Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Moneyball Trashed

I have not seen the movie "Moneyball," but I want to.  Unfortunately, I rarely see first run movies these days.  But I read the book and liked it a lot.  I thought Michael Lewis was smart and insightful in his theme and analysis.  And I have heard good things about the movie.  Everyone I know who's seen it has given a good review.  So, my expectations for the movie were high, whenever I get around to seeing it....until now.

Brilliant author David Maraniss has demolished the movie in today's Washington Post.  Maraniss brings real street cred to his opinions, having written the definitive biography of Roberto Clemente.  So, he knows baseball.  He divides his critique of the movie into two parts.  First, the movie is false in attributing the miracle that was the 2002 Oakland Athletics to Billy Beane and his statistics.  Second, basing success on numbers and wins misses the entire point of baseball.

Frankly, I'm more persuaded by his first point.  Maraniss utterly contradicts the point of the movie in trashing the "old ways" of baseball which is based on guts and emotion, versus Billy Beane's as the new way, based on facts and statistics.   In so doing, the movie ignores the true heroes of that season who were barely mentioned in the movies.  His case is powerful.
And that is the deceit of the movie, one that the writers, directors and actors had to know. Why were the A’s successful that year? The main reason was that they had three of the best starters in the American League — Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder — pitching for them. All three were drafted on the recommendation of the team’s scouts, who are portrayed in the movie as morons who just don’t get it. Zito, the A’s first-round pick in 1999, won the Cy Young Award in 2002 with a 23-5 win-loss record and a 2.75 earned run average. Hudson, selected in the sixth round by the A’s in 1997, went 15-9 in 2002 with a 2.98 earned run average. And Mulder, picked in the first round by the A’s in 1998, went 19-7 with a 3.47 earned run average.
Yet Zito and Mulder are not mentioned in the movie, while Hudson is shown only fleetingly, blowing an 11-0 lead.

While I sympathize with the idea that the beauty of the game should outweigh a single-minded obsession with winning, I find that view naive.  Like it or not, winning is everything.

But the injustice of the movie, as described by Maraniss, is what will stick with me.  What must it be like for Hudson, Zito and Mulder to have the history of that season written for all time without including their contribution?  I can only hope that Maraniss' passionate protest can be included in the public record as a strong rebuttal.

While I still want to see the movie, I will look at it through different eyes, thanks to David Maraniss.

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