The upcoming release of the film Moneyball on Friday, based on the best-selling book by Michael Lewis with the same title, should hopefully be a somewhat flattering achievement for not only general manager Billy Beane, but the entire Oakland A’s organization as well.
Imagine: a feature-length movie that illustrates your team’s revolutionary new business model that produces successful results on the baseball field.
Sounds more like a finance documentary for an Econ 101 class.
Instead, Moneyball has been turned into a made-for-big-screen story, Hollywoodized with the glamorous background and glitzy megastars in Brad Pitt as Beane and Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman. Who would’ve thunk that such an achievement would occur for a baseball general manager?
One would think that being depicted by Brad Pitt in a theatrical film would be a sign that you’ve made it big. Or maybe that you’ve done something worth talking about. In the very least, you’d feel honored and maybe even a tad bit cool.
But for Beane, alas, none of the above should be the case.
In actuality, the film could not come out at a worse time for him and the franchise. And it is the untimely release that has generated an opposite reaction.
On many levels, the movie elicits a more negative acknowledgement. Rather than tout the radical and dynamic formula that was to turn the Athletics into a winning team, Moneyball seemingly showcases an outdated theory that makes the organization look like a bunch of has-Beanes.
Moreover, with a fifth consecutive non-winning season presently in the works, Oakland is proving that this whole Moneyball idea is a destitute one indeed.
This is unfortunate because there was a time when the Moneyball theory was something nearly everybody in baseball was talking about. The concept of applying sabermetrics and other financial analyses to determine a baseball team’s roster was revolutionary. More, it was unheard of.
But with Oakland’s mathematicians—Beane counters, if you will—targeting slow-footed, power-hitting on-base machines was like investing in the low-budget stock of a start-up company. By turning them into the Oakland un-Athletics, the low risk-high reward actuarial approach was too good to pass up.
However, evidently the end results showed that these theorems were also too good to be true. Though the small market A’s were able reach the playoffs in four consecutive years on shoestring budgets, nary one of those squads advanced beyond the first round.
So while the Moneyball-ism economic system did wonders during the regular season, there was still a component missing in the blueprint that would equate to the most important team achievement in baseball—a World Series title. Thus, the regular season success was seen more as temporary formulaic genius.
Once the rest of baseball caught wind of the theses Oakland was devising—it certainly helped that they were published in a best-selling book—the Athletics’ leg up on the competition was now leveled. Every team was able to use the Moneyball template and add their own sabermetric systemization.
As a result, the playing time for small fish swimming in a big pond coincidentally ended. By the mid-2000s, Oakland’s little experiment was no longer paying off on the field. No longer were they extraordinary. No longer were they out-thinking the competition. No longer were they overachievers.
And Beane’s Moneyball system is now worth a hill of beans.
Since 2006—the Athletics’ last appearance in the postseason—the team has not had a winning record, with another losing record on its way this season. That absolutely does not reflect well on Oakland’s philosophy. Nor does it reflect well on the philosopher himself.
Sure, it hasn’t Beane easy for the Athletics’ general manager. Beane has turned down job offers with teams that are more financially flexible. Teams that are currently not embroiled in a legal battle over a new baseball stadium. Teams that are more competitive. But he has remained in Oakland, determined to resurrect a moribund franchise.
Unfortunately, all that the movie will convey is that the A’s are, at present, further and further away from success than they were a mere five years ago. The days of Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada and the big three of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder are long gone. And Moneyball the film will only make Beane long for those semi-glory days.
Of course, if there was a real Hollywood ending, the film would conclude with the David Athletics beating the Goliath New York Yankees in the playoffs, scrapping their way to a World Series appearance and hopefully a title. But as we know, that did not happen. So it won’t be scripted that way.
All that can be admired is that Oakland was the little engine that believed that it could, with Beane as the engine conductor. And the A’s hung with the big boys and their large bank rolls for a lot longer than anyone else could have expected.
But how quickly eras come and go.
Beane is now in the middle of an age where money is not no object. Following A’s management, Beane has steadfastly avowed that an Oakland stadium change is necessary, or a move to a city that will house them in a baseball-only venue will suffice.
The irony is that Beane has succumbed to the fact that money now is a vital component of a team’s success, whereas a short half-decade ago, he was out-witting his adversaries without deep pockets.
It seems Beane is tired of playing no-money ball after all.
Yes, this September, instead of deciding which players will be on the roster next season, Beane has to worry about the impression that a movie leaves on him and his organization. All the while he keeps chugging along in the drama of a baseball general manager.
But at least, in the movie, his character is being played by Brad Pitt. He does have that going for him.