Brad Pitt’s latest film “Moneyball” focuses on the financial divide which exists in professional sports; in this instance, baseball. The film (from the excellent book by M. Lewis) covers the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics (Major League baseball), their then general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and how he revolutionized the game after being faced with relentless budget constraints.
The unwritten but well-known rule is, the wealthier the team, the greater their success. Financial clout is the difference maker and it is very difficult to have a level playing field when another team has a USD 100 million budget greater than your own. The respective US draft systems attempt to offer a greater sense of fairness but ultimately the richer teams, like the NY Yankees, will always win through. Sky high budgets means greater wages and hence, ‘better’ quality players which translates to on field success. This is a given and harsh reality of capitalism and the free market economy.
The 2002 A’s lost three of their best players to wealthier teams; their limited budget meant they could not replace them with players of an equal standard because they simply could not afford too.
Beane then sought to use economics and maths concepts to find players whom had fallen off the scouting radar; players who were undervalued but whom still were considered excellent players. Initially, the ideas were of course scorned as people are often afraid of change and traditionalists refused to adhere to this revolutionary new line of thinking.
The A’s hired MBA graduates and economic majors and built up a complex system where they could further utilize data and graphs to measure how good players were. The system is known as saber-metrics and went beyond looking at stats such as batting averages and stolen bases and reviewed other aspects such as on base percentages and a whole host of other stats which could keep even the most avid of fans google-eyed in amazement. The ideas worked for the A’s and they became a greater competitive force and unknown players picked up from the minor leagues, high school and college suddenly were thrust into the big leagues and holding their own.
Such was the impact of the concepts and theories branded around in the book “Moneyball” that other professional sports teams have began to use the same techniques to differing success.
Such is the financial gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the professional sports that any little advantage, no matter how small, will be reviewed and analyzed by the ‘smaller’ teams who are looking to punch above their weight. The sports field has always been the great leveler but occasionally brains does win out over brawn……..
“Moneyball” is a great modern day sports film and well worth watching!