Oh, don’t even suggest those Cubs had a better shot than the 84 team! That was their year! It should have been a sure thing, but no…bastards…I watched every goddamned game that year too…
Me too . . . and I actually BELIEVED in that team.
oh no, a reformed Cubs fan….
Yes . . . sigh.
It was all about Sandberg, Sutcliffe and most especially a drunk Harry Caray…well, I also had a real fondness for Thad Bosley and Warren Brusstar too…
I swear if it wasn’t for Steve Balboni and the Royals winning the world series shortly thereafter I would have given up on the game years before I did.
Those were different times.
Indeed they were. In hindsight, the one bright spot I found from the Cubs 84 season later on is that was the year they traded Buckner to the Red Sox. heh. (big Mookie Wilson fan here…)
Yeah, Leon Durham was ahead of his time . . .ugh
I really only got back into the game via AAA ball down here.
I used to be a part of an intense draft and hold tabletop then computer league which lasted for twenty years so I developed a strong following for certain players more than any given team and as a consequence of that read about baseball history as well as all the current players at every level pretty voraciously during that time, after that ended I just didn’t have the same sort of interest any more, especially when combined with so much of the stupidity surrounding the game, but I still have to admit to more of a fondness for it than any other sport since it’s history shown through the players and their stats is so much richer than anything in the other sports. One can get a feel for the game in any era even without seeing it played.
Okay, I finally got a chance to watch Moneyball last night, and while I found it to be a fairly decent film in Hollywood terms, I also found it to almost completely miss the point about the advances in statistics and thinking regarding the game. The movie, I think, aptly points out the problem with applying a traditional narrative framework to something which doesn’t readily fit that frame. So, in that sense it speaks to some of the questions Jazz was raising about the NFL and their use of “narrative” in selling the sport.
What Moneyball does well is deal with some of the interpersonal issues surrounding the application of abstract ideas that will have an effect on those who are trying to exist in the system using those concepts, so in that way, it can be seen as speaking as much to the corporate world at large as it is baseball specifically. Nonetheless, the sorts of, possibly necessary, narrative distortions involved in the telling of the story slants the understanding of the decision making process towards the personal in a way that can be seen as misunderstanding the rationale of the system as a whole.
Earlier in the thread Matt brought up the issue of how the A’s actually were constructed, and how they won. I didn’t realize how much the movie ignores this and even actively seems to deny the implications of it for a cleaner narrative which then directly works against the larger statistical concepts allegedly being discussed. By spending as much time as they did focused on Hatteberg, for example, the movie is substituting the story of the value of the single individual over the concept of the team as a whole. It suggests that somehow playing Hatteberg was the necessary ingredient to success, making him a sort of “superstar” of a different order, a sabremetric hero in essence. This grossly oversimplifies what went on. I have no idea what went on behind the scenes in Oakland, for all I know the Pena trade happened exactly for the reasons the movie suggested, as a way to get Howe to play Hatteberg more. That’s all well and good, but what it implies about the importance of thinking of the team as a whole then becomes thrown out of whack. To be blunt about it, the A’s didn’t win because they had Hatteberg, they won because they had a core of solid young players with some more exceptional talents and they were able to find some decent role players and castoffs to fill the areas in which they were lacking with some decent production. Hatteberg’s story fits into that latter notion, but singling him out as the film does distorts the meaning of his signing.
The trade of Pena, while it may have made some sense in s short term way to get Hatteberg playing time, can be seen as costing the A’s more than it gained them in the long term, as Pena became the much better player and trading him when they did cost them potential value later on. The film only vaguely hinted at this when Brand says Beane can’t trade Pena, but failing to develop the reasons for the objections misses the point of the system as a whole. The way the Jeremy Giambi trade was handled in the film was much better handled as it suggested the scouts were right about him, although this certainly wasn’t highlighted overmuch, giving some better balance to the statistics versus scouting argument.
The movie doesn’t really handle the larger picture of success on a baseball team all that impressively, and as I suggested, that doesn’t seem to be it’s real concern. It is focused on a narrative which touches on some of shift in thinking that has gone on in baseball over the last decade or two, but fails to fully grasp the greater system behind the catchwords. That’s fine, it makes for a fairly interesting little story, but it doesn’t speak to the larger conflict involved either in the sport or as it might be applied to thinking about the needs of the corporate world versus the individual in a way which might actually say something more meaningful. I don’t have any idea whether this is due to the book the movie was based on, the script Sorkin wrote, or because of the director, but it was a disappointment.
Agree. The movie did touch on the idea that on base percentage was far more important than batting average, and on the idea that value should be considered over pure numbers (Better get ten good players for $200,000 each than one great player for $7,000,000). But then the narrative focused mostly on individuals instead of the idea of just having a different understanding of what produces runs.
A weird movie that looks like it was directed by Clint Eastwood, and acted by Robert Redford. Jonah Hill didn’t leave any kind of a lasting impression except that his character did some amazing things for the game. I’m curious as to why this film, instead of Tree of Life, is honoring Pitt’s acting skills when he’s noticeably put far more depth, energy, and personality into the 1950’s dad character. In this, his arc simply seems to be that he watches the game at the end instead of staying away so he doesn’t jinx it. Otherwise, his only other character change is that he dives at the end against the will of Jonah Hill’s character for a second then goes back to what he’d consistently been trying to maintain since the first third of the movie. And his main exertion of acting is straightforward line reads, and throwing assorted objects around.
The third act drama with the 20th win was completely transparent and sloppily put together as a means to maintain an audience interest in the characters playing, even though reaching 19 straight wins is a record in itself. As well, Beane’s constant flashback ramblings that only slightly hones in on who his character is needlessly has a final montage during this last game as a way to show how he’s come full circle or some bullshit.
There are some good scenes, including the ones that detail baseball politics in depth, and the drama therein. The dialogue is consistently well written, as it should be when you got Aaron and Steve on board. Kind of ironic how the film’s themes coincide with how the producers felt they could make this a good OSCAR WINNER movie by hiring two of the most famous screenwriters at the moment.
And what was with the weird song at the end? Did anyone else catch the girl’s last few lines about her dad being a loser? Was I not listening correctly, or what the fuck was that?
The “loser” song refers to the fact that Pitt’s character can’t really enjoy the good things right in front of him (or something to that effect).
About the “loser” thing, she’s clearly using it affectionately as a way of ironically repackaging the darker side of her dad’s self-concept— A’s are "losers"" (their competitive, but as Beane says in the film, "If you lose the last game of the season, no one gives a shit), his marriage was a failure, his career as a player was a failure, etc.
One of, what I take as, the problems with the film is in using Beane as a central figure of identification for the story as that, in itself, has a fairly dramatic impact on how we will look at the dynamic of what will be shown. It is something like the equivalent of making a movie about a corporation and viewing it from the point of view of the CEO. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but the perspective of a CEO is a fairly rarefied one and has its limitations, limitations which one would do well to acknowledge.
The ingredients for a more expansive viewpoint are all present in the story of the film, and so, to some degree I can recognize a latent expression of this larger view, but the emotional drive of the narrative does its best to deny those underlying elements from really grabbing the forefront as much as they should. I am starting to feel that there was a more interesting movie or perhaps some longer form narrative existent at some point that may have dealt with these broader implications, but one which was pared down in the process of adapting it to the big screen, thereby losing a lot of the potential nuance in the story. That story, if it did indeed exist, would have looked at the events from perspectives beyond that of the film as it currently stands. As I say, these ingredients are there already, they just weren’t given the same emphasis or developed as much as the more traditional narrative line in the film. This allows the viewer too much space from the narrative, space which could have been more profitably put to use in further connecting the viewer to the system and potentially bringing into question their place within it as sportsfans or their place in similar systems outside the game.
The ingredients for a more expansive viewpoint are all present in the story of the film, and so, to some degree I can recognize a latent expression of this larger view, but the emotional drive of the narrative does its best to deny those underlying elements from really grabbing the forefront as much as they should.
I’m curious to hear what you have in mind when you say “more expansive viewpoint.” My guess is you’re thinking of the A’s as an organization or maybe MLB—and the changes in evaluating players and building a team. If this is correct, I, personally, find this approach more appealing—and it’s basically the one taken in the book, imo. However, I think that’s tough to translate to a feature length, narrative-based film. (It could work in a documentary, though.) That’s not to say it couldn’t be done, but I have a hard time conceiving of an effective way of doing this (i.e., engaging a broad audience).
What you’re describing, Greg, sounds sort of like what Soderbergh seems to have been envisioning back when he was attached to the film. I think the risk you run, though, if you don’t do that kind of film well is you get Crash (not the Cronenberg one) about baseball (or maybe Traffic about baseball if we’re talking Soderbergh).
“The third act drama with the 20th win was completely transparent and sloppily put together as a means to maintain an audience interest in the characters playing, even though reaching 19 straight wins is a record in itself.”
Well, 19 wins was a three-way tie for the AL record (with the1906 Chicago White Sox and the 1947 New York Yankees). You’re talking about s “third act” as if this were a purely fictional story, but this is how it was treated by the media at the time. Not sure how well you know baseball, but it’s pretty obsessed with numbers and historical context. Also, the nature of the win was pretty remarkable in its own right—a 12-11 victory after being down 11 runs.
Actually, I wasn’t thinking exactly along those lines Jazz. I am mostly referring to things which are already a part of the texture of the film, but which aren’t brought into focus as much as the more obvious “feel good” narrative elements.
The subject could have been expanded upon in a number of ways, many of which would only require differences in approach rather than dramatic shifts in the storyline. One of these would be in giving a more balanced interpretation of Grady, the scout’s, objections to the shift of focus as the idea of judging people’s worth based on statistical output, making them easily replaceable cogs, has some resonance beyond the game itself as it can be looked at as being true, to certain extents, for how any organization should look at those it employs. The arguments between Grady and Beane then could have just been given a different slant in performance to further emphasize this, which then could have been given more weight at the trading of Jeremy Giambi, who showed, from a negative perspective, that people are indeed more than statistics. They could have further examined or underlined the role of the fan’s perspective in their demands for blood when things weren’t going well and what that suggests about “our” attitude.
They could have further dealt with the consequences of short term versus long term thinking as when Pena was traded, damaging the club’s future for an immediate gratification. They could have given the “loser” thing a different weighting as Beane can be seen in that light given how things turned out when combined with other events of the film. They could have given Brand’s character some more conflict in the storyline, even in personality, rather than making him a sort of stathead Jiminy Cricket, and set up some further tension surrounding the consequences of his approach. They could have better examined the response of the players to both the change and to the differences in “value” each is labelled with.
They could have, at least, been more honest about the relative values of the players on the field and how that contributed to winning, and how those players were acquired and what that suggests. (This is even more the case when one compares the A’s to the Twins who beat the A’s in the division series and also had a small payroll that year.)
I could go on, but the overall problem I had is that in essentializing the narrative, they are changing the perception of the story in ways that provide a sort of comfort to the viewer which isn’t entirely justified or honest, even when these other factors may be implicit in the film already. It simplifies the story in much the way you were suggesting about the NFL films. That might make for more enjoyment, but it is enjoyment at a cost as it appears to be telling you something “true” when it is only providing part of the story or shaping our reaction to it to fit an end. That, of course, isn’t anything unusual for movies, but it is troubling when it is supposed to be a “true” story and beyond that it moves away from greater artistic ends to being palliative instead.
“They could have further dealt with the consequences of short term versus long term thinking as when Pena was traded, damaging the club’s future for an immediate gratification. "
I dunno Greg, Pena was hitting .218 with 7 home runs and 38 strikeouts over the course of 40 games in Oakland, and he didn’t really have a truly outstanding season until he got to Tampa Bay in 2007, long after he would have played out the contract he was playing under for the A’s and likely gone somewhere else as a free agent by then anyway because the A’s wouldn’t have been able to afford to keep him if he did pan out (the fact that he’s played for 5 different teams [counting the stints with the Rays seperately] in the decade since the A’s traded him suggests that conventional baseball wisdom doesn’t value him particularly highly either).
You’re right, I did overstate the case in the sense that it wasn’t really as simple as I made it out to be. In regards to Pena, it isn’t as much a question of his later career per se as it is that combined with the potential value he had in trade combined with his ability. Pena was a fairly highly valued commodity in those years, and the A’s dumped him at close to his lowest possible value along with Jeremy Bonderman, another valued commodity, and Franklyn German, a player whose perceived value I don’t recall, in a three team trade for Ted Lilly, John-Ford Griffin, Jason Arnold and cash. To be fair, Griffin was thought of as having some potential in the sabremetric community due to his ability to get on base, but there were some fairly significant questions surrounding him as well given his lack of power and age for the leagues he was playing in, he was a projection, as was Arnold, who had some serious buzz surrounding him, but being a pitcher carried some risk, especially given his style and use, where Lilly was thought of as being somewhere between good to really good and undervalued, but he was ready to play now.
So, I should have been more careful since the A’s did look for some long term returns to their trade, but they were of a different sort of level of projection than what they were giving up in a way. Basically, you could see it as a gut check swap of Arnold and Bonderman, two highly touted high round draft picks, which the A’s came out the losers on, and then Pena and German for Griffin and Lilly plus cash. Griffin never panned out, Lilly was good enough the next year, but they had to trade him again for contract reasons ending up with Bobby Kielty. The A’s weren’t really hurting for pitchers over much at the time either, so I guess the trade could be seen as being sort of a wash in hindsight, but at the time Pena was perceived as having the most immediate value, which he began to show right after he was traded to Detroit when his power showed up.
So, it wasn’t a question of whether they should have traded Pena or not as much as the timing and the package they received in return, and also the longer term thinking on Hatteberg who, contrary to the movie, wasn’t really anything too special and certainly not someone who shouldn’t have been counted on for the long haul. The movie over-simplifies the cost/benefit analysis with him pretty dramatically given his limitations and the position he played in the interest of narrative zing as well. (Of course I didn’t really expect the movie to go through a long and detailed analysis of the trade, I just think they could have brought up some of the issues involved rather than making it sound like a two minute spur of the decision phone call.)
Yeah, wasn’t Haddeberg one of those catchers the Red Sox only kept around to catch Tim Wakefield?
That seems more or less right. I haven’t read the book Moneyball, but I gotta say the idea that Hatteberg was some central element to the A’s planned lineup going in to the season seems pretty hard to believe given his previous production, even with his ability to take a walk, and given the A’s traded four players to get Pena, including a couple of heralded prospects, after they signed Hatteberg, but telling the story that way would ruin the narrative.
“Franklyn German, a player whose perceived value I don’t recall”
He had a great arm—triple digit MPH fastball—but never had much control over. I’ve seen him pitch in Triple-A ball (pitching for Toledo and later Charlotte) a few times over the years. Fun to watch the ball from his hand to the plate, but he was never really all that effective as a pitcher. I can see why someone might take a shot with him at the point the Tigers did, but I can also see why Oakland was willing to throw him into a deal like that when they did. Bonderman and Weaver and Lily was really where the portion of that trade where most of the real value was.
“it wasn’t a question of whether they should have traded Pena or not as much as the timing and the package they received in return, and also the longer term thinking on Hatteberg who, contrary to the movie, wasn’t really anything too special "
Well, yeah, no question that the film simplifies a number of aspects of the game, including having Beane show up at Hatteberg’s house in an effort to sign him (never happened). And of course, the whole dynamic between Pena and Hatteberg at first base in not historically accurate. Pena was intended to be Giambi’s replacement, but he slumped badly and was sent to the minors by late April (short version: at that point in his career, Pena couldn’t handle fastballs away). The other thing it doesn’t really communicate very well at all is what DePodesta and Beane saw in Hatteberg. Here’s the rationale that Lewis lays out:
when Hatteberg was with the Red Sox, he had an on-base rate about 25 points higher than the league average. Properly rested and playing regularly at first base, he would get on base even more. Secondarily, Hatteberg would wear out opposing pitching. His at bats went on and on. Hatteberg was unafraid of striking out. This absence of fear showed itself in how often he hit with two strikes. He was fearless because he seldom struck out. He consistently worked himself into deep counts but despite hitting often with two strikes, he routinely put the ball into play. The ratio of his walks to strikeouts was among the highest in the league: fourth in the league in the 2002 season.
. . . Hatteberg also thought through baseball’s process of debilitating (wearing down) hitters. He felt that the big leagues was a ruthlessly efficient ecosystem: every hitter had a weakness. Once the weakness was exposed, you had to make an adjustment or the whole league would get you out. If you had a weakness for pitches out of the strike zone, unless you could compensate with an extraordinary talent, you were doomed. From this paradigm, Hatteberg concluded that unless there were two strikes, he would not swing at anything he could not hit hard even if the pitch was a strike.
In 1996 when Hatteberg was in the big leagues for good, the Boston Red Sox hitting culture tried to sink his game. He was thoughtful, patient: the Red Sox thought that was a defect. The Red Sox wanted players to harness their aggression. Even the Red Sox’s star, Wade Boggs, a great patient spray hitter, was harassed by the Red Sox organization. When Boggs would take a walk when there was a guy on second, they called him selfish. Coach Jim Rice, a former Red Sox slugger great, berated Hatteberg for lack of aggression. The Red Sox coaches encouraged him even when he took poor swings but succeeded. The Red Sox were obsessed with outcomes: Hatty with process.
Hatty was finicky as a batter, he only picked the pitches he wanted to hit. Hatteberg concluded his 2002 season with some odd statistics and one not so odd. In 2002, he was:
1. First in the American League in not swinging at first pitches;
2. Third in percentage of pitches not swung at (64.5%); and
3. High in how many runs would a line-up produce that consisted of nine perfect replicas of Scott Hatteberg: 940-950 runs.
The explosive 2002 New York Yankees had only scored 897 runs as a team. Nine Scott Hattebergs were, by some measure, the best offense in baseball."
Yeah, Hatteberg was something like a poor man’s Mike Hargrove by the time the A’s got him. The idea had some merit, and I certainly agree that picking up someone like Hatteberg was a smart move for the money, but given his age and relative lack of other abilities at a position where hitters with some value aren’t that hard to find, one has to question the longer term commitment to him at some point, particularly in comparison to Pena at the point he was at in his career, even if there is no “right” answer, and that is what I was trying to get at basically, not questioning trading Pena per se. Oakland more or less tried to duplicate the Hatteberg idea with several other players on the roster those years and ran into the problem of players needing to have some ability to actually hit otherwise the pitchers seemed to be able to adjust and take something off the ball to gain control without much fear of too negative an outcome, or at least they learned that the Hatteberg approach doesn’t provide more consistency than somewhat more aggressive styles, emphasis there on somewhat. They had an awful lot of guys like Menechino and Esteban German around who managed to eventually put up a good season or two but never seemed to be able to maintain their value, and those two were their more successful versions of the model. (Mark Ellis even more so, actually being pretty good.) They seemed to overinvest in a model which wasn’t as fully functional as they thought as a fair number of their “propects” in the minors turned out to be busts.
To an extent, yes. And as more clubs started to incorporate more seriously some of the same analytics that the A’s were tinkering with, the strategic advantage these thing may have offered Oakland in those days waned somewhat. Eventually you use up your advantages. Same sort of thing seems to have happened to the Twins now. Small market teams have to win with a core of talent still young and inexpensive enough to be on their first contracts plus whatever else the front office can put together. And you hope to develop new young guys before the old young guys depart for bigger (and usually more eastwardly) contracts. Anything that works well enough is going to eventually going to get cannibalized. There’s a reason that Oakland was the epicenter of PED ball in a lot of ways.
Yes, the relative advantage waned over time certainly, but even still the A’s did seem to invest quite a bit in players with the primary ability in drawing walks who didn’t pan out like they hoped, causing the more exteme version of the on base is everything theory to be mitigated. Guys like Graham Koonce come to mind. But then again they didn’t have to invest a ton to get some of those guys, and a decent number did manage to put up a year or so of decent numbers, so it wasn’t a total washout, just not quite as advertised. Pitching was almost certainly where the A’s really benefited most directly, advantagewise, in their 100+ win years, that and some luck as they exceeded their expected win total in 02 and 03 while falling short in 01.
Out of curiosity, did I miss something early in the ovie when they were talking about the players they were thinking of signing? I stepped away from the screen for a moment, and when I came back it sounded like they were talking about signing Jeremy Giambi to the team as if that were something new rather than him having already been on the team for the previous two years. I was confused.
And speaking of PED ball and the Twins, Bill James seems to have been pretty convinced that the Twins were the team from whence the PED thing spread as he attributed that to their winning the World Series back in 87 and 91. In hindsight, I think he was quite likely on to something there given that team and some of the mysteries surrounding it like the ever expanding Puckett, and odd trajectories of the careers of Gaetti, Brunansky and Hrbek, and their peculiar connection to the world of pro-wrestling. That’s just speculation of course, but it makes some sense to me as I was in Minneapolis for their two series wins.
This all is getting away form the movie as it is somewhat of course, but looking at what actually transpired versus what the film shows is interesting to see how they shifted the emphasis if nothing else, and besides, I gotta admit I get something of a kick out of talking baseball from the era when I paid a lot of attention to it.
" Pitching was almost certainly where the A’s really benefited most directly"
Right, and this is one of the big ellipses in the film. It also underplays the contributions of Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejeda. I think it tries to justify this by focusing on the concept of replacing Giambi and Damon (and Olmedo Saenz, who was downplayed in the film as well, as I recall)‘s offensive production. It also mostly leaves unsaid the Eric Hinske and Justin Miller to the Blue Jays for Billy Koch, a trade that didn’t do much to support the “moneyball” thesis.
You can trace the A’s decline from a 100-90 win team from 1999-2004 to an ~ 75 win team to a number of factors. There was Tejada departing for Baltimore after the 2003 season, the trade in 2004 of Hudson to Atlanta for three players that proved to have no real value (Mulder going to the Cardinals that year at least brought back Dan Haren and Kiko Calero), Chavez’s precipitous decline following the 2005 season. Once that core of talent was depleted, the limits of sabermetrics became pretty clear. Today they have, I think, only one pitcher in the rotation who is a product of their farm system.
Re: Jeremy Giambi, I don’t recall exactly how the film handled that part of the story, but even the book sort of just implied that he was called up from the minor leagues, when in fact he’d played quite a lot in 2001, so I could see how that would lead to the film maybe getting one step further away from the facts.
“And speaking of PED ball and the Twins, Bill James seems to have been pretty convinced that the Twins were the team from whence the PED thing spread as he attributed that to their winning the World Series back in 87 and 91.”
Makes sense to me.
Yes, and more tellingly to the premise of “Moneyball” is that failure undermines the concept of the importance of the aggregate contributions of a group versus the individual contributions of a player, which is essential to the ideas in play. The conflict between the individual and the organization, to my mind, should have been more clearly defined in the film as that is what should have the greatest resonance on a societywide level.
I was also hoping that someone would challenge some of the statements I was making earlier about some of the themes being implicitly “there” in the film but not brought to the surface as, not only am I conflicted about that myself, but it also speaks to the “style vs content” debate. After thinking about the film for a while I am relatively convinced that what I take as implicit ideas are actually “there” in the script or in the base level of the film, but the emotional pull of the film as it is tends to pull the viewer, or at least this viewer away from those underlying concepts. Nonetheless, by recognizing them as being present I am unable to deny they exist for me, so there is something of a tension there as I have to claim they are simultaneously present and not, in a sense, or to put it another way, I am favoring one path of understanding the film over another and judging the film based on this in a way that isn’t entirely comfortable to me since in other circumstances I might opt to favor what I see as underlying themes or subtext over the text. Coming to terms with why, in this instance, I opt for one method, while in another I’d select a different one brings into question what it is that would signal when each method would be appropriate or opted for. I, naturally, would assume that my own reaction isn’t being unduly influenced by some pre-existing desire to see the film in a particular way, that is to want to see it as more or less successful, but I can’t wholly discount the possibility that assumption might be faulty. Converselt, there is something more to it than that to which I am reacting, a way the surface text is “blocking” the subtext in this film which is different than it might be in another, so then the issue would be in better defining where that blockage might be occurring. There are a lot of different possibilities either way here, and I’d be interested to hear ideas on any of it.
I have a hard time seeing the film as someone who wasn’t a fan of the game, and therefore might not know some of the real history of the story, might see the film. And also, having read the book, it’s difficult for me not to use the book as an overlay for the film. And even, in a sense, as someone who’s to some degree interested in the relationship between stats and what actually occurs on the field, it’s hard for me to approach the film as someone who was more of a hardcore baseball “purist” might approach the film.
yeah, that’s some of the difficulty I have about viewing the film as well, but at the same time, I think it offers a chance to look more closely at what seems to have been altered from the real season in order to tell a particular story, so one might be able to better see points the filmmakers wished to emphasize in terms of the story they are telling..