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Moneyball Cooks the Books

The movie’s argument -- that the A’s did things no other team was doing and vastly outperformed expectations because of it -- is hampered by the fact that toward the end of the story the A’s are shown being eliminated from the 2002 playoffs by the Minnesota Twins, a team with a virtually identical budget. (The A’s payroll was third lowest in the league that year; the Twins were a single notch up). The movie also says that the Boston Red Sox borrowed Beane’s techniques, hired the Beane-like stats guru Bill James, and rode them to a World Series title in 2004. But that Red Sox team spent hugely, with a payroll that dwarfed that of every team save one (the Yankees, who annually top the charts in player compensation). If the Sox are so “Moneyball,” then why are they this year virtually tied with the Tampa Bay Rays, whose payroll is one-fourth of Boston’s? If Moneyball were correct, the Sox’ combination of wealth and superior insight should make this no contest.

Moreover, the Hill character is based on Paul DePodesta, who far from being a game-changer has bounced from the Dodgers, who had one winning and one losing season while he was there, to the Padres, who were an average team while he was there, to the Mets, who have compiled one losing season since his arrival last year.

Moneyball cheers on lovable losers picked by Beane such as A’s first baseman Scott Hatteberg, who did indeed turn out to be better than anyone but Beane predicted, but Beane-favored catcher Jeremy Brown (who appears at the end of the movie and is a memorable presence in the book) earned himself five games in the big leagues. Ultimately baseball is about spotting talent, and Beane’s record is mixed on this point.

Amusing though it is, Moneyball is guilty of the same sins it ascribes to poor, fat Art Howe and the crusty veteran scouts who are mercilessly lampooned as being idiots who sit around telling each other about how the ball “explodes off the bat” of a hitter whose stats prove to Beane that he can’t play. The movie is simplistic, it’s superficial, it’s dismissive, and it relies on a cliché -- that the bold, rude young rebel is necessarily smarter than the stodgy and experienced old hand.

(Thumbnail based on a modified Shutterstock image.)