Moneyballs Deep: The Last Baseball Blogger to Learn Sabermetrics, Pt.3

So I’m assuming reading “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis will open my eyes to Sabermetrics and also give me more to do when someone mentions the book other than laugh when everybody else does.  Check out part one and part two.  Hopefully I’ll be caught up with every other baseball blogger in no time.

Chapters 3-4 (The Enlightenment, Field of Enlightenment)

Here are my notes on chapter three:

  • Lenny Dykstra – idiot
  • These must be the beginning of Beane’s thoughts. (Make “Beane-ginnings” pun somewhere?  No.)
  • Getting laid as a ballplayer–if it is as easy as Billy Beane describes, I now have less than zero sympathy for these people.

Of course, there’s a lot more covered in that chapter, but I have other stuff I want to get to, and I also thought that glimpse at what I found important was mildly entertaining.  This is a Phillies blog, so I feel like I should mention that I am not surprised Lenny Dykstra didn’t know who Steve Carlton was, but I am now afraid of how many retrospective Dykstra stories we’ll end up hearing that were merely further opportunities for his apparently dead brain to expose itself throughout history.

But “history” is what brings us to the next character in this yarn.

Bill James’ story has a couple of intriguing entry points, but Lewis tunnels into the saga at an angle that allows him to sprint back and forth between James, the pack of yelping stat-hounds that followed him, and then back to James, as he rises to power and then slowly climbs back down.

We drop into his desire to write what seemed to attract choice demographics like “mathematically inclined mole people” (I’m going by the descriptions in the book, not stereotypes that already exist).  Before we’re too comfortable, we’re left in the care of Harry Chadwick, a man guilty of several war crimes against baseball statistics.  Chadwick spends a few paragraphs witch doctoring the system James one day sets out to fix, but then we’re back to James, and then following these Cramer and Palmer heroes; students of James’ work and twice removed from the evils of Chadwick.

Combined with the overarching Billy Beane narrative following his aborted playing career and the other one, following his promising GM career, Lewis is starting to use characters–well drawn, thickly written characters–to move the plot along.  So far, each new chapter has been a harvest of fresh faces, all with different actions but building to the same intentions.  It’s like Inglorious Basterds but everybody’s got a calculator.

Even if Bill James is only mentioned in passing for the rest of this book, his role is too clutch to gloss over when trying to summarize the point.  There was a movement, and Billy Beane was at its forefront for the majority of the time, but James started it.  Which made me wonder; we all know Brad Pitt is playing Beane in the film because they were clearly separated at birth; but whose playing James, the reason any of this happened?

“James isn’t in the movie,” Wikipedia informed me.  “But David Justice might be playing himself!  Also, do you have any spare change?  You should give it to Wikipedia, please.”

Which would be a fucking shame, because the was Lewis tells it, James’ little arc here is tightly wrapped and ready to go (He feels like the character in his own short story).  Grab a guy like J.K. Simmons and shoot it in 10 days; it mostly takes place in James’ writing quarters.  But how I can realistically see this playing out is a shot of James’ name on a copy of Baseball Abstract sitting on somebody’s desk, or the real Bill James being offered a cameo as a hot dog vendor, or some stupid thing.  Originally, Soderbergh wanted to turn him into a cartoon narrator, which I can only assume would look like that rooster from Disney’s Robin Hood, but only talking about baseball.

They have to include him, and they know it–obviously, they’ve talked about it.  But this may be another one times where you’re forced to swallow that question mark and remember that a film doesn’t legtitimize a book, it’s not the “official version” of the story at hand; it can stray drastically from its source material, because the point is that it’s job is to embody the themes and emotions the book gives off, rather than become a visual retelling of the exact same tale.

From strictly the book’s perspective, James is very much a revolutionary, running up to the locked gates of the for no reason corrupt Elias Sports Bureau, firing a machine gun into the air and demanding statistics.  What’s so comical is that this is all information that shouldn’t take more than an indifferent shrug from an employee to obtain.  They’re just baseball stats, not Pentagon papers.

“Just… give them to him,” I muttered out loud at one point.

He’s a fantasy nerd sent up a river through a village of athletes.  It’s like a new kind of person was finally recognized.

James’ conclusion, I think, is what makes him the most cinematically appealing character yet explored by Lewis.  His story is charming, he motivations pure, and little by little, we watch his patience chipped away, until his conclusion, which offers the chance for some new body to grab the reins.  Like a giant with his last, dying gasp, we hurled sabermetrics into the air, partially disgusted by the demons it had summoned, hoping someone could catch it and use it for good.

If that’s not an epic struggle worth filming, then I’m reading the book wrong.

Topics: Baseball, Bill James, Billy Beane, Brad Pitt, Lenny Dykstra, MLB, Moneyball, Phillies, Sabermetrics

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