Still about the money

In post-'Moneyball' era, small markets still face long odds

October is here. The month where baseball decides its champion, adds to its rich lore and cedes far too much of its soul to broadcasters who absolutely, positively, must tell you about 50 times about the hot new sitcom.

Irony always abounds in this game that’s always had its share of contradictions. Just as we might see the Yankees (again, yawn) and the Phillies (again, yawn) in the World Series, a new movie sheds light on a recent tale of a man, and a franchise, fighting the powers-that-be.

It is, of course, Moneyball, based on the Michael Lewis book about Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics, somehow winning and contending despite a small market and a payroll about $100 million or so behind the big guys with the cash cow regional networks.

First, the abbreviated film review – it’s really good. It’s sharp, well-written, funny, honest and human, with a terrific central performance from Brad Pitt as Beane, who is sure that his system works and furious when it doesn’t. The visuals and, especially, the use of silence to emphasize the tensions of the story, really add to the tale.

A larger question, though, has sprung up in the aftermath of both the book and the movie. It’s not spoiling anything to say that Beane turned down the Boston Red Sox GM job that Theo Epstein got. Also, it’s common knowledge that, when the Sox finally won it all in 2004, it did so implementing the Moneyball approach of walks, pitch count and on-base percentage, only with actual cash on hand.

So did baseball change? Or did the rich guys just get smarter, continuing to leave everyone else struggling for the scraps?

It’s a little of both, of course. As in all sports, when anything is successful, it gets copied, whether it’s football offensive schemes or basketball defenses. Beane and the A’s had to know that their methods would spread.

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