Friday 02 Dec 2016

Moneyball Predictions
Bob Stark

When your enemy's making mistakes, don't interrupt him.

Billy Beane, in the moive "Moneyball"


Have you been to the movie theaters lately? The other day my friend Eva and I went to a late afternoon showing of "Moneyball.” It's the latest Brad Pitt flick. The story is about real life general manager (GM) of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane. H tired of losing games and eventually players to teams with bigger budgets, employs some nerdy looking 25 year old Yale Economics grad who introduces a whole bullpen full of statistics to help level the playing field. 

Although I highly recommend the movie, I suggest if you have not experienced modern movie screenings, you may want to do a little prep work and training. The noted show time was 4:20 p.m. We sat in our seats around 4:10 p.m. The movie started at 4:40 p.m. The half-an-hour of waiting was akin to going through a hazing ritual. I was mentally exhausted by the time the movie started. My friend and I had to watch a constant stream of trivia contests, promotions, advertisements and so forth. I wondered aloud "how much money do these people think I have?" 

There was one ad for a new Ford Van that had the extra feature of colour-coded beeping car keys, in case you put them on a living room table and couldn't find them, and a GPS system embedded therein so you could find your car in the parking lot after the movie. Get a guide dog!

I'm at an age where I have to start writing things down and then hope I can find the piece of paper I did that on. Still, one needs to exercise the ole memory bank from time to time! You have serious problems if you need technology to find your car in a parking lot. Channel Christopher Columbus. Think of it as an adventure; how about "Survivor” or a new version of "Lost”? In any case, I'm sure the CBC will come up with some kind of contest.

Whatever happened to cartoons, but I’m here to talk baseball.

At movie's end, after the 2002 edition of the As have shocked the world, yes, the world, by coming out of, let’s see, left field, winning and setting a record of 20 straight victories on their way to the American League (AL) West Division crown, the team again goes out in the first round of the play-offs. Billy Beane is not a happy camper and gets an offer to go to Boston and manage the Red Sox, which hasn’t won a championship since the Babe left town; “The Curse of the Bambino.”

The Boston Red Sox, which hadn’t won a World Series in 84 years, at the time, offers Beane $12.5 million to manage the team. At the last moment, he turns it down. The Sox hire Bill James, the author of an ostensible statistical analysis of baseball.

James suggested a number of often-overlooked strategies, such as on-base percentages, to win baseball games. The Red Sox win the World Series in 2004. I wonder if this is coincidence or fate.

What the Red Sox did was incorporate 'Billy Ball', as it became more widely known, with the ole Yankee ploy of Big Money. Since 2004, the Sox and New York Yankees have engaged in an endless race for the AL Division Championship and World Series. Boston fans never sleep either but while their New York enemies are out on the town swilling umbrella drinks, Red Sox nation is busy popping sedatives and watching all-night re-runs of Peter Popoff sermons.

At the start of this season, the Red Sox had a budget of 165 million dollars. Every pundit in the land said Boston would win the World Series. Every pundit was wrong. The Red Sox aren't even going to the play-offs! In the 162nd game of the year, the team was fighting to become the AL's Wild Card. Boston had gone something like 9-19 in September and had blown - in historic proportion - a nine game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. The Red Sox were facing the last place Orioles, while Tampa Bay played the first place Yankees. After seven innings the Sox were ahead 3-2, the Yankees were crushing the Rays 7-0. It looked like, at the very least, the Sox would play a one-game play-off with the Rays the next day but... almost as an omen, the rain started falling in Baltimore... while the fans in Tampa were streaming for the exits. Then, while the Sox and Orioles waited, the Rays came to bat in the bottom of the 8th and kept batting. Evan Longoria hit a three-run dinger to bring the Rays to within a run. Then in the bottom of the ninth, with two out and two strikes on pitch-hitter Dan Johnson, whose batting average was lower than a high fever reading on a thermometer, 108, took one deep to the right field wall and over it. Tied, 7-to-7, heading for extra innings, but at this point back in Maryland, they were rolling off the tarp to resume play. How the Boston faithful lament the rain didn't turn into an all-night downpour and the game officially ended.

The clock struck midnight. The gawds struck the Red Sox. Two out in the bottom of the ninth, with their best reliever on the mound and looking invincible, three batters later it was over for the Sox. The Orioles scored twice and won 4-3. The dejected Red Sox went to their locker room hoping for... the Yankees. Bottom of the 12th, the Yankees had just started the top of the inning with runners on first and third and no one out. A sharp grounder to third and the Yankee runner starts for home. Bad idea because the TB third baseman still has the ball in his glove. In Little League, they teach you to wait till the guy throws the ball, somewhere. He who hesitates is not only lost, but is out. Realizing he's between a rock and home plate, Granderson shifts gears into reverse and tries to dive back to the bag, but is out. The Rays get out of the inning without giving up a run. The Red Sox manager chews more tobacco and spits in a spittoon. Evan Longoria, of the Rays, steps into the batter's box. Crack. A deep fly ball to left, just inside the foul pole and just over the fence, the Rays win their game 8-7 and the Sox are asking Obama for a bail out.

Irony of irony, former Ray player, Carl Crawford, now with the Red Sox, drops the ball. When he picks it up, he throws it, wildly, to home plate, allowing the winning run to score. The Rays had to part with Crawford and five or six other star players, due to money restrictions.

A week before, the Rays beat the Yankees and the Red Sox in one of the most dramatic team comebacks in baseball history. Maybe it's the Curse of the Sub-Prime lenders, the Curse of the Wall Street Shuffle; how refreshing to see a big money, big market team self-destruct. Money, as John Lennon opined, can buy many things but money can’t buy love.

Somewhere last night, Billy Beane was smiling. Moneyball had won.

A singer-songwriter friend of mine is heading for Boston Friday. She is a Red Sox fan, as well as a former Brooklyn Dodger fan. She wasn't going there to watch baseball. There’s no fall baseball in Boston.

She's actually going to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the publication of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," a seminal book that she took part in writing. I told her that if there's a Tim Hortons in Boston don't order something with a "double, double, single" or she'll be tossed into the street.

On behalf of Red Sox fans, however, I must say that the Yankees had little choice. Yes, they could have brought in some of their star pitchers, but the league, in a Gary Bettman-like decision, decided to start the play-offs on Friday. Would you bring in Mariano Rivera knowing you may need him less than 48 hours later? I guess not. Still, the thought lingers, did the Yankees  do their best to win the game? The Phillies went into extra-innings in their game against Atlanta and didn't fold... but they too, didn't exactly, completely, cowboy-up as far as pitching is concerned. Dear Bud Lite, Commissioner of Baseball, do some more deep thinking on this concept will you?

Now, my predictions for post-season baseball.

American League

Tampa Bay vs Texas

Texas should win this one in a close series, and did.

Detroit vs New York

Verlander versus C.C. Sebathia in Game One, which can go either way. The Tigers win in starting pitching after Game 1 unless someone from the Yanks steps-up. The Yankees have an edge in middle relief. The Bronx Bombers may have more home-run power but the Tigers have punch. I like Detroit, but would never bet against the Yankees. Tigers win if they get past Detroit in 5.

National League

Arizona vs Milwaukee

This could be a very good, but least watched series. This could be the Brewers' year. They need to go deep in order to make enough money to keep Prince Fielder. It’s all moneyball and Milwaukee in five games.

St. Louis vs Philadelphia

St. Louis is five.

Bob Stark is a musician, poet, philosopher and couch potato. He spends his days, as did Jean-Paul Sarte and Albert Camus, pouring lattes and other adult beverages into a recycled mug, bearing a long and winding crack. He discusses, with much insight and passion, the existentialist and phenomenological ontology of the Vancouver 'Canucks,' a hockey team, "Archie" comic books and high school reunions. In other words, Bob Stark is a retired public servant living the good life on the wrong coast of Canada.

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