Monday, September 26, 2011

Moneyball: Through the Nats Looking Glass

12:01am Thursday night, myself and 6 other brave souls made our way to our local theater to see the first general public showing of “Moneyball”. Having read the book oh-so-many years ago, as well as numerous reviews from national baseball columnists, I knew roughly what to expect. Two hours later, all the expectations had been exceeded. It was like being a fly on the wall during scouting meetings, trade deadline discussions and in home visits with draft picks and parents.

At several points during the movie, I thought of the present, and the Nats. The first such moment comes early in the movie, when Art Howe, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, has a rather tense conversation with Billy Beane about his contract situation. He tersely explains his dissatisfaction with a one year contract, decrying the lack of confidence it inspires. Throughout the first half of the season, Howe, clearly unhappy with the roster make up, continues to defy Beane’s wishes to a point where Beane questions if he is being so difficult because of the contract situation. Of course this conjures the memory of Jim Riggleman and “Rigglegate”, as I am fond of calling it. To see the less than friendly interactions between Howe and Beane makes you wonder what the first half of the season must have been like for Rizzo and Riggleman.

Perhaps the most important scenes in the movie, from the standpoint of changing the mindset of talent evaluation in today’s game, are the scout meetings. The “braintrust” is assembled to evaluate options for replacing the holes left by Jason Giambi and Jonny Damon. Insightful comments from scouts include, “he has an ugly girlfriend, means a lack of self-confidence” and “he’s got a good face”. These are the top scouts in the A’s front office and this is the sort of analysis they trust in. Seeing these scouts I was left to wonder, Mike Rizzo is an old school scout, has he ever uttered these words, does he employ any of these guys?? Is Davey Johnson one of these guys??

The main thing that Moneyball shows is the necessity of having an organization wide philosophy. Billy Beane, when he comes to the realization that the game is inherently unfair and the deck will always be stacked against small-market franchises, changes the entire direction of the organization; as well as baseball, itself. Now when Rizzo took over in 2009, he faced this sort of mid-course correction situation. And he has done a pretty spectacular job. Through shrewd trades, strong drafts and a sometimes unpopular fiscal responsibility, he has turned the Nats into a rising franchise with 5 or 6 all-star caliber players and a real shot at prolonged relevancy.

The movie - It’s a new baseball classic that does for the front office what Bull Durham did for the minors, Field of Dreams did for fathers and sons, and Major League did for the city of Cleveland. The intensity this movie captures leaves you on the edge of your seat. There are so many scenes that will leave you wanting more.

Official CapBall Recommendation: See the movie… and read the book. For once, it really doesn’t matter in what order.

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