Saturday, June 02, 2012

Moneyball: Walkoff homer of the mind

As a child, Jack Kerouac's personal fantasy baseball league was byzantine, elaborate and imaginative. The great writer as a young tyke type-writ correspondence that accompanied trades and acquisitions. And rosters and box scores. "He charted the exploits of made-up players. He collected their stats, analyzed their performance..." writes NYTimes reviewing a curation by New York Public Library's Isaac Gewirtz. ( “Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats)

Like the author who runs a world, or the collector who conjures one in a bottle, many a modern baseball fan wants to create their own team or league, and the Internet has super-enabled this rotisserie spirit. At the base is the drive to call the tune. It is the motive in the heart of Oakland Athletics' general manager Billy Beane, as depicted in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. It depicts the flowering of a statistically-centered approach to baseball player strategy that has been trending up in recent years. It is a new way of figuring out “what will happen.”

This was a very good film with very able Brad Pitt. The film’s producers and Pitt very wisely made Beane a real dramatic hero, while in the book he is more an example of way of thinking about predictability. Vis-à-vis the film, the book is less a story, more a collection of scenes, in the form of New Journalism, Lewis is embedded in the Oakland Athletics front office. In episodes he tells what he saw. He gets inside Billy Beane's mind. Well, Billy tells him stuff and then he presents it in the form “Beane thought…”

Beane was a talented prospect with a temperament that failed him, leaving him the lower ranks of players. This, however, gave him a unique view on how to manage the business of player acquisition. Lewis positions as the first chief MLB proponent of a type of statistical analysis that emerged in rotisserie league and Xerox zine circles of the 1970s and 1980s. As I said, this got hyperbolically extenuated by the Web. As Lewis writes this is one of the Internet’s fundamental elements. The interest here is the statistics of baseball, the game behind the game – that was initially set in motion by the mimeographed missives of one Bill James – a night watchman who’s unique fixation on baseball statistics created a whole new ulterior mirror-reality version of the national pastime. He fixed on which stats really mattered – at least one of these is now really a popular way to judge the game, that is: on base percentage. But the brunt of the book is Beame, the phenom in middle age, a guy with a job to do, a limited budget and a maniacal aversion to the conventional wisdom.

Bill is … “the guy who knows wha’s going to happen even before it does…” - p. 191

“If you have twelve different pitchers you have to speak twelve different languages.” – p.  252

“The Internet was good at gathering people together from different places with common interests.”  - p. 235

Page numbers refer to Norton paperback, 2004 edition?

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