Saturday, March 10, 2012

Moneyball

This book while being, I think, my first TRUE story into the field of sports. I know Hundreds sporting true stories. But this is my first in baseball.

Originally written by Michael Lewis who wrote this book because he loved the story. It began w/ one innocent question; How did one of the poorest teams in baseball win so many games?  While some of the biggest names spent so much money, they lost in the end. On the other end, there was the Oakland A's, who had won more regular game seasons than any other team. How did they do it? At the bottom of the Oakland experience, it was a willingness to re-think/re-strategize the game. From it's strategy to it's players and their strengths. From scientific science-to-TRUE worth. Knowing what he was getting himself into was the GM (General Manager) of the Oakland A's, Billy Beane. But, why was he the BEST for the job?

As one who was a former PRO player himself, Billy Beane could beat anyone at anything. This was a kid who fro Day 1 made himself excel at the sport, something that his own father, a naval officer, had wanted to teach his son something. From small-time to the BIG LEAGUES, Billy played like blink and you'll miss something you'll ever see again. It go so that in 1979, Billy would run straight from practice to a friend's house to avoid incessant phone calls to his house from scouts. From coaches to scouts, Billy was cool. Everyone wanted this kid. Each/every time the scouts seen him, they saw what they wanted - a big league star. For Billy, his talent was a mask. When things didn't go well for Billy on-field, a wall came down between him and his talent. He had to break it. It was more than not wanting to fail, he merely didn't know how to fail. When it came time for Billy to choose: Stanford of playing for the Mets? After an arm wrestle w/ his father to decide, Billy won. Choosing the Mets. A decision he would later regret. His life changed. From becoming anything to just another leaguer, not even a rich one.

In the summer of 2002, Billy Beane faced his 40TH year and his 5TH as the Oakland A's manager. His was different. He had a life he hadn't led yet - and he knew it. In the beginning of scouting, the odds were against him. Reason, even science, was what Billy Beane was intent on bringing to baseball. It was a constant struggle for him w/ unreasonable means to build a baseball team. There was a lot you couldn't see when you watched a game. For Billy Beane, it was a little different. He intended to rip away from the scouts the power to decide who would  be pro and who wouldn't and his assistant, Paul DePodesta was his reason for doing it.

Paul DePodesta
Paul was the one that KNEW his shit that other scouts ignored. In a room of players, the only bona fide big league regular was Matt Keough, who won the 16 games for the 'As in 1980s. In 1978, his rookie year, he pitched for the All-Star Game. He was the most detached from the group. In 2002, it was IMPORTANT the amateur draft was for the future of the Oakland A's. After Billy's experience as a PRO player was he regarded an experience he needed to overcome to do his job well.When it came to scouting, they used several catch phrases to describe what they needed to avoid. Ex. - Phil Milo (put a Milo on him). Other reasons why the A's didn't waste time on a player. One: Age. The other were "expectations". Word would quickly spread to the rest of the MLB that once Billy Beane was on to a player, players stick would rise. Scouts wanted to keep Billy as far away from him as they could. Billy had his own ideas about where to find future major league players: inside Paul's computer.Billy said it best "When we stop trying to figure out the perception of guys, we've done better". When asked by Dick Bogard, aka "Bogie", one who knew of being the oldest scout, which player, on the Oakland A's draft board resembled a young Billy Beane? "An old thing has died" "Billy Beane was a guy you could dream on!"

The Mets were betting that Billy was better equipped than others to deal w/ pressures & frustrations that went with playing w/ older players. The scouting department judged him wrong - they wanted him to fail. Something he couldn't do. At times, Billy was smart enough to fake his way through his role "young man of promise".One thing about Billy, his weakness was that he couldn't hit. When he missed - he hit. Not others - but unraveled. He busted so many bats against so many walls his teammates lost count. Emotions were always such a big part of what ever he did. For the next three years, Billy was between leagues finally w/ the A's. In those last three years, Billy watched ALOT more games than he played. Calling himself "The Forrest Gump of baseball". He was on the bench when his team won the World Series in 1987 &'89. Among the older men, they saw it like Billy had shoved his talent to one side. He hadn't let nature take it's course. He tried to force it, not stay loose. Billy seen himself only in his stats. If his stats were bad, he had no self-worth.

During spring training in 1980, he was no longer a boy, but a grown man. Married to his high school sweetheart w/ a kid on the way. At 27, the game had stunted him. In 1990, Billy had done something else instead. He walked out of the Oakland A's dugout, into the front offices and said he wanted a job as an advance scout. Entering his prime in baseball, Billy decided he'd rather watch them play. Sandy Alderson didn't know much aout Billy and wondered kind of player he was. Sandy managed to change many things about baseball. Sandy came in as a progressive thinker not knowing shit about the game. He concluded EVERYTHING from strategies-to-evaluations conducted by scientific hypothesis tested by analysis of historical data. He didn't mean to re-examine the premises of the game, but he did it.

By 1995, Alderson had created a baseball corporate culture around a single statistic: on-base percentage. He implemented rules w/ a Marine Corps. tolerance. Discipline & patience had NEVER been enforced. Billy soon found himself out of, not only a uniform, but a wife as well. Moving back to San Diego w/ Casey, their infant daughter, in-tow. Whatever shred of doubt he had that that no one knew talked about - he lost it! The only thing he didn't lose was his ferociousness to win. Alderson introduced writings by Bill James. While Billy listened to Alderson's conclusions about them, his mind found an escape. A green filed far away from baseball, but inside the park.

Chapter 4 - Field Of Ignorance was an in detailed account of writer Bill James of the stats & more of what he accumulated in his writing the book, "1985 Baseball Abstract". By 1997, Billy Beane had read all 12 of Bill James' books. James had something interesting to say to Billy. Billy used his poverty, the fact that he didn't have money, to camouflage that he wants these oddballs more than the studs that he couldn't afford . In his 6 years on the job, Billy had a gift for making grotesquely good deals - finding what other people want and giving it to them in exchange for something better - ALOT better then he could there. But it was against the law to trade draft slots.To describe what Billy feels in anger doesn't justify. He believes, or wants to, that he is alone and no one can help w/ this situation. Each time a team rolls the dice on a high school player, every player that he doesn't want boosts his chances on one he does want. (Pretty much a constant trade-off. One minute you're in, the next traded to someone/somewhere else).

The average A's big leagues salary was $15 million or a bit less from 1999 - having won 91 games in 2000 and more in '01, the Oakland A's were getting better. The more financial underdog they were, the more games they won. By the beginning of 2002, the A's who had won w/ so little, were to figure out the mathematical science of winning an unfair game. What was to be an ordinary interest in the ability to get on base became an obsession for the A's.Runs were the money of baseball. The common denominator of everything that occurred on the field. An insight-er born into the financial market took root into the mind of Paul who put it to use in MLB.

The challenge that came next was to find a replacement for Giambi. But there were more at the same time: Johnny Damon & Olmedo Saenz. Their replacements were, as being labeled, "defected" by the MLB were David Justice, Scott Hatteburg & Jason Giambi's little brother, Jeremy. Every hitter has a hole, the strike zone too big to cover it all, and Giambi's was the size of a pint of milk  and between 2-to-3 baseballs. The reason Billy was able to afford David was due to him being unwanted and starting to show his age. SOmething new players noticed right away were the ways Billy acted in the clubhouse; breaking things and more.Billy was present but also distant in the same.

It didn't take long for the new member of the Oakland A's to see that Billy ran the show. (The Head Boss In Charge). Billy COULDN'T STAND to watch the games. He was a nervous wreck. To blow off stress, he did treadmill /exercises during the game. Taking a glimpse every now/then, but didn't look for the most part. Every time Scott Hatteberg picked a throw out of the dirt, he was dubbed 'Pickin' Machine' .Paul could figure out how a pitcher should pitch any big leaguer, but Hatty was an enigma. Paul couldn't find Hatty's weakness. Billy Beane thought himself out of the BIG LEAGUES and Scott Hatteberg thought himself in.

A by-product of the Oakland experience was trying to subordinate the interest of the individual hitter to that of his team. What bothered Billy about John Mabry was that his approach to hitting was the opposite to Hatteberg. Hatteberg will be the FIRST in American League in not swinging at first pitched and third that he doesn't swing at. The trading trick Billy used was to persuade other teams to buy his guys for more than they were worth and sell their guys for less than their worth. Anyone seeking to understand how this team w/ no money kept winning more & more games would do well to notice their phenomenal ability to improve in the middle of the season. The reason the A's played as if they were different in the second half of the season was because they were a different team. Some of the players felt like trading cards, you know, one minute you're in, the next you're not & traded. (More bang for the buck that you've got). Look at it this way - the stats of MONEYline w/ the figure of baseBALL.

After Billy acquired 2 new players, the team went from good to great. The odd thing about Chad Bradford in this story was that he wants so badly to be normal. Something that he is NOT! More than the fact that he throws funny. The White Sox were ready to trade him due to him not behaving like a "BIG LEAGUER".Sticking to his own thing and down to his homeboy roots. It wasn't that Chad did things differently, it was the efficiency w/ which was recording outs. The best thing of all was that scouts didn't like him. So because he was thrown away by scouts due to his arm, Billy wanted him.

Billy hadn't the slightest interest in watching his team making history, it was just another game. The winning streak of the team had become a national news story. When Scott Hatteberg hits a surprising home run, the single play, winning the game, Billy Beane saw it as just another win.

That was one thing about Billy Beane, he NEVER EVER let himself get emotionally involved w/ a player. Two things after Billy Beane's team secured a play-off spot. 1. Staff members went to the papers to put pressure on the GM  2. A re-think in the engine room  - re-think their whole strategy. Any way you look at it, the progress and result of this team was nothing but miraculous.Baseball science may give a team a slight edge, but that edge is overwhelmed by chance. Billy Beane's services in that market were rapidly changing. After Billy's contract ended, he traded himself. Which his imminent departure rippled through the organization. Paul DePodesta agreed to become new manager of the A's. Billy was traded to the Boston Red Sox. Before he officially signed, Billy couldn't do it. He already made that mistake once, saying yes for money. He vowed to never do it again. He went back to what he did best - preparing the A's for the play-off's in another season. Paul DePodesta went back to being a sidekick. He changed the lives of ballplayers whose hidden virtues never would have been seen.








Here's MY Opinion:

I stated that I didn't know shit about sports. But I read this book and found it inspiring to see that one man (or two) do what they had to to make the proper successes necessary. Sometimes in life you do what you've got to in order to get the job done. This IS NOT a baseball story. More of a forgotten reality that just because you're "labeled" a throw away doesn't make it so.









In 2011, a film was made based on this story w/ Brad Pitt as GM Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as Paul DePodesta in the 2011 Oscar-nominated film 'Moneyball'





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