Moneyball (the Movie) arrives on Friday, with Brad Pitt cast as leading man Billy Beane and Jonah Hill as Paul DePodesta. Given the Moneyball was written about a small market team exploiting inefficiencies in the marketplace, I would think the story lends itself more to Econ 101 lecture halls than the big screen, but I believe in Brad Pitt after Snatch, so I will reserve judgment.
Putting Billy Beane back in he spotlight however, provides me soapbox on which to climb. Like many baseball fans, I bow to his genius – though for me, his genius is not success as a general manager. Rather, Beane’s genius lies in convincing a band of lemmings following him that his tenure as General Manager cannot be viewed in any way by the performance on the field of the Oakland A’s.
Moneyball was published in 2003, amidst a very successful run by the small market A’s. Despite league low revenues and a tattered ballpark, from 2000-2006, the A’s finished first or second in the AL West each year, making the playoffs 5 times (though only in 1 of those years did Beane avoid a first round playoff exit). Oakland has not finished above .500 since, and that streak appears likely to continue in 2011.
Oakland enters 2011 with a payroll of approximately $66M, 21st in the majors. The Brewers and Reds, at 17th and 19th, are fighting for the NL Central crown. The Blue Jays, at 23rd, are at .500 in the bloodbath that is the AL East, with Alex Anthopoulas drawing raves for his work in turning Toronto into contenders with the Yanks and Red Sox. The Diamondbacks are 25th and tied for the NL West lead with reigning world champion San Francisco. Clocking in at 26th is Cleveland, who pulled off the biggest trade of the deadline. The Pirates are 27th and above .500, battling to stay in the NL Central race. (This discussion ignores the tremendous success of the Tampa Bay Rays on a shoestring budget in baseballs best division).
When the A’s fell short year after year in the playoffs, Beane’s excuse was that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and the failure to advance nothing more than bad luck. Now, with 6 years of losing in the books and no end in sight, the reason is that the window for small market teams is closing and the biggest spending teams are unbeatable.
Beane deserves credit for building a team that competed year after year on a tight budget. But why is it that nobody appears ready to ask the question of whether his time in Oakland has passed? Dan Haren . . . Matt Holliday . . . Carlos Gonzalez . . . Tim Hudson . . . the list of players that were at one time A’s is long and distinguished. What has Beane the genius to show for the last half decade? Does anyone get the feeling that this team is a year away from winning? And I’m sorry Billy, but the facts don’t support your contention that competing is all about where you are on the ranking of MLB payrolls.
I just don’t understand why more people don’t expect Beane to win.