DENVER—Driving down that Los Angeles Freeway the billboard stood out, proclaiming that the “Moneyball” movie would be opening in theaters in late September. It is, according to the billboard, based on a true story. Another Hollywood tragedy, evidently.
Moneyball was a nice concept, built into idol worship by an author who was overwhelmed by the personality of Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who is among the brightest and more personable figures in the game.
But Michael Lewis, as talented a wordsmith as he may be, created a bigger-than-life hero by taking a morsel of the genius that is Beane and turning it into an absolute for baseball success that even Beane has since admitted was blown out of whack.
The promo for the movie says it all: “Brad Pitt stars in the real-life tale of Major League Baseball general manager Billy Beane, who built up a winning team despite a decreased budget thanks to his sly use of statistical data to calculate the best—and cheapest—players for his roster.”
The movie will debut as the A’s will put the wraps on their fifth consecutive non-winning season, their seventh without a playoff appearance in eight years. That’s not a knock on Beane, who has to deal with the constraints of a franchise in a city that has no real interest in having a baseball team.
Yes, the A’s did advance to the postseason in four of Beane’s first six years on the job, but as Beane will grant, the foundation of those teams was put in place before he replaced Sandy Alderson as the A’s decision maker.
The success of those Oakland teams was built around the arms of Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson—signed by the scouts that Lewis chose to insult in his book—and a lineup that fed off the run production of shortstop Miguel Tejada and third baseman Eric Chavez, neither of whom would have been signed in the system the book emphasized.
Around The Majors
• As soon as Triple-A Colorado Springs first baseman Mike Jacobs was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for using human growth hormone under the minor league drug testing policy, the Rockies released him.
It will be interesting to see how this could play into the current negotiations for a new labor agreement. The NFL included an HGH provision in its new labor deal—though it will not be implemented until testing details are worked out. Baseball has been proud of what it felt was the toughest drug-testing in pro sports. Will it now add HGH testing in the major leagues?
Remember that it was the players who pressured the leaders of the union to initially accept drug-testing. The players were tired of being smeared en masse for the transgressions of a few and wanted to clean up their image.
• Before Nationals GM Mike Rizzo breaks his arm patting himself on the back for the great job his team did in the draft, he should remember two words: Jayson Werth.
Baseball can humble in a hurry. It was at the Winter Meetings that Rizzo and agent Scott Boras hailed the signing of Werth as the addition of the veteran who would create a winning atmosphere in Washington.
This was the same Jayson Werth who has never had 100 RBIs in a season, and who benefited from hitting in a lineup with Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The same Werth who at 32 already gives the Nationals reason for concern about what lies ahead after the first year of his seven-year, $126 million contract.
• At 38, Mets reliever Jason Isrignhausen became the fourth-oldest pitcher to notch 300 career saves when he reached the milestone at San Diego.
Doug Jones was 42 when he did it with Oakland in 1999. Dennis Eckersley, also with the A’s, was 40 in 1995; and Todd Jones was 39 when he earned No. 300 with the Tigers in 2007. The youngest to claim 300 saves? Robb Nen was 32 when he reached the milestone with the Giants in 2002.
Interestingly, Nen went on to get just 14 more saves in his career due to injuries. Doug Jones finished with 303, and Todd with 319, but Eckersley went on to save 90 more games to rank sixth on the all-time list and win himself a spot in the Hall of Fame.