Before putting the baseball season to bed and firing up the hot stove, a few thoughts on the movie “Moneyball” and its portrayal of the A’s baseball scouts and its manager Art Howe. The good guys in this movie were Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his trusty stat-geek numbers-crunching sidekick Peter Brand, a fictitious character based on the real life Paul DePodesta, but more on that later.
As the movie progressed, Brand convinced Beane to used statistics like “batting average on balls in play” and “defensive runs saved” to find low-paid ballplayers that could fill the roster. The disbelievers included Art Howe, an amiable old-time baseball man whom actor Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed as an abrasive, closed-minded dud, and the equally dimwitted A’s scouting staff. When the 2001 season ended, Beane needed to replace departed free agents Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon. During an early scene in the movie, Beane convened the scouting staff. “Artie,” asked the scouting director, “who do you like?
“I like Perez,” replied Artie. “He’s got a classic swing. It’s a real clean stroke.”
A scout across the table quickly rebutted saying, “He’s got an ugly girlfriend.”
“What’s that mean?” asked Artie.
“An ugly girlfriend means no confidence.”
It’s a funny scene and it highlights the peculiarities of analyzing talent. Pitt’s character rolled his eyes, spit a wad of tobacco into a cup and then badgered, belittled and berated his staff. The scouting director is ultimately fired, the intransigent Howe is overruled and Peter Brand is promoted to assistant GM.
It fits nicely with the ensuing successful season to follow, but asked what the late Stan Benjamin would’ve thought of the movie, GHS coach Tom Suchanek said, “I think Stan would’ve rolled over in his grave.”
Benjamin lived in Greenfield and scouted nearly five decades for the Houston Astros. When the Red Sox wanted reliever Larry Andersen from Houston in 1990, it was Benjamin who recommended the Astros get Jeff Bagwell in return. The trade was made and Bagwell was named the NL rookie of the year in 1991, eventually becoming an eight-time all star.
“The movie doesn’t do a lot of justice to scouts and the knowledge they have,” said Suchanek, a protégé of Benjamin’s. “They can see talent. Whether it pans out you never know until they get out there and do it.”
Suchanek read the book and saw the movie. He said Beane’s system works over the long haul of the regular season, but not come playoff time. Indeed, since 2002 the A’s are 7-10 in the postseason.
Other teams with low payrolls have gotten it done without resorting to geek baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays have one pennant and 59 more wins than Oakland the last five seasons. They used good scouting to get it done and so have the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals.
Scouts go places. They see the heart and hustle that computers can’t analyze. If Red Sox scout Dave Jauss hadn’t been in the Caribbean watching winter ball in 2003, Boston might not have signed a 26-year-old free agent named David Ortiz.
Meanwhile Art Howe’s sin was allowing his name to be used. DePodesta did read the script and refused to let his name or likeness be used in the movie. “Once I read it,” he explained, “I realized it was a piece of fiction and saw no reason for my name to be attached to it.”
Greenfield High School lost the game, but the program won a few converts and both schools won at the gate on Thanksgiving.
“It was tough. Turners was good,” said GHS coach Mike Kuchieski the day after the Wave’s 29-22 loss to the Powertowners. “I don’t know the final numbers, but I know we grossed close to $9,000. It’s the best gate we’ve had since I’ve been here. That’s what happens when you’ve got two good teams going head-to-head.”
During the telecast cast of the ACC football game between Virginia and UNC 10 days ago, an ESPN broadcaster mentioned that the Cavaliers’ defense had become much faster under defensive coordinator Jim Reid because he’d decided to convert the safeties into linebackers. “That’s because they weren’t any good at safety,” laughed Reid. “I didn’t tell ‘em that part.”
It appears the Richard Seymour-to-Oakland trade of 2009 worked out for both sides. Seymour has 18.5 sacks in 53 games for Oakland, while tackle Nate Solder has anchored an offensive line that’s allowed the fifth-fewest sacks in the league. Give the edge to the Patriots in age difference. Solder is 24 years old while Seymour, 33, missed last week’s game and has been ruled out for Sunday with a bad hamstring.
An item appeared here last March regarding the tennis prowess of 18-year-old Caroline Dailey, the daughter of former Greenfield resident Peter Dailey. A senior at Out of Door Academy in Siesta Key, Dailey recently signed a National Letter-of-Intent with the University of South Carolina.
“A local ABC affiliate filmed the signing in front of the entire student body,” said her father. “It’s a top 20 team and moving up.”
CSN’s Michael Felger calls Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun the most valuable drug user in pro sports because he had better numbers this year than his MVP season last year when he tested positive. Braun won his appeal on a technicality and had more at-bats (598), hits (191), home runs (41) and RBI (112) this season than last year. He also out-performed Buster Posey in every major statistical category but batting average (.336 to .319). Yet Posey won the MVP Award with 27 first place votes to Braun’s three, a vote tally that was the aftershock of last year’s indiscretion.
Squibbers: A “60 Minutes” segment on Sunday about big-time college football reported that the University of Michigan charges $6,000 per couple to get married inside the Big House. … The Boston Globe reports the Red Sox had 22,158 season ticket holders in 2012 with a waiting list of 8,500. The Sox were 69-93 season and drew over three million fans in 2012 while charging $95 for an upper box seat. In 1965 the team was 62-100, drew 652,000 fans and charged $3 for an upper box…. Charley Molnar is the 101st highest paid of 116 FBS coaches that were listed by USA Today in Tuesday’s edition. Molnar’s base salary is $400,625. Sixty-six FBS coaches earn over $1 million, including UConn’s Paul Pasqualoni ($1.6 million) and BC’s Frank Spaziani ($1.1 million)…. On SXM Radio, former Red Sox shortstop Rico Petrocelli lamented that he’d caught Rich Rollins’ popup for the last out of the 1967 season but never kept the ball. And he added, “I caught Mickey Mantle’s last out. I don’t have that ball either.”
Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley.