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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

David Maraniss: ‘Moneyball’ the movie is a big swing and a miss

David Maraniss: The Prince of Cannotsee.

But I absolutely hate the movie “Moneyball” and everything it stands for. I think it is a fraud, one that people I respect bought into, for what they thought were noble reasons having to do with the little guys vs. the big bullies. I also dislike the philosophy of moneyball as it is applied to sports. My problem with the movie is a matter of truth. My problem with the philosophy is a question of art and beauty.

...The thrill of baseball has nothing to do with statistics, as much a part of the game as they are. It has to do with the athletic skill of the players: the rifle throw from right field to third base; the dazzling speed of a runner stealing a base; the grace of a second baseman making the turn on a double play.

Perhaps “Moneyball” struck a chord with audiences because it presented what seemed like a fresh, unromantic, realist’s view while also presenting a smart plan of attack for the little guys. But in doing so, it not only perpetrated a fraud, it also glorified statistics over beauty and joy, and that is a trade-off that diminishes life itself.

Repoz Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:51 AM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: athletics, books, media, reviews

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. A triple short of the cycle Posted: October 25, 2011 at 04:12 AM (#3974548)
The writer is an associate editor of The Post. His latest book is “Where He Came From: The Story of Barack Obama,” to be published next summer.

Not America, I'm guessing, from how absurd this Moneyball review is.
   2. Howie Menckel Posted: October 25, 2011 at 04:18 AM (#3974554)
No question that the movie is a huge grosser nationwide precisely because it was so unromantic and realistic, and so devoid of beauty and joy. There is nothing less romantic than an underdog.

And gotta give credit to the moviemaker for recognizing that's what America wants in the theater.
And their choice of a nebbish like Brad Pitt in a starring role sealed the deal. If ever there was a movie as emotionless and binary as this, well...
   3. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: October 25, 2011 at 04:22 AM (#3974559)
...The thrill of baseball has nothing to do with statistics, as much a part of the game as they are. It has to do with the athletic skill of the players: the rifle throw from right field to third base; the dazzling speed of a runner stealing a base; the grace of a second baseman making the turn on a double play.


If only those plays could be captured by statistics. Alas, baseball has no stats like outfield assists, stolen bases, and double plays.
   4. Forsch 10 From Navarone (Dayn) Posted: October 25, 2011 at 04:23 AM (#3974561)
Well, that column was a ####### waste of time.
   5. Rough Carrigan Posted: October 25, 2011 at 04:33 AM (#3974567)
Pretty disappointing because his book about Lombardi made a point of how Lombardi was not just a nutcase ideologue but very practical, deviating from his image to the extent that he made sure coaches and players didn't pick on gay players on the team. But here, Maraniss descends into hopelessly fuzzy stupidity apparently imagining that people who try to understand the game better feel no affection for it.
   6. Tripon Posted: October 25, 2011 at 04:43 AM (#3974579)
I thought Moneyball did a pretty good job showing just how much Beane cared about the A's and baseball. He cared so damn much that he couldn't just sallow the same #### that's been spouted for decades.
   7. JoeHova Posted: October 25, 2011 at 05:57 AM (#3974615)
Maraniss has written some good books. I can kind of give him a pass for his stance on this because his favorite player is Roberto Clemente. He wrote an absolutely fawning biography of Roberto and it's kind of hard to believe that Clemente is on the level of Mays and Aaron (like he does, iirc) if you're into sabermetrics. I think this is just a case of him trying to rationalize his hero worship, though it's always a bit disturbing to see a "public intellectual" stake out an anti-intellectual position.
   8. PreservedFish Posted: October 25, 2011 at 05:58 AM (#3974616)
The meat of the article is about how the movie ignores the contributions of the players that were actually really good (Hudson Zito Mulder Tejada), which it does. Accurate, but old news.

Is it life-diminishing to replace beauty and joy with statistics? Maybe, maybe not, but this #### happens in the real world. That's what people do in businesses. Billy Beane was in charge of a multi-million dollar budget. He's a business man. If he just meanders in joy and beauty he's out of a job.
   9. Dr. Vaux Posted: October 25, 2011 at 06:16 AM (#3974623)
He's a business man. If he just meanders in joy and beauty he's out of a job.


I like statistics as much as the next guy, but that's precisely why business is pretty much for poopyheads.

In truth, I expect that a fair number of businessmen use the money they earn get paid to purchase things that they are under the impression cause them to experience joy . . .
   10. BWV 1129 Posted: October 25, 2011 at 07:26 AM (#3974631)
So this man says that true enjoyment of baseball can't include enjoyment of stats. This is a novel view. Thanks to Repoz for linking it here, it is truly thought-provoking. I wonder why no one has ever had a conversation on this topic before.
   11. The John Wetland Memorial Death (CoB) Posted: October 25, 2011 at 07:48 AM (#3974632)
The writer is an associate editor of The Post. His latest book is “Where He Came From: The Story of Barack Obama,” to be published next summer.


Next summer?

Just in time for ... NEXT FALL: "Where He Went to: The Story of Barack Obama"
   12. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: October 25, 2011 at 08:30 AM (#3974635)
*Yawn*, are we still not done with these?
   13. MM1f Posted: October 25, 2011 at 08:42 AM (#3974636)
So this man says that true enjoyment of baseball can't include enjoyment of stats. This is a novel view. Thanks to Repoz for linking it here, it is truly thought-provoking. I wonder why no one has ever had a conversation on this topic before.


If only we could get someone to link to that roundtable where....
   14. The_Ex Posted: October 25, 2011 at 01:05 PM (#3974697)
I can't wait for the Maraniss review of Anonymous. "My problem with the movie is a matter of truth". I wonder what he thought of JFK.
   15. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 25, 2011 at 01:30 PM (#3974713)
If only those plays could be captured by statistics. Alas, baseball has no stats like outfield assists, stolen bases, and double plays.

I think the point, though, is that the number that captures it doesn't approach the beauty of the act that generated the number.

That strikes me as indisputable.

Maraniss forgot to add that the most aesthetically pleasing of baseball's numbers -- e.g., the .300 average, 20 wins -- are precisely the ones the number zealots loathe the most.
   16. AROM Posted: October 25, 2011 at 01:55 PM (#3974738)
I can't speak for everybody but the numbers I loathe the most are the sub .300 OBP and the 5.00 (or worse) ERA.
   17. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:15 PM (#3974760)
Maraniss forgot to add that the most aesthetically pleasing of baseball's numbers -- e.g., the .300 average, 20 wins -- are precisely the ones the number zealots loathe the most.

Well, no. Number "zealots" dislike the disproportionate value that is placed on these numbers when they are assessed without context, not the numbers themselves. 0.300 and 20 wins are still cool, round #'s.
   18. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:23 PM (#3974772)
Number "zealots" dislike the disproportionate value that is placed on these numbers when they are assessed without context, not the numbers themselves.

Same key, different note.

Number zealots won't allow people to appreciate the numbers in a "wrong" way without didactically butting in.
   19. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:28 PM (#3974780)
Number zealots won't allow people to appreciate the numbers in a "wrong" way without didactically butting in.

Where do you run into all these number zealots? If you mean BBTF, well, this is a sabrmetrically inclined website and you should expect it here. I don't know about you, but I don't run into many number zealots (as you describe them, though stat trivia geeks have always been around) at my local bar or wherever.
   20. PreservedFish Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:39 PM (#3974802)
My number zealotry is a secret from most people. It has been interesting to hear other friends slowly discover the sabermetric world over the last 10+ years. In the 90s I would say things about baseball that would make people's heads spin. Not so much anymore. The guy I talk baseball with the most I only see every 6 months or so. Last time we were together he was telling me how Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson rank in "sabermetric defense." OBP is a frequent topic, and he agreed with me that the Yankees should have brought Mariano Rivera in during the 3rd inning of this year's ALDS Game 5. And a few years ago I let my cousin - another rabid Yankees fan - lecture me for 15 minutes on how bad a defender Derek Jeter was, according to the numbers.
   21. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:45 PM (#3974816)
If only those plays could be captured by statistics. Alas, baseball has no stats like outfield assists, stolen bases, and double plays.
I think the point, though, is that the number that captures it doesn't approach the beauty of the act that generated the number.

That strikes me as indisputable.

That post is a 10!
   22. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:46 PM (#3974817)
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

----Albert Einstein.
   23. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:47 PM (#3974822)
“Football is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom”

----Tottenham Hotspur legend Danny Blanchflower.
   24. Shooty Survived the Shutdown of '14! Posted: October 25, 2011 at 02:51 PM (#3974827)
1. No fair using Danny Blanchflower on me. 2. That's a non sequitur. Things like batting average or wins are just arbitrary things people have chosen to count. You seem to be advocating dismissing ALL statistical records of what happened except team wins, which is your right, of course, though you may not want to throw around the word "zealot" in that case.
   25. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:04 PM (#3974846)
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."


The great thing about sports is that they are in fact reduced to raw numbers. At the end of the day you look at the scoreboard and whoever has the best number up there wins. The first half of Einstein's statement is 100% right and applicable to baseball, the second half is probably but right but not necessarily applicable. If something does not impact putting runs on the board (or taking them off) then I'm not sure why it would matter.

That's a different argument than the beauty of the game. Obviously watching someone go first to third is more aesthetically pleasing than reading the numbers associated with it. If you want to discuss the beauty of Young going first to third you'll get no argument from me, if you want to discuss it's impact, I'd want to see the numbers on that.
   26. Morty Causa Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:09 PM (#3974851)
Maraniss covered Bill Clinton's campaigns and wrote a book that was highly lauded: First in His Class It's a pretty fair and balanced book by all accounts, critical in the best sense. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1992 reporting on that Clinton campaign. So, it's not like he's necessarily a bumfuck. I've seen him on Cable News shows (although not recently) and he presented himself as a person of calm and measured intelligence. But, even those sort of people can get off track when out of their element--probably that's why they venture out of their element. Einstein strikes me as like that. Especially with some of his "mystical' pronouncements. Just because you have an IQ of 200 doesn't mean you use it all the time..
   27. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:12 PM (#3974855)
In The Year of Our Lord 2011 the baseball fan has access to everything from ZIPS projections to closeups of Tony LaRussa looking like he was about to have a epileptic seizure. It's a veritable cornucopia of riches, and I'm not sure what Maraniss is complaining about.
   28. Roadblock Jones Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:14 PM (#3974859)
His book on the Rome olympics was fantastic.
   29. ...and Toronto selects: Troy Tulowitzki Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:16 PM (#3974863)
Saw Moneyball last week sometime. Okay movie I guess. I was quite bored through the whole thing. Pitt's Beane character had some pretty wooden dialogue and how that could be seen as a great Pitt performance is beyond me. Why would Phillip Seymour Hoffman choose the Art Howe role? I've never seen him in a role/part this boring.
   30. Ray (RDP) Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:20 PM (#3974867)
Moneyball's been well-covered here, but I thought the movie was too long for no real tradeoff (plenty could have been cut without sacrificing much), and I thought the 20 game winning streak was overhyped.

I also thought Phillip Seymour Hoffman did a horrible job portraying Art Howe, who I have a hard time imagining went around with the cold, hard stare of a psychotic serial killer. It looked like Howe was just this close from blowing up and going all Michael Corleone on Beane.

The movie was watchable, but kind of boring; there was no real drama or excitement in it.
   31. Robinson Cano Plate Like Home Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:22 PM (#3974869)
I found the movie surprisingly boring, too. My non-baseball-fan wife loved it.
   32. base ball chick Posted: October 25, 2011 at 03:29 PM (#3974879)
here we go again

it's like this - like barry lamar said - i'm an entertainer; i get PAID to entertain
fact is that professional sports are about the money for the people who play and for the people who own a team and pay them to play

the anti-moneyball people basically want to have this fantasy that baseball is really just large boys still playing for the pure joy of it - and shttheads like billy beane who talk about wins per dollar and how to count it are ruining the fantasy bout how they too could just run out there onto that beautiful green green grass and play too. i understand the fantasy because i've had it since i first saw a baseball game at age 5 or so. but i'm not foolish/male enough to not know it's just as much a fantasy as receiving the Big Bat award from bradley awesomeness

it's is actually THAT because all this silliness about complaining about "numbers" and "stats" from people who quote the NUMBER of homers The Babe hit and how many innings Jack Morris pitched for the Win - is really romance and not money

kind of reminds me of BITGOD when females weren't supposed to work and were going to have to depend on a man for support - and the labeling of "golddigger" given to a female if she picked out the person who would pay the most. it ain't "romance" or LUUUUUVVVVV and females weren't supposed to know no nothin bout numbers
   33. Tricky Dick Posted: October 25, 2011 at 05:52 PM (#3975079)
I happened to see the 1950 movie, "The Jackie Robinson Story," on the TCM channel a month or so ago. I really liked the scene where Branch Rickey says:

"A box score is really democratic, Jackie. It doesn't tell how big you are, what church you attend, what color you are, or how your father voted in the last election. It just tells what kind of baseball player you were on that particular day."

That seems to strike the chord that there is a certain beauty in the objectivity of numbers.
   34. PreBeaneAsFan Posted: October 25, 2011 at 07:18 PM (#3975163)
Whenever I see this sort of debate I'm reminded of Feynman's story about his artist friend and the flower. The artist seemed to think that a scientific understanding of the flower eliminated its beauty and turned it into a dull thing. Feynman disagreed-he could still appreciate the aesthetic or visceral beauty of the flower, and he could also appreciate the complexity of what was going on inside the flower. Some people may find the science dull, but in any case the scientific understanding could either add or not add to your appreciation but could not take anything away from it.

I think the same thing about using statistics to understand what's really going on in baseball. I love watching games, seeing great defensive plays or aggressive baserunning or a brilliant piece of pitching or hitting. Enjoying the game itself on a basic level is why I got interested in it. At the same time, I also like to understand more broadly how the game works and how different factors come together to produce wins and losses in general. To me, this understanding can only add to my appreciation of baseball. I don't suddenly lose my appreciation of a great throw from RF just because I know that in that case the runner should have held up at second. I don't lose my ability to enjoy a solidly executed sacrifice bunt just because I think the team should have let the guy swing away in that spot. The list goes on, but the bottom line to me is that there are many ways to enjoy the game, and there is no reason for them to take away from each other.

I don't mind if a particular writer doesn't enjoy using numbers to understand the game. I don't think it's an affront to humanity if someone thinks Michael Young is somewhat better than he actually is, or appreciates Pujols less than they ought to. Some people find analysis boring and just want to watch the game, and if that's how they feel then that's what they should do. But it really bothers me when those people feel the need to enforce their views on everyone else and to pretend that I just can't enjoy the game the same way as them because I want to also have objective knowledge about it. It's a deeply anti-intellectual view and even though baseball isn't the most important thing in the world, I think anti-intellectualism needs to be confronted wherever it is found.
   35. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: October 25, 2011 at 07:21 PM (#3975164)
That seems to strike the chord that there is a certain beauty in the objectivity of numbers.

Interestingly, hitter walks weren't noted in the box scores of Robinson's day ....
   36. Walt Davis Posted: October 26, 2011 at 01:11 AM (#3975446)
Interestingly, hitter walks weren't noted in the box scores of Robinson's day ....

Nor were pitch counts!

There you have it ladies and gents -- USA Today destroyed baseball, nay the entirety of American socieity, with their expanded box scores.

Also their bar and pie charts -- work of the devil.
   37. Ron J Posted: October 26, 2011 at 04:56 PM (#3975881)
#30 All movies are improved by a few car chases and/or exploding helicopters.

Including epic biblical flics. I found the Ten Commandments unwatchable because it was lacking these and I have no intention of watching Moneyball either.
   38. Something Other Posted: October 27, 2011 at 03:30 AM (#3976616)
the anti-moneyball people basically want to have this fantasy that baseball is really just large boys still playing for the pure joy of it - and shttheads like billy beane who talk about wins per dollar and how to count it are ruining the fantasy bout how they too could just run out there onto that beautiful green green grass and play too. i understand the fantasy because i've had it since i first saw a baseball game at age 5 or so. but i'm not foolish/male enough to ...


I assume you have no objection if someone asserts this seems like a particularly stupid/female/bigoted observation?

Just checking :)

Whenever I see this sort of debate I'm reminded of Feynman's story about his artist friend and the flower. The artist seemed to think that a scientific understanding of the flower eliminated its beauty and turned it into a dull thing. Feynman disagreed-he could still appreciate the aesthetic or visceral beauty of the flower, and he could also appreciate the complexity of what was going on inside the flower. Some people may find the science dull, but in any case the scientific understanding could either add or not add to your appreciation but could not take anything away from it.
You bet. To see the two as opposed is a juvenile phase some outgrow, and some don't. The complaint that deep scrutiny destroyed beauty seemed most prevalent when I was a college freshmen.
   39. Ray (RDP) Posted: October 27, 2011 at 04:04 AM (#3976660)
#30 All movies are improved by a few car chases and/or exploding helicopters.

Including epic biblical flics. I found the Ten Commandments unwatchable because it was lacking these and I have no intention of watching Moneyball either.


Moneyball is basically a made-for-tv movie. That's how I felt when watching it.

Had they stayed true to the book and real life events, it would have been far more interesting. But I realize there's no audience for that.

They barely touched on Jeremy Brown and some of the other key characters. And no Voros.
   40. McCoy Posted: October 27, 2011 at 04:22 AM (#3976680)
Ron J is actually Uwe Boll.
   41. Something Other Posted: October 27, 2011 at 10:51 AM (#3976728)
Holy crap. Uwe Boll is life destroying, soul sucking vermin who amazingly continues to get work. He must be able to stick to a budget and a schedule. There's no other explanation.
   42. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: October 27, 2011 at 01:04 PM (#3976770)
Moneyball was awesome, AND my wife watched it quite happily. It gave me an excuse to natter on about baseball things I find interesting for the rest of the weekend without her rolling her eyes or trying to change the subject to fashion. Uninterrupted baseball monolouging time! That's a success!
   43. AROM Posted: October 27, 2011 at 01:42 PM (#3976797)
They barely touched on Jeremy Brown and some of the other key characters. And no Voros.


I find it a bit interesting that the A's got 6 1/2 good to great years out of a pitcher who a pure believer in DIPS would have gotten rid of. Either because he was about to implode, or else because other teams might have overvalued him and offered excess value in trade.

The MLB service time issue worked perfectly to the A's advantage on Barry Zito.

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