Chapters 5-6 (The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special, The Science of Winning an Unfair Game)
….and here we have the end of Act One in the Moneyball screenplay. The origin stories have been unscrewed, Bill James has been addressed and knighted, and we are well aware of the conflict awaiting a tangible outlet inside Billy Beane. It’s time to move this story forward.
When I first started truly avoiding this book, I mentioned it had mostly/totally to do with the fact that I was alarmed by the prospect of math. Sabermetrics seemed to incorporate so much of it, and I refused to allow the concept to slither into my understanding of baseball and turn it into some kind of sport that is slow and methodical and hard to understand at times.
Yet the very antagonist I feared was the same demon releasing a toxic cloud of deception over any math involved.
“The closer’s statistic did not have the power of language; it was just a number.”
And that’s when I realized, reading that sentence in chapter five, that the whole point was to slash away arbitrary mathematics that had been haunting baseball. Which is kind of insane; I should have realized that four chapters ago. But that’s when I realized something even dumber.
I think I just black out when I’m reading about numbers. Seriously, when I got to chapter five, and Billy Beane was flying to meet Bud Selig’s Council of the Fallen, or whatever he’d arranged, to inform them how he managed to win games with no money and unheard of players, I actually thought, “Wow, when are they going to get to the sabermetrics?” Which, while reading “Moneyball,” is a pretty stupid thought to have. That entire section on Bill James was about the birth of the very topic, and in fact, the book seems to rotate between narrative progression chapters, moving the story on like a wagon train, and explanatory exposition, providing support for the statements made during the narrative.
But I wasn’t reading it. My eyes were looking at it, but it was just bouncing off my brain and careening into the stratosphere. So that’s helpful. I went back and read it all over again, and hopefully I have a tight enough grasp on it to continue reading, but wow, my mind is way more subconsciously allergic to this type of thing than even I thought.
Regardless of where the holes in my brain are, it was a good idea to go back and recap, because the A’s acquisition of Jeremy Brown was all about the numbers, kind of. Once again, we were returned to that room full of men, deciding the fates of a small parade of college ballplayers. If sabermetrics, in the grand scheme of things, exists in order to put smiles on the faces of guys like Jeremy on draft day, that is just super keen. But this is a pro sport, whether it moves at the speed of a mostly-subterranean rock or not (it does), and it isn’t here to make sure people’s dreams stay intact, so obviously, ulterior motives are at work.
In both the signing of the really fat Jeremy Brown, and being forced to explain his success to other MLB owners, our protagonist Billy has already disproven the unfortunate mantra of the preface: “The people with most money often win.” Which, if you read my interpretation of the preface, should translate into a great deal of inspiration for me. In fact, my career should be turning around any second now.
While we wait for my inevitable success, let’s consider who that above phrase is really talking about. Yeah, okay; the Yankees. Duh. Probably the Red Sox, and currently, you could even say the Phils. But whose it for, I guess is my real question. It’s for people exactly like the A’s to read, and nod with silent determination, and then go out there and build a team that can contend. But that’s mainly for Billy Beane. It’s his success we’re reading about; it’s him spending the money and it’s him choosing which names to give it to.
Some of these guys who would never have been drafted anywhere else were obviously grateful, but this isn’t the story of them. It’s the story of Beane rearranging stats, discovering the wrong players were being drafted, and using that information to his advantage. The fact that he’s passionate about baseball makes him sympathetic, but zoom out for a second and recognize that this doesn’t make him the kind-hearted good guy Lewis tries, at times, to paint him as. He’s as cold and strategic as any GM–and he should be. I’m not at all trying to chastise a man for being a great fit for his job and revolutionizing the position entirely. He’s got a model and he plans on following it.
I’m just saying. He’s not Robin Hood. He’s not supposed to be. As a reader, I don’t want to be told a story, especially a true one, and then casually pushed toward a certain opinion of the main character. Beane doesn’t do it for the kids out there who just wanted a chance, he does it because he’s got a plan, and he wants to keep his job. Which makes baseball less about good guys and bad guys and more about a single, widespread gray area flooded with numerous, differing perspectives. And they’re all shouting.
Maybe I was just completely thrown off after reading about people wanting Nick Swisher around. It’s like a group of people standing in a circle and saying, “Man, I wish that idiot clown from the frat party was still here.”