Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Moneyball's Failure Reaching Catastrophic Proportions
In October, I did a piece titled "Moneyball Failed." It mentioned the weak gross the movie of the same title was getting, but the point was that the philosophy of "Moneyball" failed. To wit:
Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane is called a genius because he uses this philosophy he calls "Moneyball" to win.
But since getting the job in 1998, he has only won Division Titles, in the American League West in 2000, '02, '03 and '06, and the AL Wild Card in 2001. He has never won a Pennant, much less a World Series.
He has failed miserably in October. In 2000, the A's won Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees, and had the deciding Game 5 at home, and they lost.
In 2001, the A's beat the Yankees in Games 1 and 2 at the original Yankee Stadium, with the next 2 at the Oakland Coliseum (or whatever corporate name the Mausoleum had at the time). And the Yankees won the next 3 straight.
In 2002, the A's had the best record in baseball (well, tied with the Yankees, at 103 wins), and didn't have to face the Yankees in the ALDS. They led the Minnesota Twins 2 games to 1 and, if a Game 5 was necessary, it would be at home... and they lost.
In 2003, the A's again avoided the Yankees in the ALDS, facing the Boston Red Sox with the first 2 games at home, and won them both. Even if they dropped the 2 at Fenway Park, they'd still have Game 5 at home. And they lost all 3.
In 2006, the A's finally won a postseason series for the first time since 1990 and got into an AL Championship Series for the first time since 1992 (at which point the Division Series hadn't yet been instituted), and got swept by the Detroit Tigers.
Since then, the A's haven't reached the Playoffs in 5 years -- presumably using the same "Moneyball" philosophy.
Over that same stretch, such "small-market" teams as the Phoenix-based Arizona Diamondbacks, the South Florida-based Florida (now renamed "Miami") Marlins, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Houston Astros, the Detroit Tigers, the Denver-based Colorado Rockies, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Dallas-area-based Texas Rangers have won Pennants.
The New York Mets, the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have proven that you can be the 2nd-most popular team in a market and still win a Pennant.
Over the course of his tenure as A's GM, Beane has refused to pay to keep his talent, thus winning a Pennant for the Yankees (Jason Giambi), a World Series for the Yankees (Nick Swisher), a World Series for the Cardinals (Mark Mulder), and a World Series for the cross-Bay Giants (Barry Zito -- okay, he's gone just 43-61 with a 93 ERA+ for the Giants and wasn't on the 2010 postseason roster, but he was there).
And the A's stadium situation is bleak. The Oakland Coliseum, especially since its reworking to bring the NFL's Raiders back from Los Angeles, is woefully inadequate. The team has tried to get a new stadium built in Oakland, both at the Coliseum complex site and downtown. They've tried in neighboring Fremont. (Not that surprising: The previous team in Oakland, the Oaks of the Pacific Coast League, played not in Oakland but in neighboring Emeryville.)
And now they're trying to get a stadium built in San Jose, as the Giants once tried -- only, in this case, the Giants, who have their Class A California League team in San Jose, are refusing to waive their territorial rights to the city, thus standing in the way of the A's leaving the East Bay to the Raiders and the NBA's Golden State Warriors and sharing the South Bay with the NHL's San Jose Sharks.
With several other cities interested in getting teams -- including such geographically convenient (they'd be able to stay in the AL West) cities as Sacramento, Portland, Vancouver, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City -- the A's are in considerable danger of being lost to some other metro area.
I said then, and I repeat it now: Billy Beane is not only not a genius, he is a coward. He should have gone to the A's ownership group and said, "I need more money to build a Pennant winner. If you won't let me spend it, I'll quit, and I can name my price because everybody thinks I'm a genius." If they called his bluff, he could have become the new GM at any number of clubs, and proved that he wasn't bluffing after all.
Instead of working out a solution -- for himself, if not for the A's -- Beane became part of the problem: He now has an ownership stake in the A's, meaning it's now, at least in part, his own money that he won't spend.
When I posted this information in its original form this past October, I was ripped for saying that Moneyball was not an effective strategy for the A's. I got about as many unkind comments as I got when I said Joe Paterno was a disgrace -- 2 years before the Jerry Sandusky scandal came out.
The facts convict Beane, and mark the commenters out as the truly ignorant ones.
The facts have gotten worse. Beane has traded away more young talent, and gotten only cheap prospects in return. He has gutted a franchise with a proud, if rollercoaster, history, one that has won 6 Pennants and 4 World Series, and that's not even counting what they did in Philadelphia under Connie Mack (who also had a tendency to build great teams only to break them up to cut costs).
Check this out, from the Bay Area Sports Guy blog, admittedly a Giants fan, not an A's fan, but he's right.
One of his commenters, in response to an A's fan, said this:
The Giants at one time were leaving..the A’s were drawing 3 mill..and all motives were driven by winning and losing.
Now-Beane cant even claim the A’s lose money no matter how bad they do-so whats left is,he’s a greedy bitch..who wants more.
This is corporate greed-and why Beane is in hiding giving no explanation of why he’s tradeing all stars for bums. What is Beane going to say? I’m a f’ing greedy bastard,I admit it?
Beane has been operating as a welfar queen since becoming a part owner. I said for years he sold out,but local media stuck to “Beane has a plan”..I saw through that fast talker early.
The A’s are set for a 120 loss year..with full support of the shill local media
This is true: From 1981 to 1995, the A's had the higher per-home-game attendance in 12 out of 15 seasons. This despite the fact that, in that stretch, the Giants won a National League Western Division title in 1987 (one of the 3 years), a Pennant in 1989 (the A's still beat them, and then beat them in the World Series), and nearly won another Division title in 1993 (one of the 3 years, the other being 1986 when the A's were a bit down before their LaRussa-McGwire-Canseco-Stewart-Eckersley revival).
Starting in 1996, the A's have never had better attendance than the Giants again. What's the cause? The Giants' new ballpark, now named AT&T Park? They didn't get it until 2000, so how do you explain having better attendance from '96 to '99 at drafty old Candlestick Park? Was it Barry Bonds? No, because he arrived in 1993 and, while his arrival explains why the Giants led the A's that year, the A's still led in '94 and '95.
More likely, it was because the Giants, under Peter Magowan, who bought them in 1992 to save them from being moved to Tampa Bay, were determined to build a winner. And the A's were not. And still aren't.
Check out another comment on that BASG piece:
I just watched “Moneyball” and I’m already tired of Beane. Why didn’t the team that beat them in the playoffs that year get a movie?? The Minnesota Twins had an almost identical payroll in the season depicted in the film! They are also backed by a billionaire family (The Pohlads), but I guess the difference is they successfully blackmailed the taxpayers/government for Target Field…and Twins fans (before last season) had to be content with management building teams to win the division and get crushed by the damned Yankers in the ALCS…I thought that was a pretty slick oversight in the film…Beane’s budget ballclub got beat by another budget ballclub in the ALCS, not a major market Titan.
It should also be noted that the Giants won a Worlds Series pure magic and starting pitching…the biggest contracts on the team weren’t the keys to winning the last game of the season. (Mike's note: Emphasis mine, not the author's, although his point is quite valid.)
I think you hit the nail on the head. If I was an A’s fan, I’d be pissed. Can’t Beloved Leader Selig step in and give Billy a talking-to about clearly tanking the season? He could’ve KILLED at the trade deadline with Bailey and possibly Gio…can’t you see an AL East team giving up the crown jewel of their system for that package, or even one of those guys if they were hurting at the deadline?
It has been rumored that the A's just might make a deal with the MLB offices and the Giants to get the go-ahead to build in San Jose, ready to go for Opening Day 2014. (More likely 2015, because while they won't be building a superstadium like the Yankees, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Meadowlands teams, considering how long it takes to arrange and build these things, construction delays are probably inevitable.)
That won't make people in Oakland and elsewhere in Alameda County happy, but a 35-to-50 mile drive down Interstate 880 is a whole lot better than an 80-to-90 mile drive up I-80 to Sacramento, or a 500+ mile drive to Vegas, or a 600+ mile drive to Portland, or a 700+ mile drive to Salt Lake. (Public transportation would still be possible for East Bay fans: Taking the BART rapid rail service to Fremont and an express bus to downtown San Jose would take roughly an hour and a half, or about as long as it takes me to get from my Central Jersey hometown to Port Authority to either of the NYC parks.)
But if the San Jose deal doesn't happen, then there's a pretty good chance that, come Opening Day 2015, there will be no more Oakland A's.
Imagine the Sacramento A's. The Sac-A's.
The Oregon A's.
The Utah A's.
The Las Vegas A's. (They'd never end up as "The Nevada A's.")
Being a Yankee Fan, this is no skin off my nose.
But it's not far to the people in the East Bay who cheered on the Reggie-Catfish-Fingers "Swingin' A's" of the Seventies.
Or to the people who became A's fans because of Billy Martin's "Billyball" in the early Eighties.
Or to the people who got hooked on baseball by the Bash Brothers of the late Eighties & early Nineties -- even knowing what we now know about them, they sure were entertaining, in a typically whacked-out Eighties sort of way.
Or to the people who became baseball fans thanks to the Moneyballers of the early 2000s.
Those people don't deserve to lose their baseball team.
Billy Beane deserves to lose his job. And his reputation as a genius.
He's not a genius. He's a damn fool. And a damn coward.
Explain that away, Moneyball fans. You can't.
UPDATE: Through the 2017 season, there was no deal to build the A's a new ballpark. They will play the 2018 season at the Coliseum. Probably also 2019 and 2020, probably because nobody but Montreal has a stadium even temporarily worthy for Major League Baseball both standing and vacant.
Will the A's still be playing home games in Northern California in April 2021? When the Coliseum will be 55 years old?