After concerns dealing with food, shelter, and a way of life, there is nothing more important than baseball. As such, the game cannot be reduced to numbers. Yet, in the early 2000s, statistics minded baseball people took a step in this mis-direction and produced stunning results. The Oakland A's won twenty straight, a record untouched in over a hundred years, and also won a come-from-behind division championship. Then the Yankees crushed their hopes and why? Because the Pinstripes were a $100+ million team and the A's less than $40m. At least that was the thinking, according to these wayward mathematical theorists.
Billy Beane (General Manager, Oakland Athletics) became their champion, however, when he tried against the odds to acquire undervalued players, who, for whatever reason, did not command the awe and respect that ballclubs throw money at. At the time, Oakland had already become just such a team. True enough, it had stars, but only Cleveland and a few others not in the running were stingier. The thing of it is, the team was already an outperformer before Mr. Beane took charge. It was winnning as many games as some of the big spenders. And not all of the latter were top dogs. In the movie, Beane's own story as it relates to the primary story is woven in with flashbacks. It seems as if he had wanted to go to Stanford on a scholarship but wound up with the Mets, who picked him after Darryl Strawberry. Ten years later, he chose scouting rather than another stint in the minors.
Eventually, in life, book, and film, the employment of statistical analysis leads to a number of weird transactions and managerial decisions. Beane dumps some of his best players to acquire less valued players from other teams. He prohibits bunting and stealing. Enormous emphasis is placed on on-base percentages at the expense of others, such as basic fielding and hitting. While this is happening, the movie scintillates with some very interesting dialogue. One learns how a batter's odds diminish numerically if he gets a strike on the first pitch. It seems self-evident that had it not been Beane, someone would have probed the possibility that a more impersonal approach toward ballplayers would yield pennants. With victories costing upwards to three million dollars per, winning becomes a much more serious enterprise.
The 1981 strike that ran from June to August disgusted many avid fans. But there is no stopping the game. It changed and adapted and so did the spectators. Sabermetrics, after the Society for American Baseball Research, is perfectly acceptable, if diabolical. An entire season can be played in the absence of any trace of heart and soul and generate good box office. It has not happened yet, but it could. And if it did, would anyone notice? Every ticket holder represents so many bucks, and attendees as well as at-home watchers can be analyzed as well. It seems as if they like fireworks, loud music, and health-minded food stuff. Indelible images of the Bambino chowing down on hot dogs no longer cut the mustard.
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