I can't wait to see MONEYBALL. I freakin' LOVED the book!
Susan Slusser, who covers the Oakland A's for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote an excellent article on the legacy left behind by Michael Lewis' 2003 book - MONEYBALL:
Nine years after the A's season chronicled in "Moneyball," and with the movie making its premiere Monday in Oakland, the author of the best-seller concedes that the book might have had some negative impact on the A's.
"The book probably cost the A's an opportunity or two," Michael Lewis said last week.
Many around baseball believe that Lewis' in-depth look at the way Oakland general manager Billy Beane operated provided too much of a blueprint for competitors, especially when it came to the use by the A's of advanced statistics to help find market inequities to exploit.
"It's like Coke and their secret formula - you don't let the secret formula out," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said when Oakland visited New York last month.
Lewis spent much of the 2002 season following the A's, and he was granted unprecedented access to the front office's daily activities. "Moneyball" - a business book - chronicled the rise of sabermetrics and the A's increasing interest in nontraditional statistics dating even to Sandy Alderson's time as Oakland's general manager.
Lewis believes the tide was about to turn toward wider acceptance of sabermetrics (the analysis of baseball through statistics) when "Moneyball" was published in 2003.
"I really feel like this was going to happen anyway. The book just accelerated it," he said. "There's a shadow team of players (who) would have been Oakland A's, you can see that, but Boston accumulated most of them.
"I think the book speeded things up, but just slightly. There is too much money at stake, and the Red Sox were already there."
AN ACCEPTED APPROACH
Cashman doesn't doubt that "Moneyball" had an impact on front offices.
"It explored a certain method that has exploded in the game - and we're all utilizing now," he said. "If you're not heavily invested in the statistical approach now, you've missed the boat. Obviously, 'Moneyball' helped propel a lot of that."
Among the criticisms leveled at "Moneyball" was that an understanding of the importance of on-base percentage, which the book said Oakland was trying to exploit as a market inefficiency, was nothing new. Many teams and executives had valued on-base percentage over the years.
Lewis, though, didn't argue that the A's had discovered the importance of on-base percentage, merely that it was one measure that was undervalued in the marketplace in the early 2000s.
"I always thought 'Moneyball' was interpreted too narrowly, somehow equated to baseball stats. I never saw it as that," said former A's assistant general manager Paul DePodesta, now vice president of player development and scouting for the New York Mets.
"To me, it was taking a critical eye to everything you do and being vigilant in the process, reassessing, challenging assumptions and constraints to find a way that works for you. And I see that everywhere, not just in baseball.
"At the time, one area we explored was statistics, because that was a proven area to compete, and these things shift, some of them faster than others. But it wasn't about on-base percentage - Branch Rickey was talking about on-base percentage 40 years earlier."
JOB GETTING HARDER
Since then, the A's have looked for other potentially undervalued assets - defense for a year or two, high school pitchers in the draft (which netted them Trevor Cahill) - but it's much harder now for a smaller payroll team such as the A's to find niches to exploit when the big-money clubs are trying to do the same thing.
"What ended up happening is no surprise," Beane said last week. "When someone at the top of the food chain like Boston starts operating like a small-market team, it puts order back in the universe. From the top, there were significant adjustments that had a huge impact all the way down. We knew that was going to happen and that the smaller-market teams would be fighting uphill."
"The market inefficiencies have corrected," Lewis said. "Everyone is operating with the same information, and the opportunity to be smarter than everyone else isn't there. That dooms the A's. I'd really be shocked if they are able to get back into the playoffs in that stadium, with those revenues. ...
"It's sort of a desperate situation, the one that the A's are in. Given that they don't have an edge they can use, the only thing they can do is not do stupid things. But they are more prone to that because they have to start to take longshot risks, shoot the moon."
With the release of the movie nationwide Friday, there will be a spotlight on the A's, who have not had a winning season in five years, giving critics of "Moneyball" strategy ammunition.
"The proof is in the pudding," said former Oakland manager Art Howe, who occasionally chafed under Beane's don't-give-up-outs philosophy, which was based on statistical probabilities. "It hasn't worked since then."
One common grumble about the book is that it focused on some of the A's more secondary contributors from 2002, such at Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford, great stories and nontraditional personnel selections who fit the "Moneyball" ethos well. Overlooked, for the most part, were the A's major stars: the pitching Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito, and shortstop Miguel Tejada - who was the American League MVP that year but is barely mentioned.
WHAT ABOUT THE PITCHERS?
"They did an incredible job of developing those young front-end pitchers and some premium talent in their lineup," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said last week. "But the book was more about the supporting cast. They had a terrific run for several years, and it was fueled by Hudson, Mulder and Zito. They were as good as any three pitchers on any staff at any time.
"To just focus on the peripheral pieces is like talking about the kind of wax you're putting on your Mercedes."
Scioscia's team won the World Series that "Moneyball" season, and he'd argue his club was every bit "the island of misfit toys" that the A's were, with numerous castoffs and unlikely stories.
"If there was ever a band of misfits, it was our 2002 team," Scioscia said.
That's another issue often raised about the book and now the movie: The A's didn't win a pennant with the "Moneyball" way. Though they did go to the playoffs five times in seven years, they were knocked out in the first round four times, including 2002, and didn't make it to the World Series.
"What I liked was that Billy and the A's gave guys chances who maybe weren't going to get a shot with another organization," Bradford said. "But when we got to the playoffs, we couldn't get far. Maybe we just didn't have quite enough firepower. We somehow just didn't get it done."
"It would have been cool if we'd actually won," former A's third baseman Eric Chavez said. "Then it would be a really interesting movie."