Chapters 11-12 (The Human Element, The Speed of an Idea)
“All they provide me with is subjective emotion,” [Billy Beane] said. ”And that can be counterproductive.”
–Moneyball, pg. 244
It’s never been a mystery to me why the months of April to October are sort of a gaping black hole in my schedule. People around me begin to transmorph into whirring blurs, motoring past my still frame as their daily tasks are dealt with. The toaster oven gets cleaned out. The tax forms get filed. The finally thawed-out dead birds get scraped out of the gutter.
But in my world, the baseball season is a time when the toaster oven continuously explodes into a fire ball, destroying all of my tax forms, which I inexplicably keep next to it, and by May, my gutter has turned into a complimentary buffet for the most limber of the stray cat herd.
What I’m saying is, I am aware of the “subjective emotion” of which Billy Beane speaks in these final chapters. It is a hindrance; not to those cats, mind you, but they have proven to be the sole beneficiaries of the process year after year.
Billy is the iron giant of this story, obviously, and as I’ve become privy to it over the past few weeks, I’ve sort of built him up in my mind as this legendary icon with little to no problems. I mean, he’s got daily problems, big ones, but in the long run, he’s got this pretty good book written about him and he revolutionized the game, so yeah. No problems. To think that he could ever have something in common with a low-level whiskeyman such as myself is downright insulting.
Yet, when Michael Lewis explained that even when the A’s are experiencing record ticket sales, Billy Beane remains so concerned about his emotional level that he will absolutely refuse himself the joy of watching them play, that indicates a level of involvement that borders on habit-forming.
So here we are, Billy. Me, at the end of your book as baseball season sparks to life, realizing you and I might be one and the same, emotionally. You, with no idea who I am and likely to stay that way. It caught me off guard.
And when mid-July is here, and there’s a six-inch novelty Phillies bat through my TV, I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that even those who came before me, saw the game for what it was, and twisted it until it was better, are capable of the raw emotion and complete obliviousness of household tasks that being a baseball fan entails.
But Billy, in all of his numerical glory, has to face what all of us who address our problems bat-first inevitably do: downfall. Losing in the playoffs, again, we see Billy’s Oakland empire crumble in the face of the post season.
One of the biggest faults of our legends is humanity. We like to pretend it isn’t there, because it makes them more like the horrific slobs we are. I may have joked endlessly about Jayson Werth being a hatchet murderer, but if he really was one, I would never want to know about it. I’d never want to hear about a bank heist organized by Raul Ibanez or an incident that ended with Ryan Howard eating a border collie. Well, yes, of course I would. But the point remains valid.
The decline of a revolution, successful or not, is inevitable (They’re already picking up after Egypt). It exists as a momentary explosion on the record; and the point is never the initial sound, as raucous as it may be. It is the echoes it leaves bouncing off the game.
And for Billy, that day finally came, documented in chapter 12. Much like the revelation of his passions’ ability to get the better of him, Moneyball taught me that the things we in Philly are blamed for–classlessness, rage, drunken buffoonery–as sick as it is, often come from a place of love. For some of us. For others, it comes from a much, much darker place that should really keep them from being allowed in public.
If we didn’t care, Citizens Bank Park would be a soundless mausoleum. If Billy Beane, Bill James, and Paul DePodesta hadn’t cared, we’d still assume the best way to gauge a pitcher’s worth was his ERA. And as another season is primed to begin, possibly the most anticipated in the history of our team, its important to remember that no matter how critical it may feel now, this team–this rotation–is going to one day end. Whether it leaves a permanent mark or a scar is what the hell we’re watching for.
Unlike Moneyball, the 2011 Phillies season hasn’t ended yet. Somebody will probably write a book about it–some guys in particular probably already have their titles picked out. From the build-up alone, it’s pretty clear that regardless of its conclusion, Phillies baseball is, and in the past few years has, completely changed because of several key people their enormous supporting cast.
They’ll be playing baseball forever. But now they’ll be playing it Billy’s way. Did I just compare the birth of sabermetrics to Phillies fans? Yes. Because I’ve gone insane. And what the hell am I telling you any of this for? You’ve probably already read this book. It did come out six years ago.