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#pounditSaturday, August 8, 2020

I finally saw ‘Moneyball’ the movie and have some thoughts about it

I realize I’m several months late to this discussion, but I finally saw “Moneyball” over the weekend and wanted to share a few thoughts on the movie. (I don’t go to the theater too often so I usually wait until movies come out on the premium channels before I finally see them, hence my lateness to the Best Picture party.)

Anyhow, I read Moneyball the book when it first came out and loved it. The concepts in the book were so inspiring I actually got into sabermetrics for a while and even began reading some old Bill James books. I haven’t read the book for years, but I do remember quite a bit from it, and I thought the movie did a good job with its adaptation. Still, I couldn’t help but figure non-baseball fans would be lost watching the film. Luckily that wasn’t the case for most viewers.

Overall, the movie was well done and enjoyable, though it’s not the kind of film I’d want to watch over and over. The story line made it easy to fall in love with the A’s and what Billy Beane was trying to accomplish in the 2002 season. Even though I’m an Angels fan and pleased beyond belief that the team won the World Series that year, it was impossible not to root for the underdog A’s story.

The acting, particularly from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, was excellent. I remember thinking there was no way I could take a goofball like Jonah Hill seriously in role like that, but that never even crossed my mind while watching it. Both men had me believing they were baseball experts.

But there are a few issues I have with the movie.

The movie really made it seem like the A’s were far worse off than they really were. The movie focused on how the team needed to replace stars like Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi because they couldn’t afford them. While it’s true that the A’s used innovative ideas to replace those players, the movie complete ignores what led to the success of the A’s during those seasons: They were carried by their big three pitchers and a few cornerstone infielders.

The names of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder never once came out of Billy Beane’s mouth during the movie, from what I can recall. Those three pitchers combined for seven All-Star appearances and one Cy Young Award (Zito in 2002 — the “Moneyball” season) with the A’s. If you want to pinpoint the reason for Oakland’s success from 2000-2004, look no further than those three pitchers. It’s also no coincidence the team fell off following 2006 when Zito was traded (the other two were traded after the 2004 season).

If you’re going to argue that the team deserves credit for using Moneyball principles to draft those three pitchers — all three went to college, which was part of Oakland’s draft philosophy — I can buy that, but the point still stands that the A’s were not as big of an underdog or poorly off in 2002 as the movie made them out to be. The offensive stars of the team were Miguel Tejada and Eric Chavez, neither of whom were drafted based on Moneyball principles. Without those two studs, and the big three pitchers, the team’s other additions would not have mattered.

Lastly, the movie was factually inaccurate in several areas. Jeremy Giambi was with the club since 2000, not added in 2002 as the movie indicates. Secondly, everything about the Chad Bradford portions are inaccurate. Bradford was with the A’s in 2001, not added in 2002, and more importantly, he pitched 48.1 innings over three seasons with the White Sox before Oakland added him. All that nonsense in the movie about Beane being the first person to give him a chance was incorrect.

The bottom line is that what Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta (Peter Brand in the movie) were doing in Oakland positively impacted the game. Their methods of using advanced statistical analysis to evaluate players helped them build successful teams and made other organizations adopt the same principles.

The A’s may not have won a World Series during that time period, but they did change the game. Movies aren’t made about teams that win championships; they’re made about innovators.

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