Stupid sportswriters, part again (or: Why Moneyball matters)

I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things.

– Gordon Gekko

Dumbfuck of the day goes to some guy named Gerry Fraley in a “special” to FoxSports.com. In this waste of space Fraley celebrates the cancellation of the Moneyball movie because he believes the book undeservedly deifies it’s primary protagonist of sorts, A’s General Manager Billy Beane. To back up this assertion he offers obnoxious hyperbole, unsubtle misdirection and incompetent misinterpretation of facts. That is, the norm.

A point by point dissection is unnecessary, and, if I can indulge my own pride for a moment (just this once), unworthy. Fraley’s piece is rather standard crap of its sort, neither particularly more offensive than the scores of similarly misguided pieces littering the web nor appreciably less so. It just pissed me off to read because a movie that should be getting made isn’t and this stooge is celebrating it.

Here’s what he misses, and what almost all critics of the book miss: it isn’t about Billy Beane being infallible. It isn’t about scouts being useless. It isn’t about on-base percentage. What it’s about is a lot simpler than all that. It’s about how some people, Beane amongst them, recognized that the business of professional baseball should actually be run more like, well, a business. And what are some core practices of a successful business? The ability to spot an untapped market and exploit it. Coming up with new and innovative systems to evaluate value. Identifying your competitors weaknesses and capitalizing on them.

This is what Beane did, and this is what Moneyball detailed. He saw that the pervasive ignorance (Leadoff hitter’s gotta steal bases!), patchwork analysis (He works fast and throws strikes!) and accreditation of “intangibles”/nebulous bullshit (Our scout likes his makeup!) that was the standard operating procedure across Major League Baseball wasn’t going to get it done for him, not with a payroll near the bottom of the league. And through the use of such tactics, through the use of obscure but accurate statistical concepts like runs created, through the use of superior value appraisal, through the use of his brain he managed to take his meager financial resources and provide an unprecedented return on investment in the form of wins for his ballclub.

It’s a great story of people and baseball and business, but more than that, the struggle Moneyball chronicles is a microcosm of one that exists in all walks of life, be it politics or entertainment or sports or whatever. The struggle of the erudite vs the troglodyte. Simplicity vs nuance. Art vs commerce. Sarah Palin vs anyone with a working cerebral cortex.

It’s the story of people who said “Fuck the stupid”, and this stupid fuck is delighting in its struggle to reach a wider audience. Ironically appropriate and pathetically predictable, but most of all just really fucking stupid.

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