Moneyball: A Look Inside Major League Baseball and the Oakland A's

Ryan Wright@@HogManInLAAnalyst IIISeptember 20, 2011

Billy Beane putting Moneyball to the test.
Billy Beane putting Moneyball to the test.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

If you haven’t seen any of this summer’s blockbuster movies yet, chances are you haven’t seen the trailer for Moneyball—and you’re missing out. Moneyball is based off the 2003 best selling book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, which chronicles the early failures and success of the Oakland Athletics after team owner Walter Haas Jr. died in 1995.  

After Walter Haas Jr.’s death in 1995, the Oakland A’s were bought and operated by Stephen Schott and Ken Hoffman. Haas Jr. was a team owner known to spend money on the A’s team payroll to get top talent.

From the time Haas took over as the owner of the A’s in 1980 until his death, the A’s won five American League West titles and appeared in three consecutive World Series (1988, 1989 and 1990), winning the World Series in 1989 against the San Francisco Giants.

Schott and Hoffman were not interested in spending money on the team’s payroll and only allowed the A’s management staff to spend, in the grand scheme of baseball, very little money on the team’s payroll. Thus “moneyball” was invented as a necessity for the A’s to compete in modern baseball.

The term “moneyball” refers to a sabermetric principle applied to baseball and the player’s statistical achievements. The primary stats used are on-base percentage and slugging percentage, with the thought that those stats lead to more runs scored.

Then General Manager of the A’s (1983-1997), Sandy Alderson (now General Manager of the New York Mets), developed a cost effective approach to attaining players needed to compete in Major League Baseball based upon a player’s offensive production and the financial value of that player on the open market in free agency.

Alderson is credited for rebuilding the A’s farm system during the 1980’s and adding players to the team as needed based off the sabermetric system: moneyball equals low cost free agent players plus calling up minor league talent from one’s farm system, with a hopeful end product of a successful MLB season.

Moneyball places a heavier emphasis on drafting college talent that is thought to be more proven and polished over high school talent that is still raw and unproven. In 1998 Alderson took an executive vice president for baseball operations position in Major League Baseball’s front office, leaving the development of Moneyball to his successor, Billy Beane.

The movie focuses on Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and Peter Brand’s (Jonah Hill) attempts to change the way baseball executives approach filling out a competitive major league team year after year with financial limitations. Moneyball should prove to be an underdog’s dramatic look inside the mathematics and statistics of baseball followed with the success of the Athletics. Moneyball will be released in theatres September 23.

Since the A’s last trip to the World Series in 1990 they have made the playoffs four times (2000, 2002, 2003 and 2006), only winning one playoff series in a 2006 ALDS series sweep of the Minnesota Twins.

The A’s had the misfortune of playing the New York Yankees, Major League Baseball’s antithesis of moneyball, in two dramatic ALDS series in 2000 and 2001. Who can forget Derek Jeter’s unbelievable relay toss along the first base line to Jorge Posada at home to stop the A’s from scoring?

To put this in “moneyball” terms, the $41 million payroll of the A’s went the distance with the $125 million payroll of the Yankees in 2002.

To put another twist on the movie and the moneyball approach, the budget for Moneyball was $47 million, $6 million more than the A’s 2002 total team payroll.

The A’s 2010 opening day team payroll was $51.6 million. The A’s payroll was the third lowest payroll in MLB, topping the San Diego Padres ($37.7 million) and Pittsburg Pirates ($34.9 million). The New York Yankees lead MLB with a payroll over $206 million. In 2011 the A’s jumped their team payroll to $66.5 million, with an average player salary of $2.376 million per year. The jump in payroll spending places the A’s 21st in MLB team salaries out of 30 teams.

Notes of Interest

Billy Beane was a highly recruited baseball, football and basketball player while in high school at Mount Carmel High in San Diego, California.

Stanford recruited Beane to play baseball and football, hoping he would eventually replace then starting quarterback, John Elway.

Beane was the 23rd player drafted in the first round of the 1980 Major League Baseball Draft by the New York Mets. He signed with the Mets for $125,000.00.

The Mets thought so highly of Beane they placed him in Class-A ball while placing their top pick, and the number one overall pick of the 1980 draft, Darryl Strawberry, in Rookie ball.

Beane played for six years in MLB as an outfielder for the Mets, Twins, Tigers and A’s, compiling a career .219 average on 66 hits with 29 RBIs.

He was on two teams that won the World Series, the 1987 Twins and the 1989 A’s. He was not on the post season roster for either team.

The A’s have not finished above .500 since 2006.

Billy Beane was made a 10 percent owner of the Oakland Athletics in 2005 by new team owner Lew Wolff (maybe that’s why the A’s have not spent more money on the team’s payroll, the player’s salaries are now coming out of Billy’s pocket!).


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