Monday, Sept. 26, 2011
Posted: 3:20 p.m.
The reviews are in for the movie Moneyball. Safe to say, its a smashing success.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 4 stars. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called it the best sports movie in a long time, period.
In its first weekend, the movie took in 20.6 million, the second highest grossing film in America.
But while moviegoers are flocking to theaters to watch Brad Pitt change the game of baseball as we once knew it, there are two men in Chicago who wont spend a dime, nickel, or penny on it.
Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone.
The two White Sox announcers are former players and longtime baseball purists. They both use computers and recognize the need for them in the modern game. But mention Moneyball, sabermetrics, or the achievements of Oakland As general manager Billy Beane, and they are not afraid to express their complete and utter disdain for all three of them.
I think its one of the biggest farces Ive ever seen in baseball, Harrelson said about Beanes computerized baseball strategy. I said at the time its going to get a lot of managers fired, and it has.
Hold onto your seats. The firing from Hawk and Steve has only just begun.
Stone, your thoughts?
When I take a look at all the attention that Billy happens to be getting now, I think the way he has gone about sabermetrics, number one, he didnt invent it. Number two, he didnt refine it. And number three, I like my winners to actually have won something.
Its true, Beanes Athletics have never won anything, except for a few division titles (in a four-team division), with the last one coming in 2006. For all of the praise that has been heaped on Beane over the last decade, his team has only won one playoff series, a fact Stone took great delight in expressing in fine, sarcastic detail.
Take Brad Pitt out of the movie, and then tell me about the success that Billys had. And then you make a movie about what? Of him not taking the Boston (general manager) job? How about the wins? Oh, there arent any wins? Dont worry about it.
The As did have a memorable 20-game winning streak in 2002, which is documented in the film. Stone is not impressed.
I understand that, he said. And Im sure there are other teams that have won 20, but how did that season work out for them? Did they win anything. See because they dont give trophies to teams with 20-game winning streaks. What they do is they give you a World Series trophy if you win the World Series. They even give you a smaller ring if you get in the World Series, but dont win it. Billy? Thats right, he never did that.
What was Harrelsons reaction when he heard they were making a Moneyball movie?
I laughed, Harrelson said. I said good for Billy. Ive known Billy a long time. I knew him when he had his head on straight so to speak. I think he got carried away a little bit. I know a lot of his own people hated it, what his concept was.
So I take it you havent read the book?
I wouldnt waste the money, Harrelson said. Ive heard some guys whove read it. Ive talked to some guys who liked it, and Ive talked to a majority of guys who thought it was a bunch of bull----, which if I read it, Im sure thats what I think it will be.
Its bull----, and hes proven its bull---- by the moves that hes made and the deals hes made, and the games that hes lost. How long has he been there?
Harrelson and Stone did not exactly hold back.
So why such outrage?
"I think he's the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history, 52 years.-- Harrelson on Billy Beane.
For one, Harrelson believes that Beanes sabermetric concept has taken over the game, not just in the front office, but on the actual field of play. He says that a healthy balance of computers and old-fashioned scouting (a long-time backbone of the sport), is good for the game. However, he thinks that the Billy Beane School of Baseball tipped the scales to such a point that in the last decade players are behaving less like human beings, and more like robots.
When you start inundating players with numbers and information, you lose something, Harrelson explained. I think baseball has lost a lot of its childlike qualities, and its a kids game. You take Mark Buehrle, he has never lost his childlike qualities. Thats one reason he can go out there and throw an 86 miles-per-hour fastball and still compete and win. A lot of players have lost it. So if a lot of players lose it, the individual game loses it.
Computers can measure hits, runs, on-base percentage, and just about every statistical possibility the human brain can create. But one figure a computer cannot read is the beating heart and complicated mind that lives in all of us. Maybe our eyes can see it, but computers cant.
I think computers have a place in the game of baseball, Stone said. To use that as a tool is good. But its still a game played by human beings that you have to have some sort of feel for, because there are certain limitations that computers have. One of them is, if a guy has never been in a pennant race, and youre trying to evaluate how hes going to do in the middle of August and September in a pennant race. How does a computer spit that out exactly? It doesnt.
Americans like to cheer for the underdog, and Moneyball dramatizes the rags to riches story of the As, who despite their small market status were able to manipulate the game through sabermetrics, finding overlooked players like Scott Hatteberg, who helped carry the franchise to great heights.
Its a plot that Hawk and Steve say is nonsense.
A lot of the guys that this whole sabermetric philosophy was built upon were guys like Miguel Tejada. He was a young kid out of the Dominican Republic. Sabermetrics? I dont think so, Stone explained. Eric Chavez was the best high school hitter in the country. Thats not sabermetrics. Thats not a value pick. He was simply the best hitter in the country.
The As also had the best young trio of starting pitchers in the game.
When you have (Barry) Zito, (Mark) Mulder, and (Tim) Hudson, youre going to get in the playoffs, Harrelson said. You can write any book you want to write and its going to sell. But when those guys leave, and they left, look at them now.
Stone says he has no plans to see the movie, but was curious if it included some behind-the-scenes details.
Do they have Billy running through all those managers he ran through when he fired them and hired them? Does it end with him hiring his best man at his wedding (Bob Geren) and then having to fire him because none of his players listen to him anymore?
I have yet to see the movie. Something tells me these scenes were left on the cutting room floor.
Harrelson knows what its like to be a major league general manager. He held the job with the White Sox in 1985-86, and took many arrows to the chest for the firing of Tony LaRussa, who ironically went on to win the 1989 World Series with the As. That team happened to have a little-used outfielder that season by the name of Billy Beane.
We know what Harrelson thinks of sabermetrics, what about Beane as a GM?
I think hes the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history. 52 years.
You wont see that written on the Moneyball movie poster.
Across town, the Cubs are currently looking for a general manager. Beane has been rumored to be a candidate, likely because chairman Tom Ricketts has expressed a desire to hire someone with a background in sabermetrics.
Mr. Ricketts, if you want some friendly advice from Mr. Harrelson, here it is:
I couldnt believe what Ricketts said about the Cubs, that whoever is going to be the new general manager is going to have to be well-versed in sabermetrics, Harrelson said. If thats got to be a criteria for hiring a good general manager, hes making a big mistake, or hes bought into the wrong game. He should hire a good baseball man to be the general manager.
There is fact and fiction. Baseball and Hollywood.
The truth behind Moneyball lies somewhere in between.
So far, audiences have spoken. Theyve given the movie a thumbs-up, going to see it in droves.
I think that if they didnt have Brad Pitt playing the lead, there would be about eight people whod go to see it.
Overall, I think the general public has been sold a bill of goods by this. And the recipient of it has been Billy Beane. More power to him. Thats like selling a deep freeze to the eskimos.
It was Al Michaels who coined the phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?"
Do you believe in Moneyball? That's for you to decide.
Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.