Moneyball the book

Having had an opinion on “Moneyball” the movie, I checked out “Moneyball” the book by Michael Lewis. I was not surprised that the movie took a lot of liberty with the particulars of the story. The movie also doesn’t reveal that Michael Lewis was actually there in the scenes depicting general manager Billy Beane as he shapes the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. Apparently he was hanging out with Beane all year gathering material for the book. How he picked such an interesting year to shadow the team is a mystery.

Lewis makes scouting meetings and trade deadline phone calls seem really exciting. The book has some quirks: awkward metaphors, imprecise language, and an overestimation of the literary value of baseball writer Bill James. Lewis refers to the Oakland Athletics as poor because of their anemic player payroll when they were really just cheap. Like the movie, the book seems to ignore that the 2002 Oakland Athletics had a really good team, and were not really built around the handful of undervalued role players Billy Beane had scavenged from other teams.

For all the differences in opinion over its management practices, professional baseball delivers pretty clear results. You either win or you lose, succeed or fail. Lewis barely mentions Oakland’s first round playoff loss to the equally low-budget Minnesota Twins, dismissing the postseason as statistically insignificant, as if it winning in the postseason wasn’t the entire point of the season. Scientific management by the Oakland Athletics has yielded diminishing returns as the team’s performance has steadily declined since 2002. Their top amateur draft choices in 2002, which get a lot of attention in the book as examples of Beane’s objective approach prevailing over conventional wisdom, have had ordinary results in the intervening years.

But “Moneyball” ends with the 2002 season and doesn’t track the long term effects of Beane’s scientific management beyond that year or that team, though his methods have been adopted in greater or lesser measures by most others. In 2011 most baseball owners, managers, players, fans, and observers have still not been completely converted. Lewis notes the symptoms of baseball’s conservatism but misses the cause: that as a nationally-protected cultural monopoly, Major League Baseball operates in a insulated environment without external competition and will be very, very slow to change.

The rain

The blue-green and black in the sky would have been pretty if it wasn’t a storm front. As I was driving downtown to run errands the rain came down hard. Through the gray sheets of rain I could see that the protesters’ tents in College Green Park had multiplied since the weekend, but no people were out. I’ve seen it rain harder before but I’ve never seen so much water on the street. Even after two months of dry weather, if the ground can’t absorb the water faster than it comes down, it will simply run off. Water that should have been in a creek or a marsh somewhere was simply flowing across the pavement, turning the roads into shallow rivers. The workers at the food co-op were installing flood gates on the doors. And even though it was in the sheltered first level of the parking garage, farmers market was washed clear of shoppers for sure. I had my pick of bell peppers.

Moneyball

Detroit and Texas were rained out tonight so we saw a movie about baseball instead.

I’m not sure what made it so, but “Moneyball” is a pretty good movie. It didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good story, though. The movie made it seem like the 2002 Oakland Athletics were like the Cleveland Indians in “Major League”. Far from it. They had a very good team (one of the best starting rotations in the league, strong hitters, and some very good defensive players), they just had to plug a few holes. They were also far from the poorest team or the smallest market; perhaps they were just stingier. At any rate, they had built a good team without the “Moneyball” approach, and “Moneyball” didn’t stop them from being eclipsed in their division during the rest of the decade by their big-money rivals, the Los Angeles Angels.

The moment in the film where the Red Sox offer Beane an unprecedented salary to be their general manager undermines the whole concept of the movie. And there is a ridiculous epilogue at the end that says the Red Sox won the World Series a couple of years later by implementing Beane’s strategy. Total baloney. Just like there was no other way for the Athletics to compete with teams like the New York Yankees by spending money, there was no way the Red Sox could compete with the Yankees without spending money. Just the fact that John Henry was willing to throw ridiculous amounts of money at a general manager proves it. Beane was right to upend baseball’s archaic wisdom on player value, but until the financial playing field among teams is leveled, it won’t tip the balance.

Rivalry

Are the Saint Louis Cardinals aware of their “rivalry” with the Milwaukee Brewers? The Cardinals are a very old team and have played in many, many World Series. Their main rivalry is with the Cubs, and with the other old National League teams, and then to a lesser extent with the Tigers and Royals. It’s sort of like when I found out Cleveland Indians fans think their team has a rivalry with the New York Yankees. We Yankees fans were blissfully unaware.

Iowa City, occupied and otherwise

Radio men

I tuned in to the Brewers-Diamondbacks radio broadcast online and… is that Bob Uecker announcing the play by play? Indeed it is.

The Yankees exited the postseason with their dishrag-like performance last night. As usual, the Division Series was only on cable, so I subscribed to MLB.com audio in order to hear the games. It gave me a chance to hear John Sterling; a rare treat for me. I could do without all the hokey home run calls he’s developed, but he’s still a terrific announcer.

Of course we’ll all be stuck with Tim McCarver for the rest of the postseason. Somebody kill me know.