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Moneyball and Rob

Sep 23, 2011, 9:22 AM EDT

Rob Neyer

Rob Neyer has a good post up this morning. It’s his impressions of “Moneyball.” Not a review — he doesn’t presume he can tell us what to think about a movie — but his reflections.  And they’re well worth your time.

Why? Because, as Rob notes, he provided a bit of assistance to Michael Lewis as he wrote Moneyball back in 2002-03, so it’s neat for him to see stuff he had a hand in make its way to the big screen.  Sort of like when I watch an episode of “The Rockford Files.” It’s like they filmed my life, ya know?

But it’s mostly worth the read because of Rob’s reflections about how, if the stuff being portrayed in that film didn’t happen — Bill James, the sabermetric movement, etc. — Rob’s own career as a baseball writer wouldn’t have happened.  Which, in turn, has some residual relevance for me because, if Rob’s career — and kindness — didn’t happen, mine wouldn’t have either.

I’ve written about this before, but it’s the absolute truth. No one reads ShysterBall if Rob doesn’t link it back in 2007, no one at The Hardball Times gives ShysterBall a bigger platform in 2008 if no one reads ShysterBall, and NBC doesn’t offer me a job in 2009 if ShysterBall wasn’t at The Hardball Times. I don’t really write about statistics and I’d be shot by the sabermetrician’s royal guard if I claimed to be one of them, but the lineage of people working outside of the established system to make a place for themselves in or around the game is pretty straightforward.

Oh, one more reason to read Rob’s piece: he makes a reference to “Porky’s 4: The Oinks Have it.” The screenplay for which I figure I should begin working on this very day. Quick: does anyone have Dan Monahan’s phone number?

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:04 AM

    I flip-flopped about 20 times the last few months on whether I was going to go see this movie and now that it is here, I don’t think I’ll be going to see it. Why?

    Well, I won’t be one of those guys who says they didn’t win anything…sure they didn’t win a World Series…and didn’t even win a playoff series from 2000-2003…but they did win 3 AL West crowns in 4 years and the WC the other. They did win 100 games twice and 96 another year. They were a very very good team.

    Here’s what I can’t get past…and maybe it is just this stubborn streak in me that won’t budge…or maybe it’s that I haven’t seen or read a single viable argument against what I have been thinking and writing and saying since the day I saw that they were making a movie about this book…

    Without Hudson, Zito and Mulder, not only would the A’s not have won as much as they did, the concept…the idea…the whole “Moneyball” thing would not have taken off like it did…would it? I mean, at least not for the A’s and Billy Beane. Look, maybe in 2004, the Red Sox did follow the Moneyball concepts…and maybe instead of Moneyball being written about the A’s of the early 2000’s it is written a few years later about how the Red Sox used Beane’s(and Alderson’s) ideas and won the World Series for the first time in 80+ years.

    Either way, I just can’t get past the idea that without Hudson, Zito and Mulder, the A’s would not have won as much as they did. And if they didn’t win as much as they did, would there have been a book about this concept? And if there were no book about the concept would Billy Beane be the genius that he is made out to be? And if Billy Beane were not the genius that he is made out to be, would Brad Pitt be playing him up on the big screen?

    • Bill - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:30 AM

      Look, I like statistics. I like the ideas behind “Moneyball.” I like the general approach to sports management that it represents. I like FIP and WAR and wOBA. But even if I didn’t, I would still go to see the movie. I’ve seen bad reviews of it, but not enough to convince me ahead of time that it’s a bust, and I would never let my hostility to a philosophy of sports management prevent me from seeing a movie that might be pretty good on its dramatic merits.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:53 AM

        Bill, I don’t think I am necessarily hostile to the concept. I just think that the main reason the A’s were successful had very little to do with Moneyball and much more to do with Hudson, Zito and Mulder. Yeah, Moneyball helped. But even without Moneyball, I think they still win almost as much as they did because of those pitchers. It would be like me saying the Phillies won 98 games this year because of a reason other than they have Doc, Lee and Hamels. And it is this that I would not be able to stop thinking about the whole movie. I do it during the freaking previews!!!! How would I possibly avoid doing it for 2 straight hours??? :)

      • reuben4boston - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:27 AM

        This is more of a reply to Chris, but Zito, Mulder, and Hudson were Moneyball. Moneyball was never just OPS, it was exploiting an inefficiency in the market. In those three cases, it was choosing to draft only college pitchers and passing up on High School Pitchers. At the time, and even still today, people are enamored with high schoolers because they see what possibly could happen, and use imagination, while with college pitchers, you have at least a sample size of what they can do, how many homers they can give up to aluminum bats, etc. Beane, and his predecessor Sandy Alderson, exploited this inefficiency to draft the big three, while everyone laughed and mocked them for going for older pitchers. (I actually did look some up, and there were some scathing reviews of Oaklands draft in the Herald.) So when I think that moneyball is never just about hitters, but about putting a value on everything, the movie instantly becomes much more important. And in the book, it’s just as important, because the first two chapters about drafting are about drafting college players, i.e. Zito, Hudson, and Mulder.

      • reuben4boston - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:28 AM

        and after typing it up, yes I went on a rant lol. And I apologize for the long rant.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:20 PM

        Yeah, that’s true about drafting the College guys as opposed to the HS players. But it’s a point that nobody talks about…and a point that I doubt the movie talks about in depth. When you hear Moneyball, you hear “he gets on base”. Maybe if the movie deals with how they drafted Hudson, Mulder and Zito because they are college guys, then it will make it more true to form. Otherwise, it is just a bunch of fluff saying that picking up guys who get on base is what won games for them, when it actuality, it was more a function of them drafting college guys as opposed to HS players.

      • scatterbrian - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:38 PM

        Chris, I know I’ve said this before, but it would really help your understanding and stubbornness if you actually read the book.

      • loungefly74 - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:38 PM

        wait a second…chris did NOT read Moneyball? really? and making comments like that? (credibility goes out the door…)

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 2:23 PM

        Yes, I have read moneyball. I know what moneyball is about. Although, the people on this board intentionally ignore what I write and just say to “read the book” or “you don’t know what moneyball is about”.

        If you search the book for Mulder, his name doesn’t show up until about halfway through. Hudson first shows up even further along. The only one of the big three that shows up early is Zito. And he is talked about exactly as he should…as the guy who helped them by making so little cash in the years Oakland had him.

        However, all three should have been talked about that way…instead of guys like Chad Bradford, Scott Hatteberg, etc.

        My opinion is pretty straight-forward…

        If the A’s did not have Hudson, Zito and Mulder would the A’s have been as successful? No, I doubt they would have won a single division without them, let alone 3 of 4.

        If the A’s were not as successful, would Moneyball have been written? No.

        If Moneyball were not written, would Billy Beane be this genius that everybody calls him? No.

        If the A’s did not have Hudson, Zito and Mulder, then all Billy Beane would have ended up being was a GM who meddled too much in the day-to-day operations of the on-the-field guys. How many times in the book do they mention how he would get pissed about decisions that Howe would make? Or tell Howe what to do…even I think there is a part where he tells him how to stand in the freaking dugout!!! The players said that Beane ran the team anyway so what difference did it make who the manager was? If they didn’t have Hudson, Zito and Mulder to become the CHEAP ACES they were for those years, then Beane may not have been known as anything more than an insane micro-manager.

        The A’s from 2000 to 2003 were similar to what the Phillies are today…except they drafted and cultivated their Aces to the point where they were theirs on the cheap. And once they left, so did the A’s success. It wasn’t that everybody else started doing it as much as it was that they lost Hudson, Zito and Mulder.

      • jimbo1949 - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:03 PM

        Hudson, Zito and Mulder
        Hudson, Zito and Mulder
        Hudson, Zito and Mulder

      • Chris Fiorentino - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:16 PM

        The TRUTH is out there, jimbo.

      • loungefly74 - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:29 PM

        well, you’re right. without the big 3 , the A’s would not have been as successful. i guess i don’t see it as a big deal than you are making it to be about their place in the books because moneyball, to me, was about the paradigm shift in evaluating players. simple as that. the A’s were the guinea pigs of this shift. this pardigm caught on and now is being used by a lot of teams. thats the beauty of the story…to me. but you are right…without those pitchers, A’s would have been worse.

      • scatterbrian - Sep 23, 2011 at 4:18 PM

        Yes Chris, I made that accusation before based on comments that were clearly from someone who hadn’t read the book. If you’ve since read the book, that’s awesome.

        Your comments about Hudson, Mulder and Zito is valid, but I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make. No one is claiming those guys weren’t good, or that they weren’t vital to the team’s success. No one is claiming that Billy Beane was the sole reason for the team’s success. And really, how many people are still exalting Beane as a genius? The only time we see “Beane” and “genius” in the same sentence is when someone is claiming that he is NOT a genius in some lame attempt to diminish what he has done. Beane also freely admits that the statistical revolution would have happened with or without him, or Moneyball. (“That explosion of information was going to impact our game one way or another. Whether we did it or not in Oakland, it was going to happen.”) So it’s not as though he’s claiming undue credit.

        But the book wasn’t about the best players on the A’s. The point was they also found guys like Gil Heredia, Cory Lidle and Ted Lilly. The Bradford and Hatteberg chapters were there because those are two other dudes picked up for next to nothing who contributed to the team’s success, along with guys like John Jaha, Matt Stairs, Jeremy Giambi and Olmedo Saenz. They had five different closers from 2001-2005. In other words, it take more than just three really good starting pitchers to be a great team, especially for an extended period.

        But if you’re still convinced the book did not impact the game, here are two quotes from Brian Cashman:

        “(The Red Sox) were having a great deal of success with players of lesser ability,” Cashman says. “I studied what they were doing to some degree, adjusted accordingly, brought the Yankees up to speed, brought us into the 21st century.” (referring to the Red Sox success after hiring Theo Epstein.)

        Adds Cashman, “Once the book came out, it was like Coke’s secret formula.”

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 23, 2011 at 5:06 PM

        I think Hudson, Zito and Mulder were Alderson’s picks correct? They were all drafted before Beane’s tenure as GM? (although he was assistant GM to Alderson in the same time period so he likely had input or at was at least privy to the decision making process). You could say that Beane brought the cheap effective pieces to surround his big 3 and make some division winners out of them.

        I’m guessing Chris’s point is that without the 3 core starters no amount of Moneyball would have made them division winners. Alderson though likely used his principles to draft and get those 3 pitchers in the 1st place. So Beane had the foundations for a solid team and put it all together.

      • scatterbrian - Sep 23, 2011 at 7:26 PM

        This is such an asinine exercise.

        Yes, something happened several years ago (the A’s won many games), and if you changed a detail about this (take out Hudson/Mulder/Zito) it might not have happened, or it might have been different.

        What a revelation…

      • reuben4boston - Sep 23, 2011 at 7:36 PM

        FC, Beane drafted zito and mulder. Alderson only drafted Hudson. As well, the moneyball idea of exploiting an inefficiency by drafting college pitchers was originally introduced by alderson and beane together. It was only given even greater importance when beane continued the revolution by challenging scouts imaginations and wants to draft high schoolers and went with productive collegiate players.

        Sorry about the typos. On iPhone standing in line to see the movie.

    • florida76 - Sep 23, 2011 at 10:43 AM

      It’s a shame Moneyball was actually made into a movie, when so many more interesting, dramatic, subjects are out there with a real stirring finish for the viewer. From Jackie Robinson to the 1960 World Series, to the 2008 Rays, those nonfiction topics would had a real payoff for audiences everywhere. A movie has to be more than several witty, interesting scenes, and to spend two hours only to find out the A’s had a better record than the M’s, Angels and Rangers, just doesn’t cut it.

      At the end of the day, substance beats style, and accomplishment will always be king. Concepts and numbers have their place, but when your telling a true story, a climatic moment is always required.

      Moneyball is Remember the Titans, with the Titans losing in the first round of the playoffs
      Moneyball is Rudy, with Rudy staying at Notre Dame but failing to make the scout team
      Moneyball is Hoosiers, with that team failing early in the state playoffs
      Moneyball is Brian’s Song, with Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo without the strong friendship
      Moneyball is Miracle, with the USA losing against the Soviets

      • Francisco (FC) - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:27 AM

        And yet Rocky is pretty good.

      • brianmoline - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:28 AM

        While I see where you’re coming from, not every sports movie is your traditional “big game” kind of sports movie. Neither is Brian’s Song for that matter. And, I don’t think this one is supposed to be either. It’s about the journey the franchise took in being successful by doing something different. There are other sports movies like this as well that have been very good. “Bull Durham” isn’t the type of movie that has a “big game” climax at the end, but I still watch it and laugh out loud 20+ years later.

      • florida76 - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:54 PM

        Movies like Rocky and Bull Durham are fiction which is a completely different matter than reality. Brian’s Song had the journey between the two characters, and the climatic moment when Sayers dedicated a game to Piccolo and ran wild. Shortly thereafter, Piccolo passed away.

      • loungefly74 - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:44 PM

        you don’t need to win the “championship” to make it work. there are tons of movies out there about “losers”. besides…IF you read the book, you would know the focus was about the paradigm shift of evaluating players. and i remember saying something about this last time to you “florida76”. ha! you mentioned the Rays at that time as well. I hate to say it (again) but the Rays don’t make a compelling movie. By the way, did you read Moneyball? reading the wiki doesn’t count too…

  2. Francisco (FC) - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    ..I’ve written about this before, but it’s the absolute truth. No one reads ShysterBall if Rob doesn’t link it back in 2007, no one at The Hardball Times gives ShysterBall a bigger platform in 2008 if no one reads ShysterBall, and NBC doesn’t offer me a job in 2009 if ShysterBall wasn’t at The Hardball Times.

    And then he wouldn’t be posting here at HBT and I never would have started Craig’s Lair. So folks, you can all thank Billy Beane and Moneyball for Craig’s Lair.

  3. - Sep 23, 2011 at 11:45 AM

    Permian HS didn’t even make it to the state Championship game in the book (and real life)Friday Night Lights. Yet the book and the movie were highly entertaining to me.

    Basinger also wrote another book called “3 Nights in August” that only deals with a regular season series between the Cubs & Cardinals.

    Entertaining stories can be told without the subject matter being about a big stage.

    I’ll see Moneyball at some point. When I do it won’t because of the book, or sabremetrics, or what the Athletics really accomplished. It will be on it’s entertainment value alone.

    I’m actually interested in how they turned THAT book into something that’s supposed to hold the attention of an audience.

    • florida76 - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:50 PM

      Big difference between Permian and the A’s. Periman won titles before and after Friday Night Lights, and the Billy Beane A’s never did.

  4. scatterbrian - Sep 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    Good lord you guys…. This is a big-budget, massively advertised movie about BASEBALL, and yet baseball fans are essentially boycotting it, and even criticizing it. Reminds me of Joe Morgan.

    • loungefly74 - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:46 PM

      bingo…well said.

    • meyerwolf - Sep 23, 2011 at 4:54 PM

      Can everyone, for the love of god and all that is holy, read this man’s comment and think about it?

      It’s a movie about baseball. And tons of people are going to watch it. It’s going to make people who normally wouldn’t talk and think about baseball do exactly that.

      How on earth any baseball fan can not be overjoyed about that, I’ll never understand.

  5. natstowngreg - Sep 23, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    The Washington Post gave it 4 stars. Its movie reviewers very, very rarely rate a movie that high.,1177497/critic-review.html

    • jimbo1949 - Sep 23, 2011 at 3:17 PM

      Ann Hornaday was on Tony Kornheiser’s radio show today discussing Moneyball and about the consensus was that a few scenes ran a little long. Overall it was about 15 minutes too long.

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