This Is Not A Review Of Moneyball

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I went to see Moneyball yesterday. This is not a recommendation nor is it a condemnation of the film, merely facts as I see them regarding Billy Beane, what happened in Michael Lewis’s twisted narrative and the movie adaptation.

Take it or leave it, but know that I’m telling the truth.

The Art Howe portrayal.

I don’t care whether it’s Tony LaRussa, Mike Scioscia or Joe Torre, if any manager was as insubordinate, selfish and blatantly disrespectful as the “Art Howe” character in the film was, he’d be fired immediately.

That character is not the Art Howe who’s liked and respected as a dedicated baseball man throughout the industry.

Jeremy Brown was chubby, not bordering on obese.

Jeremy Brown is listed at 5’10”, 226 pounds on his Baseball-Reference page.

That may or may not have been accurate—sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not.

But the actor they had playing Brown in the movie was bordering on obese. In fact, he made Prince Fielder or CC Sabathia look like The Rock.

Artistic license? Okay.

A patently ridiculous bit of casting for affect? Not okay.

The real Jeremy Brown wouldn’t “sell jeans” unless it was for a big-n-tall store; the character Jeremy Brown almost needed to have his clothes custom made because that’s how fat he was.

Scott Hatteberg and Carlos Pena.

One of the main conflicts in the film is a struggle between Beane and Howe as to whether Hatteberg should be playing first base instead of Carlos Pena.

The implication is that Hatteberg is glued to the bench because Howe insists on having Pena—perceived as a better hitter and most definitely a better fielder than Hatteberg—in the lineup.

The penultimate scene in which Howe finally relents and sends Hatteberg to pinch hit in an 11-11 tie (as the A’s are going for their 21st straight win) is a Roy Hobbs-style moment for the unwanted misfit and Hatteberg homers to win the game.

Here’s the problem: Hatteberg and Pena were both in the lineup almost every single day before Pena was traded—2002 A’s batting orders. Hatteberg was the DH and Pena was playing first base, which made perfect sense because Hatteberg was still a neophyte first baseman and Pena could, y’know, field; and the day in question, September 4th, was a scheduled day off for Hatteberg who’d been playing almost every day anyway. (That story? It’s in Moneyball the book.)

Hatteberg eventually developed into a pretty good fielding first baseman; Pena into a Gold Glover. But the absence of fact in the interest of drama—as they’re taking a book that was supposed to be a “true” story—is glaring.

The tired-and-true formula.

Yes. I did mean “tired-and-true”.

The movie was a half-hour too long for one reason and one reason only: because they jammed the family aspect into the story with the interaction between Beane and his daughter; said interaction is about as painful as listening to Joe Buck.

What was the purpose other than to clumsily tug at the heartstrings and take a character that was relatively unlikable (an impressive feat considering the likability of Brad Pitt) and make him appear human? To say, “look, he’s just like you; he went through a divorce, life dumped on him as he struggled in what was supposed to be his calling and found another calling instead”?

It…was…too…long.

The reality.

During the scene in the 2002 draft room, Lewis wrote in the book that “this almost isn’t fair” as Beane was nabbing each and every one of the players that Paul DePodesta’s computer spit out; that fit into his “new” template of drafting “ballplayers” and not Abercrombie and Fitch models.

But it was fair.

We didn’t learn exactly how fair until years later, but we’ve learned.

It was fair because life has self-correcting mechanism that no amount of flexibility with the truth is going to eclipse.

Lewis had a planned sequel to Moneyball; it was set to detail the rise of the players who were drafted in 2002.

The sequel went away when the draft was proven to be a failure.

But there was a sequel to the book; just as there will be a sequel to the movie. You won’t see it in bookstores nor on-screen. You’ll see it in the standings; you’ll see it in the baseball record books; and you’ll see it if you really look for it.

It’s called reality.

If people are looking for a point-by-point, in depth refutation of the nonsense in Moneyball without facts pretzelized to suit the agendas of those who cling to it being seen as accurate, trust me, it’s coming.

And hell’s coming with it.

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11 thoughts on “This Is Not A Review Of Moneyball

  1. I respect and appreciate your highlighting the gap between the truth and the dramatic license. For those of us who read the book but don’t remember the details quite so well (and aren’t interested in creating such a comparison) it was a useful reminder of some important factual material as well as a primer on how a “based-on” film can differ somewhat substantially from the reality. That having been said, Stan Chervin (the writer credited with the story) is actually a friend of mine and I enjoyed talking to him about the differences. You’re right, the book had only two sentences mentioning the daughter but for those who haven’t read the book, my wife for example, the addition of that part of the storyline was an emotional touch point that made the movie more engaging and, eventually, compelling. Millions of people have seen “Moneyball” who are baseball obsessed like you or baseball compelled like me, and getting them into the theaters and entertaining them was the intent of the movie. Whether they got the ration of fact vs. dramatic convention right or not is a subjective matter; few, if any, care what happened to any of the players or anyone else for that matter nor are they really interested in whether Beane’s strategy continued to work or not. Two last points: Beane didn’t find DePodesta in Cleveland… he found him in the A’s offices when he first took over, DePodesta was already on the staff. Finally, whether the Sabremetric approach is holy or a false messiah matters little; it is worth noting that this many years later every baseball team is at least looking at many of the numbers differently and everyone has somebody crunching numbers on prospective acquisitions differently than they did 10 years ago.

    1. Whether or not Moneyball was written, the implication that baseball was inhabited by a bunch of idiots who wouldn’t have caught on to what Beane was doing is stupid. Every team has had statistical analysis people for years; Moneyball might have speeded up the process, but it didn’t invent it; and what it also did was create an atmosphere of “anyone can do this” without having necessary tools to run a club—the fissure between stat people and scouting people was a detriment, not a help.
      And people lost their jobs because of Lewis’s outright fabrications for the sake of his story—a story he openly said he “fell in love with”. He had an agenda.
      The movie had all the classic devices to sell; I found it boring not as a baseball person, but as a moviegoer. If you read my writings when movie was released and the reviews were either really good or really bad, I said that people needed to watch it as a baseball movie and leave their own prejudices and beliefs outside the theater.
      I did.
      And I was bored with the story and the hackneyed devices.
      Judging by the number of people websearching for inconsistencies from reality to book to movie and those searching for the likes of Jeremy Brown, I do believe people are interested in what happened to those players to see if they’re getting something that’s “based on a true story” or “based on what was convenient for Michael Lewis to make Billy Beane look like Einstein”.
      It’s the latter.

  2. Thought I’d post this here instead of blowing up twitter.

    Basically the argument against the Verducci effect is this: Who tends to pitch the most innings? Successful starting pitchers. Successful pitchers tend to be pitchers having better than average years. Pitchers who are having better than average years tend to have average years the following year. Thus, if you focused only on IPs, it looks like somehow IP is causing the decline. When in fact, the two had nothing to do with one another whatsoever. 99% of the time, unless the workload was just egregious, it’s just a natural regression to the mean.

    The problem with the Verducci effect is that it gets the relationship between IP and quality exactly backwards. It assumes that IP is causing the decline in quality the following year, where quality pitching causes an increase in IP during that year.

    If you run the numbers based only on pitchers whose stats are roughly similar to their career averages, the Verducci effect disappears. It only exists because high IP is highly correlated with having a better than average year, and having a better than average year usually means that you have a less good year the following year.

    1. It’s simplistic to think that more innings automatically equals more injuries, but there are so many factors involved and the concept of a “formula” is so popular that everything thinks they can come up with one.
      And they can’t.

  3. One more thing: My wife, who hated baseball before our kids started in Little League, has come a long, long way in these eleven years and she was intrigued by the supposed “behind-the-secenes” stuff in the movie which, while not perfect, gave her more insight and heightened her interest. Similarly, “The Franchise” (real reality in that the people are real and the stories largely true even though they were stacked for human interest and drama) had the same effect. My wife is more engaged as a fan and more interested in the game. Can that be bad? Well, at least it’s good for me. She thinks I should go for Theo’s job if he goes to Chicago go after the Chicago job if he doesn’t. If I get either, I’ll bring you onboard. After all, I’ll need someone who really knows something about baseball….

  4. Hearty Larry:
    I believe that what Paul is saying re. the daughter scenes is that they are hackneyed–typical Hollywood artificial plug-ins to humanize a character. I agree with Paul, though I actually find those scenes to ‘succeed’ more than the rest of the movie. The rest of the film could only aspire to such triteness.

    As for viewers like your wife enjoying the behind the scenes stuff, The Franchise and similar HBO, Showtime shows are more accurate and more interesting from a human interest and a business standpoint. Which begs the question, why the hell would anyone make this abomination of a movie? I mean if any ‘inside’ doc shows on TV are more entertaining and more accurate, and if any actual live baseball game is more entertaining and suspenseful than Moneyball, then why would Hollywood make this?! (except as a case study as to how to hoodwink reviewers and audiences)

    Obviously the success of The Blind Side was the major influence. But I think producers reading the book may have also noticed that there is an interesting story contained within Moneyball: the story of Beane’s failure as a player. They just failed to stress that element and overstressed the Beane as GM stuff.

    Looking forward to reading Paul’s point by point refutation of the film! Oh and I loved how the movie never mentioned steroids. That was hilarious.

  5. This was a good article, but I think calling the 2002 A’s draft a failure is a bit of an overstatement. The bottom line is that out of that draft they got a future MLB starting catcher (John Baker), a solid starting pitcher (Joe Blanton), a solid regular (Nick Swisher), and a guy who had at least 3 solid big league seasons (Mark Teahan). While it wasn’t a draft for the ages, it was an above average haul.

    If you want to see a failure from that draft take a look at the Cubs. They had 9 draft picks in the first three rounds and came away with Bobby Brownlie, Luke Hagerty, Chadd Blasko, Matt Clanton, Brian Dopirak, Justin Jones, and Billy Petrick.

    1. These are fair points, but in the context of the way the draft was framed by Lewis it was supposed to be the draft to end all drafts; instead, they got a few useful pieces and that’s it.

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