Movies about sports often take liberties with the facts, and “Moneyball,” nominated for best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards, is no exception.
“Moneyball” deviates from the facts in four ways:
- It portrays the 2002 A’s as possessing a secret formula for success that had eluded other teams.
Fact: The mathematical formulas to which the film alludes were developed by Bill James and his followers in the ’80s. The A’s were among the first to use them, but it was Sandy Alderson who did it. The A’s also were ahead of other teams in computer use, and manager Tony La Russa was ahead of everybody with his use of specific relievers for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
By 2002, both the James theories and La Russa’s changes were commonplace. The team that has been most successful with the James theories has been the Boston Red Sox, who have no shortage of money.
- The main reason the A’s won in 2002 was that they had three of the top five pitchers in the league: Barry Zito, who won the Cy Young; Mark Mulder; and Tim Hudson. They aren’t featured because they were the result of good scouting, so they didn’t fit the story line.
They were, however, as former college pitchers, an example of the way general manager Billy Beane worked — the real “moneyball.” Beane drafted college pitchers because, with the emphasis on high school pitchers, he felt they were undervalued.
- Scott Hatteberg became an instant hero when he hit the home run that gave the A’s their 20th straight win in August, an American League record.
But Hatteberg was a sharp step down from Jason Giambi, who had hit 33, 43 and 38 homers in the previous three seasons. Hatteberg hit only 15. The power that year was supplied by Miguel Tejada with 34 homers and 131 RBIs, his third straight season with more than 30 homers and 100 RBIs. He was ignored in the movie. He didn’t fit the story line.
- Art Howe is portrayed as an ill-tempered grouch. I didn’t think Howe was a good manager and I wrote that frequently, but he was the nicest guy in the world, always cooperative with the media, even me.
There was a legitimate story behind the A’s success in 2002, but it has nothing to do with the story line in the movie.
At the time, Beane was functioning well with owners Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann, who were providing him with the tools he needed.
The A’s did not have a huge payroll, but there was money to build a strong farm system that kept a steady stream of good players coming to the major league team. There was also money saved so that, if Beane wanted to make a midseason deal, he could.
It’s much different now, under managing general partner Lew Wolff. Beane admitted after last season that the A’s have not put enough money into the minor league system lately, so he had to trade his top starter, Trevor Cahill, and his closer, Andrew Bailey, to get prospects to strengthen the system.
But I guess the difference between past and present wouldn’t make a good movie.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.