few of his reviews at Meadow Party or whatever he calls his blog, & my reaction every time is: this is generic & mediocre (I DON’T get that impression when I read his baseball analysis). I’ve never read anything that gave me the itch to ask Keith Law what he thought about a book I liked.

    • bloogart7 - Sep 14, 2011 at 11:28 AM

      & to follow up on “generic & mediocre,” the reaction that accompanies that is this: if that same guy hadn’t written this & came across it independently, I could totally see him sneering at it or rolling his eyes. Or, better yet, ignoring it & drawing his own conclusions.

    • ThatGuy - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:30 PM

      I seem to remember in a chat at one point someone asked him why he reviews games, books, movies, etc. and he basically said it is more or less an intellectual exercise for him and if people enjoy reading it good, but if they didn’t so be it. His reasoning was something along the lines of so much of his time is devoted to watching baseball, writing about baseball, evaluations that it is his way to take a break from the game and he unwinds and simply enjoys doing it.

    • paperlions - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:44 PM

      The general utility of reviews is that people will find someone who generally has similar tastes/opinions as themselves, and then will be able to use that information as a good indicator of whether or not they are likely to enjoy the book/movie/play/game/whatever. To some degree, they are a public service as some segment of the population will have similar tastes to just about any critic, and can use his/her opinions to determine if something is worth their time/money.

  8. APBA Guy - Sep 14, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Law, like any well educated person who is paid to express opinions, writes well and organizes his arguments well. He also is very in touch with his own opinions. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with him. Just like Aaron liked the movie for various reasons, Keith doesn’t like it for various different reasons. Since most of us are baseball fans we’ll be seeing the movie at some point, whether in the theater, rented or streamed. I didn’t see anything in Keith’s review that told me what to think, but I read it as a warning that the movie could be deeply flawed (which I already knew as an A’s fan). But I’m open as to whether it will be entertaining.

    • kirkmack - Sep 14, 2011 at 3:55 PM

      You’ll notice also that on Twitter Aaron acknowledges that he agreed with all of what Keith said, so…there is that…

  9. woodenulykteneau - Sep 14, 2011 at 5:41 PM

    Do your friends call you Oblio?

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