Buzz Bissinger Bitchin Bout Billy Beane (and Moneyball)


I don’t think Moneyball is the greatest, most influential book in baseball history.  Nor do I think it’s a bunch of nonsense.  The idea that capitalizing on undervalued assets could help small market teams was interesting and it was interesting to see how someone did so (or tried to do so).  I enjoy intelligent critiques of Moneyball and this is not one of them.

Against Moneyball (Buzz Bissinger),0

Whatever happens in the National League and American League Championship series unfolding over the next week or so, one outcome has already been decided--the effective end of the theories of Moneyball as a viable way to build a playoff-caliber baseball team when you don't have the money. . . .  [B]ut all you need to do is keep in mind one number this postseason: 528,620,438. That's the amount of money in payroll spent this season by the teams still in it--the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

So what is “a viable way to build a playoff-caliber baseball team when you don’t have the money”?  /reads further/.  Oh, you don’t have one.  Your point in this column is that it’s easier to make the playoffs when you have oodles of money.  That’s…not very insightful.

The sabermetricians, unloved and unwanted for so long, scorned by the baseball men brotherhood for their nerdy obsessions, fell to their knees like attendees at a revival: Finally someone understood them.

Right – the only way to understand the game is if you played it.  Waaaait, Buzz is 4 ½ feet tall.  Why is he talking about baseball?

The explanation was dazzling, although Lewis barely mentioned the three reasons the A's had been so successful--pitchers Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson. The three won an astounding 149 games during that span. Each of them were 20-game winners in at least one of those seasons. The odds of three young pitchers coming together like that on one team was basically a matter of baseball luck.

 That’s an interesting point.  Thank you for adding some information.

Beane had seven first-round draft picks that year, each of them extolled by Lewis for their buried-treasure status. Three of them are still playing in the majors [who?], none with anything close to superstar careers and all of them long gone from the A's. Three others were busts [who?]. . . .  His theory that only college pitchers should be drafted over high school ones because of their experience sounded plausible. But it flew in the face of the Atlanta Braves, who won their division 14 years in a row from 1991 to 2005, and relied on pitchers drafted straight out of high school all the while [who?].

 I retract me previous compliment. Sure, I could look this information up, but isn't that the journalist's job (three are Swisher, Blanton and Teahen)? Or more importantly the columnist who's trying to make a point/convince me of something? Why throw out three guy's names and refuse to name any others? "Beane's 7 draft pickes really sucked that year." "Who were they?" "Oh, you know - those guys." "No." "Trust me, they fucking sucked."

Beane was also flippant, especially to the ears of anyone who'd ever faced the Yankees' Mariano Rivera in the postseason, about how there was no need to pay exorbitantly for a closer because just about anyone could close--but then he traded away one of his vaunted draft picks [who?] for a reliever who turned out to be lousy anyway [who?].

 What I don’t get is the point of this column.  Is it that Lewis glossed over things in his book, like Zito, Hudson and Mulder, that detract from the theme? Or is it that high payrolls equal success? Maybe it’s the latter.

For the four teams in the championship series this year, parsimony is not a problem. Each ranked in the top ten in baseball payroll. All of them topped the $100 million mark and the Yankees went over $200 million.

 Gotcha – teams with big payrolls win.  Let’s just double check that to make sure I (and Buzz) am not glossing over anything.  OK, last season at issue in Moneyball was 2002 so let’s start there:

2002: Angels – 15th highest payroll in baseball (about the middle);

2003: Marlins – 25th;

2004: Red Sox – 2nd;

2005: White Sox – 13th;

2006: Cardinals – 11th;

2007: Red Sox – 2nd;

2008: Phillies – 12th.


In 2009, the remaining 4 teams are all in the top 10.  For the past 7 years, only twice has a team in the top 10 won the WS.  And in 2008, the top three payrolls (Yankees, Mets and Tigers) all missed the playoffs with the Tigers finishing dead last in their division.

Maybe the point of column is that Buzz just doesn’t like Beane (or Lewis).

Since Beane has compared himself to J.D. Salinger, just wanting to fade away, maybe the best thing for him to do is retire and write a book about how, in the end, it all really didn't work.

 I think that’s it.

Here's my issue. Some people rail on Lewis/Beane/Moneyball claiming it is now a failure but that's not the point. Everyone's trying to make more out of less in every profession and this book explained how it was being done in baseball. Lewis probably took some liberties by trying to show that Beane was on the cutting edge but I'm guessing lots of teams were doing it. Red Sox held onto Youk the entire time. I just find it odd that a very good sports writer takes time out of his day to poorly bitch about an interesting sports book while taking to time to bitch about geeks in their basements.

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