The A's are losing again, and Billy Beane's radical "Moneyball" legacy is suffering
To the glee of his adversaries, Billy Beane and the Oakland A's are having a rough go of it these days in the standings and in Hollywood. But the cultural war rooted in Beane's "Moneyball" philosophies was fought and won a long time ago.AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
OAKLAND, Calif. -- On the third weekend in June, Steven Soderbergh, the famed Hollywood director, was scheduled to give a talk in Los Angeles on subjects both broad and specific. The broad: the future of the film industry. The specific: his excitement over his new project, a film adaptation of "Moneyball," the Michael Lewis bestseller that catapulted Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane into the most outsized, polarizing and potentially wealthy general manager in baseball.
Not long before his speech, Soderbergh received a message from an associate that the film -- less than five days away from the start of shooting -- had been canceled by the studio, Sony Pictures. Variety already had the story. Just days earlier, Soderbergh had sent massive floral arrangements to the A's secretaries, thanking them for their hard work and support in making the movie a reality. The women in the A's front office were aflutter with the power of Hollywood magic, thrilled as much by the size of the flowers as by Brad Pitt, the actor slated to play Beane in the movie.
Over the next few days, the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and New York Daily News followed with deconstructions of how the big deal collapsed. Moneyball the Movie was dead.
"[Soderbergh's] remarks went from prepared text to 'Everyone can go home now,'" Michael Lewis says. "There was a lot of drama with that project that I'm glad I had nothing to do with."[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Katsumi KasaharaWhen, or if, Hollywood gets around to the "Moneyball" movie, Beane's character will bring plenty of star power.
As the news spread, the requisite prairie fire ensued. Several former A's, including manager Art Howe, hitting coach Thad Bosley and outfielder David Justice, had signed on to be available for up to two months of shooting in Los Angeles and Phoenix, playing themselves. Former big leaguer Jeremy Giambi, younger brother of Jason and a prototype in Beane's revolutionary team-building theories, had agreed to play himself, too -- for $80,000. Sony had already invested $10 million in the preproduction of the film.
The day before he was due to fly to Phoenix, Justice spoke with Soderbergh by telephone.
"He told me, 'Things don't look good,'" Justice recalls. "He said it might not happen for a while."
At Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the A's spring training home, a replica of Beane's Oakland office, the A's clubhouse, and the outfield walls of the A's home stadium, McAfee Coliseum, had already been designed. David Renetti, the A's stadium director in Oakland, got the call from his staff working with the production crew in Phoenix.
Take everything down, was the order from the studio, according to Renetti's people. It's over.
Everyone, even the secretaries and administrative assistants, wondered what the news meant for them.
"I'm just glad we signed for the flowers quickly," longtime A's media relations assistant Debbie Gallas says, "just so they couldn't take them back."
Outside Oakland, the scoffs were loud and oddly self-satisfied, for parallel to the collapse of the movie was the current futility of Beane's real-life product, the A's. Around certain quadrants of baseball, there is no shortage of enjoyment in the belief that the team's sub-.500 record over the past 2½ years -- Oakland currently owns the third-worst record in the majors -- is proof that the game is witnessing the denouement of the Moneyball legacy. Since the A's were swept by Detroit in the American League Championship Series in 2006, they've neither made the playoffs nor been a .500 team.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Ben MargotDavid Justice finished his career with Beane's A's in 2002, and had signed on for the movie.
Every winning club eventually loses, and there are nearly always plenty of reasons for it. But in Oakland's case, the glee over the A's tumble has not been directed at the players or their coaches, or even at the team's ownership. Instead, the fingers seem to point to one person in particular: Beane, who in his 12th season as general manager is the face of the remarkable, massive and oftentimes unpopular cultural upheaval of the Moneyball revolution.
"There's a war going on, but because so much of what he's done is becoming standard, the war is really over," Lewis says. "And the people who are happy when Billy doesn't do well? Well, they're the ones who've already lost."
Since Beane took over in Oakland, how baseball players are evaluated -- and, perhaps even more importantly, who is hired to do the evaluating at the general manager level -- has never been the same. In the process, Beane reached a level of stardom off the field that he never achieved as a player.
For his singular, unapologetic iconoclasm in the face of the game's long tradition, Lewis lionized him six years ago in "Moneyball," which became a must-read for both baseball and business aficionados. Beane became the lead evangelist of a new baseball orthodoxy that emphasizes greater statistical analysis in the scouting and development of players. The Moneyball way also diminishes the field manager's organizational influence while it increases the power and profile of the general manager position -- a job that was once largely invisible. In the 140-year history of Major League Baseball, the office of field manager has never held less power than it does now, in the wake of Moneyball.
"The reason 'Moneyball' became so important was because so many of the owners read [the book]," says Sandy Alderson, himself a seminal figure in the way baseball is run. "For years, the baseball people would tell the owners, 'Leave the baseball to us. You wouldn't understand.' They kept saying they were different. Then the owners realized the dynamics of baseball -- of assessing risk -- were the same as the ones they faced in their outside businesses."
If Beane didn't singlehandedly reinvent how hitting is evaluated, he almost certainly has become the face of the massive change in prioritizing how certain components of the craft are now compensated.
In the process, he also became a corporate sensation. Fortune 500 CEOs suddenly were interested in him as that rare commodity: the athlete thinker. He may very well be the most influential figure in the game over the past 25 years, and some in the sport seem to have never forgiven him for it. Now, he was about to be immortalized on the silver screen, portrayed by one of Hollywood's biggest stars. And it is in this spirit, as his team suffers in last place without a single .300 hitter or a box-office draw, that the knives sharpen.
"So much for the genius He doesn't look so smart anymore, does he?" an American League scout sneers while looking up the paltry batting averages of the A's hitters before a June A's-Padres game. "Let's see them make a movie out of that."Michael Zagaris/Getty ImagesBeane's decisions about the draft, including this June's 2009 selections, are critical to Moneyball.In his sparsely furnished, low-ceilinged office situated across the walkway from McAfee Coliseum, Beane is wearing the same pants he wore the day before. He is 47 years old with a 19-year-old daughter from his first marriage and -- at age 45 -- had twins with his second wife, Tara. He is gray at the temples, softer around the shoulders and middle, and fighting a bad knee that kept him in the A's training room for much of the spring in Arizona. He is still athletic and charismatic and opinionated; but, in his mind, he stands at a remove from his old fast-lane life or Brad Pitt's suntanned vitality.
"A profile of me? Oh, jeez," Beane wrote in a text message recently. "I'm so yesterday. Can't I just live out my J.D. Salinger existence and just fade away?"
The revolution, in a way, has consumed the revolutionary. He cannot escape.
Some element of the Moneyball legacy invariably produces a treatise on him and his theories, almost on a regular basis. On the bad days, it's likely to be a struggling, low-average/high on-base percentage player (Oakland's Jack Cust or the Yankees' Nick Swisher, for example) serving as proof that Moneyball is a failed strategy, especially in a climate that no longer tacitly condones performance-enhancing drugs.
On the good, the refined successes of the Boston Red Sox (a well-financed team that adopted many of Beane's philosophies while enjoying virtually unlimited resources, unlike the A's) provide evidence of Moneyball's obvious sustainability.[+] EnlargeMichael LewisThe book made him famous, but Beane says he didn't ask for it.
Even Bill James -- who in the original screenplay is portrayed as an infallible, clear-eyed sage in a world of chaos whose wisdom went long ignored by the Establishment -- has pared back his once-sharp criticisms of traditional scouting and development methods now that he's worked on the inside with the Boston Red Sox since 2002.
"We did a fair amount of retrofitting, I guess you could call it," Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino says. "Billy Beane is a sharp mind. We tried to hire him, but what we've done since Theo [Epstein] took over is to take some of the quantitative analysis approaches and overlay them with the resource advantages of our market."
Both visions provide the opportunity to revive old tensions, and on this day in his office, Beane is fighting the demons his outsized evangelism has created. Not only does his Moneyball empire come with a crown he says he does not want; it's one he says he never wanted.
"Listen, I never asked Michael to write about me. I never solicited him in any way," Beane says. "It's amazing to me that people still think I wrote the book. I didn't. I didn't ask them to do this movie. Do I have an ego? Sure. Who doesn't? That's why [White Sox GM] Kenny Williams is still one of the best guys running the game, because of his experience playing the game. He's got a certain swagger. It's still a business, but it's also a testosterone business."
One of his frustrations these days is that no one seems to believe him. No one believes that he wasn't in the least bit crestfallen when he heard that the Soderbergh movie had collapsed. And no one seems to believe that he didn't envision his star entrée into the big-money world of Wall Street as a way to leave baseball behind. Beane became the de facto face of a revolution; his star power (lunch with Warren Buffett, dinner with Brad Pitt, a video-game simulation in which he is the main character) and the reach of the book catapulted him beyond his peers and created a new dialogue in the game. The question from those nonbelievers follows: What could baseball possibly have left for him?
But what his critics really dislike him for is the perception that he didn't do much to discourage the idea that he is a visionary -- especially in a clannish industry that historically has demanded conformity over intellectualism and iconoclasm.
In the six years since the book was published, "Moneyball" hasn't benefited anyone in baseball more than Beane. In the fall of 2002, he turned down a five-year, $12.5 million offer to become the general manager of the Boston Red Sox to remain in Oakland, leveraging that decision into a historic position: part owner. Lew Wolff, the owner of the A's, offered Beane a 2½ percent equity stake in the team, worth roughly $8 million.
Few general managers, if any, since Branch Rickey have ever owned a piece of a major league baseball team.[+] EnlargeDiamond Images/Getty ImagesYankees GM Brian Cashman says the movie's original script didn't capture Beane's character.
His closest associates, primarily assistant GM David Forst, had been telling Beane for months that the "Moneyball" movie might be good for the entertainment world but it certainly would not be good for Beane himself. Many scenes in the script were not particularly flattering, Forst reasoned, and the caricature would only further overshadow the real Billy Beane. The fear: He would be taken less seriously.
And Major League Baseball was uncomfortable with the womanizing elements of the Beane character in the original screenplay, considering the A's general manager has been married in real life since he took the job.
His friend Brian Cashman, the general manager of the Yankees, read an original draft of the script and thought it undermined Beane's actual abilities.
"It didn't read like the Billy I knew," Cashman says.
A scene from pages 74-75 of the original script, involving an exchange between Justice and Beane:
- Meeting over. The players dissemble in disbelief. Except one. David Justice. Eventually --
"I've never seen a GM talk to players."
"You've never seen a GM who was a player."
"By player, you mean a guy who couldn't cut it as a player."
The look Billy gives Justice says, 'You sure you want to go there?' Justice does.
"I don't think a guy who couldn't cut it has much to offer guys who can. But go ahead. Tell them how to play baseball. Not me."
"Why? Are you special?"
"You're paying me 7 million bucks. I guess I am."
"I'm not paying you 7 million bucks. The Yankees are paying half your salary. That's what they think of you. They're paying you to play AGAINST them."
This is news to Justice, but he tries not to show it.
"So let's be honest with each other. I want to milk the last ounce of baseball you have in you and you want to milk the last dollar. After that we never have to see each other again."
"It was a movie, for god's sake," Beane says. "What do you think I was going to get out of it? You think it was going to help me score chicks? I read in one scene I was at an Applebee's and ordered a mojito. I don't even know what's in a mojito."
And herein lies a critical disconnect. Friends suggest Beane has expected the public to differentiate between the movie's fictional accounts and the book's nonfiction approach, an unrealistic position especially when the movie would use real names of real people.AP Photo/Eric RisbergThe corporate world's interest in Moneyball opened new doors for Beane away from the team.
"Why do people care about anything we do?" Beane says on another day in a moment of pique. "We play in a crappy stadium, in a market that we share with another team, with one of the lowest payrolls in the game. Really, I'm not that interesting."
The reason he's interesting, of course, is his influence in the evolution toward the greater use of qualitative analysis in baseball, which was under way as early as the mid-1980s. The Yankees were teaching their minor league prospects the value of taking pitches back then. John Hart, when he was general manager in Cleveland, began cultivating a new type of baseball assistant -- a well-educated, analytical mind that didn't require prior playing experience -- to be groomed for the next generation of executives. And years before he took over in Oakland, Beane's predecessor and mentor, Alderson, was articulating a top-down front-office approach. Alderson concluded that the old-school, Casey Stengel paradigm -- in which the field manager was face of the front office and had the most say in which players played, were traded and drafted -- was fundamentally flawed.
Alderson was the first to begin referring to the manager not as the leader of the ballclub, but as a "middle manager."
Beane expanded upon Alderson's positions, and developed a reputation for being a notoriously difficult boss for his field managers. Art Howe and Ken Macha, the two A's managers before Bob Geren took over in 2007, chafed under Beane's heavy influence. Both are longtime baseball men -- Macha, now the Brewers' manager, is in his late 50s; Howe, who isn't coaching or managing this season, is in his mid-60s -- and neither had the kind of personnel power in Oakland that managers enjoyed when those two were players. Geren, 48, is the lowest-paid pilot in the game, and the suspicion exists throughout baseball that his lack of clout could become the norm in the manager's office when the game's half-dozen old lions -- the ones who are still the public face of management such as Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Jim Leyland, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Dusty Baker -- finally retire. Of baseball's newer managers, only Mike Scioscia of the Angels seems to command an old-school authority.
So the face that emerged for the changes taking place in the business end of the game belongs to Beane. The publication of "Moneyball" joined these themes together, coalescing disparate evolutionary movements into one man's philosophy.[+] EnlargeMichael Zagaris/Getty ImagesDavid Forst, Beane's assistant GM, advised his boss about the perils in a movie version of "Moneyball."
And "Moneyball" turned Beane into a valued commodity on Wall Street. He serves on the board of directors of two companies, the Bay Area software firm NetSuites and Riddell, the football helmet manufacturer; and he commands a $40,000 honorarium per speaking engagement. Beane and the A's have a business relationship with the English soccer club Tottenham, and the Oakland franchise purchased Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes.
"It almost looks like an act of vandalism," Lewis says one June afternoon in Berkeley, Calif. "Everyone else is worked up about him. He is the proximate cause of the furor, but he's not even thinking about it. He's moved on to something else."
This is, for the most part, kid's stuff. This is the stuff Beane can handle. After all, the specter of Moneyball has been defining his public perception for the past six years.
What he cannot handle is the idea that the outside opportunities have diminished his enthusiasm for his day job. He hears that from people close to him, from reporters who cover the club and believe his visibility correlates to the number of wins his team has, and from rival general managers across the country -- that his rock-star exploits (Beane once went to New Zealand on a speaking engagement during spring training) dwarf the ambitions of baseball's rank and file.
"He has what I guess you could call a useful insecurity, this idea that there's something out there that he's missing," Lewis says. "Billy is unbelievably good at survival. He never closes a door unless he has six others open. He has what they call in football 'escapability.'"
Big personalities must carry that weight. When the A's went from 88-game losers in 1998 to 103-game winners in 2002, it was Beane who was the face of the franchise. "Moneyball" made him a star. The A's media guide dedicated a section of his biography -- "Trades made by Billy Beane" -- as a tribute to his shrewdness. His friends cautioned him that should the team decline, comeuppance would likely be swift. The Yankees' Cashman, his friend, uses an axiom to keep himself grounded.
"The higher up the tree the monkey climbs," Cashman says, "the more of his ass you can see."[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Eric RisbergThe A's won under Art Howe, but the Moneyball philosophy downplays the importance of the field manager, and Howe left for the Mets after 2002.
Now, as the A's fortunes have sunk, Beane has been accused of lowering his profile in reaction.
"There are a lot of people who are not displeased that Moneyball tanked -- the movie, the philosophy, all of it," says Oakland Tribune columnist Monte Poole. "Once the book came out, remember how difficult it was for him to make a major trade. Among us, yeah, he's not around anymore, but that's just based on visibility. Whether that means he's actually disengaged, it certainly feels that way."
The reality, Beane says, is he had grown weary of being involved in the daily narrative. He is always accessible to the press, he says, but over time, he chose to alter his routine because his temper and competitiveness were adversely affecting his ability to run the ballclub. He has not traveled regularly with the team in years, and does not mingle in the clubhouse pre- and postgame as much anymore.
"I've always been intellectually restless, but it is the building part of it that most interests me," Beane says. "It is the constructing of the team that is my favorite part. Anyone who is familiar with the history of the A's franchise, even dating back to Philadelphia, knows that every five or 10 years, you have to tear it apart and rebuild it.
"I may not be as visible as I used to be, and by that I mean being in the clubhouse or on the field. But I'm just as invested as I've always been. I hate this idea that I've somehow become detached. It's like I can't win. I'd been hearing all these years that I was too hands-on, that I was the guy writing out the lineup card. Now, I'm not present enough. How is it possible to be a detached micromanager? What do you think is going on over here? Do you really think I'm saying to myself, 'Ho hum, we lost again. I think I'll turn on 'The Colbert Report'? [Expletive] no."Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesBeane's willingness to buck baseball traditions hasn't made him universally popular in the game.
You could say, as Lewis does, that the war is already over, that only the shouting remains. The tangible elements, the ones you can hold in your hand, the fixed monuments of the revolution, are no longer open to debate. The business of baseball -- the vocabulary, the evaluation and the dialogue -- has changed. The rest is just noise.
In the spring of 1999, in his second year as general manager, Beane sat in his office at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and articulated a certain ambition.
"What I want," he told me that day 10 years ago, "is to be the baseball equivalent of Bill Walsh, where you have a tree of guys who worked for you, the same way I worked for Sandy, running teams all over the league. That to me is pretty cool."
For a time, it appeared his vision would be realized quickly. The A's competed with the Yankees and Red Sox with just a fraction of their resources, and the front-office talent was rewarded. Perhaps Beane's best friend in the game, J.P. Ricciardi, was named general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2001. Beane's assistant, Paul DePodesta, took over the Dodgers in 2004.
On the strength of Beane's emphasis on technology and quantitative and qualitative analysis, the hiring of young, highly educated executives who never played at a professional level became the single greatest change in the business of baseball over the past quarter century.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Mike CarlsonThe Blue Jays' general manager, J.P. Ricciardi, is one of Beane's best friends in baseball and served as his director of player personnel.
DePodesta went to Harvard, and that created a connection for Forst, who played shortstop at Harvard, to become Beane's current assistant GM. Boston's Theo Epstein graduated from Yale. Farhan Zaidi -- another member of Beane's camp, now the A's director of baseball operations -- graduated from M.I.T. Jon Daniels, the Texas Rangers' general manager, is a Cornell graduate. Peter Woodfork, the Arizona assistant GM, has a degree in psychology from Harvard, and worked under Epstein in Boston.
The original "Moneyball" script, pages 43-44, a scene involving Beane and Grady Fuson, A's head of scouting:
- INT. LOCKER ROOM - MOMENTS LATER
Grady closes the video room for privacy. The only person in sight is manager Art Howe, in his office, in street clothes. He shuts his windowed door so Grady and Billy can talk in confidence.
"Paul and I had a talk while you were in Tacoma. I didn't like much of what I heard."
Silence except for the whir of a tape machine rewinding in the next room.
"You're unhappy, Grady. Why?"
"I'm unhappy because you got a kid with a Harvard economics degree in that room and a scout with 19 years of baseball experience in this room and you're listening to the wrong one."
"I don't listen to anybody, you know that."
GRADY[+] EnlargeOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesBeane played parts of six seasons in the majors, and finished with the A's in 1989. His career batting average: .219.
"This isn't a joke."
"I can see that."
"This isn't how you run a ball club. With a [expletive] computer. Baseball isn't just numbers. It isn't a science. If it was, anyone can do what we do. They can't because they don't have the knowledge we have. Or the intuition. Or the constitution to eat at Denny's twice a day and sleep in Motel 6's every night putting 60,000 miles on their car to get to Bumf--- Idaho to watch some high school kid someone said has a 12 to 6 curve. If baseball isn't that, if it isn't experience and wisdom and gut feeling and Kirk Gibson's aching legs and everything else we love about it -- if it's spreadsheets and math equations and players being lab rats -- then I'm in the wrong game."
They regard each other a moment.
"You want me to get rid of him."
"I'm going to have to insist. I'm sorry. He sounds like a nice kid, but you don't learn what I know reading Bill James and playing fantasy baseball."
Grady's impassioned and well-delivered plea for Baseball to remain Baseball seems to have made its intended impression on Billy. Seems
"Only one of us has the perspective on this of someone who has actually played Major League Baseball. And it isn't you."
"Any job should be about who is the best and the brightest," Beane says. "It shouldn't be hiring because of family background or, in our case, playing background. Breaking that fraternity, this notion that you had to play the game in order to be in the position, might be the thing I am most proud of."
Any job should be about who is the best and the brightest. It shouldn't be hiring because of family background or, in our case, playing background.” -- A's general manager Billy Beane
Had the reaction to Beane been merely professional jealousy, his critics could be more easily dismissed. But what the old guard saw in Beane was the future, and it didn't necessarily include them. His paradigm shift came at the expense of career opportunities, and -- as the face of change -- Beane has been roundly criticized. Not for shattering baseball's old boy network, but for replacing it with an even more exclusive one: the class-based club.
"First they tell you you have to play the game. Then they tell you you have to work in the minors and scout to learn the business of the game," a National League scout says. "And now, once you get all that experience, once you think you're ready, once you've put your time in, then they tell you you have to have a [expletive] Ivy League degree to be a general manager. I'll never get a call now. Not even for an interview. You got to know the [expletive] Ivy League handshake now."
Sitting in his chair, listening to that lament -- that many baseball men piled up a lifetime of yesterdays for a tomorrow that now may never come -- Beane takes the evolutionary perspective that business has always had to reinvent itself. Finally, baseball is no different.
"In 10 years, even I won't be qualified to have this job," he says. "This business has always been a regulated business. You never had the fear of going out of business. You never had to change. Bankruptcy is a great motivator to change your business practices."Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesBeane enthusiastically signed Frank Thomas in 2006 for his slugging and on-base percentage.
Even the box score is not safe from revolution. On ESPN.com, at first glance, it looks as it has for dozens of years: at-bats, runs, hits and runs batted in. But look closer at another column: the number of pitches each batter sees during the game.
To the old guard, Beane strikes again, and the war rages anew. This time, the year is 2009, not 2002, and Moneyball is under assault. In San Diego, the NL scout looking up at the scoreboard in June is rattling off the A's 3-through-7 hitters.
"I'm looking up there and I'm seeing 'Cust, .233; Holliday, .274; Giambi, .206; Cabrera, .234; Crosby, .197,'" he says, "and yes, their on-base percentages, except for Cabrera, who never walks, are high. But these guys can't hit."
The scout believes it hasn't happened yet in any totality, but predicts another layer of revolution: Even the way players are being taught how to hit will be altered by too much analysis.
"Ever since we learned how to play this game, we were told 'You can't bunt your way to the big leagues. You can't walk your way to the big leagues.' Now, in the big leagues, we're getting to a point where 0-0, 1-0 and 2-0 counts may not necessarily be hitters' counts anymore," the scout says. "If you take this thing too far, you'll have hitters more concerned with seeing pitches than hitting pitches.
I understand why they do what they do But they lack impact players. What is the point of having a bunch of safe players? It gets you a losing team.” -- a National League scout
"I understand why they do what they do. They need to draft players who can arrive to the majors quickly, but by not committing to high schools, a lot of their guys have no ceiling. They've reached their limit," he continues. "But they lack impact players. What is the point of having a bunch of safe players? It gets you a losing team."
It comes down to a question of balance. Even Alderson, Beane's mentor, thinks elements of the Beane doctrine have gone too far, that experience and scouting should still be primary.
"Otherwise," Alderson says, "you have a whole lot of data with no idea how to use it in putting a team together."
In Cashman's early years with the Yankees in the late 1980s, he watched games with Gene "Stick" Michael, the ex-Yankees player, manager, general manager and VP of scouting.
"There would be two on and one out and the cleanup hitter would be up," Cashman recalls. "He'd be walked intentionally and the broadcasters would praise the move because the next guy up was a .260 hitter. And 'Stick' would be screaming, 'No! You're not pitching against his batting average in his situation. You're pitching against his on-base percentage.'
"What you have to have is a rounded organization. Scouts are still the lifeblood of any organization."
Says Beane: "I've never felt the need to defend anything that we've done in Oakland. Sport by nature is taking the game to the other guy. If a guy has thrown eight balls in a row, maybe it's a good idea to take the ninth. These are facts. What are the greatest determinants to scoring runs? On-base percentage and slugging percentage: Frank Thomas, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth. I mean, think about it."
"If dads are out there teaching their kids to hit like Frank Thomas," Beane says, "then OK -- guilty as charged."
Weeks after the film was pronounced dead, rumors surfaced around Hollywood that the "Moneyball" project was being revived. Soderbergh was out, as he'd predicted to David Justice. Aaron Sorkin, creator of the television show "The West Wing" and scripter of "A Few Good Men," was called in to re-do the script. Brad Pitt, who Beane says is "just a regular guy who would fit in anywhere," is still committed to play him.
The Red Sox and Yankees, for whom the term "Moneyball" has never applied, still adopt some of the principles that once kept Beane's teams competitive. The evolutionary ideas are now in place. The revolution is over.
"Essentially, the decision-maker needs to have a very successful management team that exposes him to all sides," Cashman says. "I think you have to have a team that scouts, because the bottom line is players with big tools win championships. Statistical analysis comes into play in defining the reality of the performance. Trends that show risk, injury, regression -- maybe you can catch that earlier because it's definable But I don't think you need a former player or an Ivy Leaguer. You need someone with a high degree of common sense that surrounds himself with a strong team to run an efficient business. You have to have a blend, and he'll gravitate toward the best possible solutions."[+] EnlargeAP Photo/Shea WalshSteven Soderbergh might not be involved any longer, but the "Moneyball" movie project apparently isn't dead.
Meanwhile, the A's reached the All-Star break in last place, and they're still there. To them, Moneyball is no longer just on-base percentage. The newest, cheapest commodities are defense and athletic players drafted out of high school. Beane loves his team's future -- especially his young pitching staff -- as much as his own.
Yet there is sort of a delicious, comical irony to the war. The most defining characteristic of Moneyball lies in its ultimate mischaracterizations. One important and erroneous school of thought is that teams with $100 million payrolls, such as the Red Sox, play Moneyball. They don't. While those teams can choose which tools they value -- Boston prizes on-base and slugging percentages, for example -- they don't have to do so at the expense of other valuable tools such as speed, batting average and defense.
The Moneyball concept -- recognizing the most valuable but least expensive commodities in player evaluation -- was immediately transformed in public perception into an obsession with on-base percentage. Therefore, a team that values on-base percentage is considered to espouse "Moneyball principles" -- even though, as Beane points out, players with high on-base percentages have now become extremely expensive.
Today, in an ironic nod to yesteryear, the undervalued quality in the baseball marketplace is the high school player with little polish but high potential, which is exactly how Beane has drafted lately.
As the market changes, both sides, it seems, can claim the last laugh.
"It's all about evaluating skills and putting a price on them," Beane says. "Thirty years ago, stockbrokers used to buy stock strictly by feel. Let's put it this way: Anyone in the game with a 401(k) has a choice. They can choose a fund manager who manages their retirement by gut instinct, or one who chooses by research and analysis. I know which way I'd choose."
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston " and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.
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