9.26.2011

Money Bawl


With the acclaimed opening of the movie, "Moneyball," starring Brad Pitt, one can unequivocally say that the Oakland A's of earlier last decade will go down in the history books as a game-changer, helping usher in a new way of thinking about baseball, balancing "feel" with cold analytics and slightly or totally refuting some traditionally held beliefs about strategy. However, as A's GM Billy Beane (who is the main character of "Moneyball") points out in this article in the New York Times, the upshot of the A's success is that there is no longer a sustainable advantage for it and other small-market teams as they do battle with teams that have double or triple the payroll size.

Sure, every season a small-market team finds success, and sportswriters and pundits knight them "the new A's" and trip over themselves discerning the secret to their success. But by and large, there is no secret, just the predictable noise of the otherwise random walk that the game of baseball has become: every once in awhile, a stray team will go on a hot streak for a whole season, but by and large it's the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Phillies that are able to sustain success year in and year out because of their payroll advantage. We want to believe that there is a way to game the system, but baseball is just like any other sport, in that the best players make the best teams, and therefore the best teams are usually fielded by franchises that have the most money to buy them. (Of course, it is not always true that teams with money are good teams, since it is far easier to waste lots of money and build a lousy team than it is to build a good team with little money. Hello, New York Mets!)

Watching "Moneyball" was fun, to see my team get celebrated for its process and for its accomplishments. But it was a little sad, too, for the movie is based in the year 2002, and the A's have enjoyed far less success in recent years, so it is easy to wonder if the best of times are behind them. Every spring, I have hope that it is not so, but by late summer, it becomes clear a playoff berth is not in order, and that the team just isn't good enough to deserve one. As a fan, I cannot help but hope for better. I bought a shirt for my wife that says "In Billy We Trust," and I do still believe in our celebrated GM, especially because of his willingness to stick to the game plan instead of flip-flopping in response to public outcry or small sample size. Maybe we'll get 'em next year. But for now, another mediocre season leaves me hollow.

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