Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"How Can You Not Get Romantic About Baseball?"

Baseball has been my favorite sport since I began watching it with my Grandfather late in the glorious Cleveland Indians 1995 season. I was eight years old then, and my love for the game has only grown as I am now in my mid-20’s. My interest has now expanded into all facets of the game including how teams decide whom to keep and whom to trade when the time comes. I also have developed a dislike for all the powerhouse teams who can spend all the money they want and bulk their teams up like a weightlifter on steroids. Thus when the movie “Moneyball” came out last month I was immediately drawn to seeing it, as it feeds both of these interests in telling the true story of Billy Beane the Oakland Athletics General Manager who in 2002 built a winning team out of a bunch of guys that other teams rejected for various reasons.

Beane as it turns out met up with a young and upcoming baseball statistician named Peter Brand who had begun analyzing players and screening them for a stat that very few teams ever look at (even to this day), a player’s on-base percentage. Employing computer-generated player analysis Brand could examine all players at all levels of baseball (minor league, rookie ball, and major league) and determine which players would get on base most often, and then recommend them to Beane so he could draft or sign them to contracts.

The film is a genuine treat for anyone who loves both baseball and a true underdog story. As Beane states at the onset of the movie, when expressing frustration over teams with big budgets sucking up all the good free agents from small market teams, “there are good teams, there are bad teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap…then there’s us!” It is soon after this statement that he meets Brand, and the two get to talking about this new idea of employing computer generated analysis.

From here we as the audience are taken on a journey of the Athletics’ 2002 season. They started very slow that year, and were in last place in the American League’s Western Division in May. Throughout those early months, Beane employed a lot of patience with Oakland’s manager Art Howe who didn’t want to play some of the players Beane has signed in the off season because he didn’t believe in Beane and Brand’s concept of using statistics. Beane shows great patience with Howe, and very rarely even raises his voice when arguing with him over the players involved, calling to mind the words of Solomon in Proverbs 15:1a ‘A gentle answer turns away wrath.” However, Beane eventually chooses to force the issue and trades away one of the young rookie players Howe wanted to play everyday (Carlos Pena) so Scott Hatteberg (the player Beane liked) would begin getting everyday at bats. Howe isn’t happy, but he chooses to reluctantly go along with the idea.

By mid-season the A’s are still struggling and Beane begins to realize that young Jeremy Giambi, one of the young players he signed because of his high on base percentage, is becoming a bad influence on the team with his party boy lifestyle. Realizing that he had made a mistake in bringing Giambi to the team, Beane elects to trade him to another team, thus again exhibiting Biblical wisdom this time from Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:33 by recognizing that “bad company corrupts good character.”

What then happens as the season moves into the post all star break part of the schedule is truly remarkable! Suddenly all of the players Beane signed begin to shine! With help from Beane’s encouragement the players begin to attempt to draw as many walks as they can, thus causing the opposing team’s pitcher to throw more pitches, thus getting him out of the game sooner. By mid-August another remarkable thing transpires, the Oakland Athletics began an incredible winning streak, one of a nature that hadn’t been seen in baseball since the 1930’s! Suddenly the A’s are in first place and showing no sign of going back! Thus, many of Billy Beane’s critics who thought he was crazy during the first half of the season, slowly began becoming believers in this new baseball philosophy!

Throughout the movie, there are many examples of Biblical concepts some of which I have highlighted already, plus the almost too obvious David versus Goliath story interwoven between the lines of the script. Beane carries himself in a gentle but confident manor. He isn’t afraid to ask players to man up and be leaders on the team, as he does with one of the few veteran players on his team in David Justice. He also isn’t afraid to call guys out who care only about partying and not giving it their all in trying to help the team win, as is the case with Jeremy Giambi who as I mentioned earlier he trades mid-season. The whole film also tremendously exemplifies what it looks like to stand by your beliefs when others around you question you on them, something the Apostle Paul tells all Christians to do when it comes to doing the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58)

There is so much to glean from this movie, aside from the fact that it is tremendously entertaining and a true love story to Major League Baseball and the enjoyable ride a baseball season is for a diehard fan. This is so summed up by Beane himself near the end of the movie during one especially moving scene, the details of which I will not reveal here, when he says “how can you not get romantic about baseball?” As the incredible 2011 World Series Champions the St. Louis Cardinals taught us, yes, indeed Mr. Beane, is surely is impossible not be romantic about such an amazing and unpredictable sport!

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