Brad Pitt as Billy Beane
Three names go conspicuously unmentioned in the new film adaptation of Moneyball: Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder. There are two ways to react to this omission.
The first is to think that their exclusion is unacceptable for a film that purports to tell the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s. After all, the trio combined to win 57 games and pitch 675 innings to a combined 3.05 ERA that year. Zito in particular led the league in wins, en route to a Cy Young Award. Without those three, a team that won 103 games would have almost certainly missed the playoffs.
The other way to react to their absence, though, is to realize that it is entirely appropriate. Moneyball is not really a movie about the 2002 Oakland A’s—it’s a movie about Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his radical reinvention of the game. And it doesn’t take much reinvention to stick with a trio that was coming off a 2001 season in which they won 56 games and pitched 678 innings to a 3.43 ERA.
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Up until recently, the answer to this question would be quick: “Well, obviously.” The more relevant question had always been, “Is Billy Beane baseball’s best GM?”
Billy Beane runs the Oakland Athletics, a team in a small market with a low payroll (26th out of 30 in 2009), yet he managed to assemble a consistent contender, as the A’s made the playoffs four years running (2000-2003) and the ALCS in 2006. In that time, Beane became a mini-celebrity, thanks to being the subject of Michael Lewis’ 2003 best-seller Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The book was so successful that a movie adaptation was slated to be made by Steven Soderbergh, with Brad Pitt playing Beane.
Recently, however, Beane’s reputation has started to suffer. The A’s have had two consecutive losing seasons since being swept in the ’06 ALCS, and in 2009 are on pace to have their worst season since Beane took over in 1998.
Now, it should be stated right away that this is not a polemical, anti-Moneyball tirade. The book, which detailed Beane’s use of so-called “sabermetrics” to identify undervalued players, garnered a lot of knee-jerk reaction and criticism, since Beane was seen as bucking tradition (which he was). Continue reading »