A new song for the Jays 2012 season.
A copy of modern sports classic Moneyball sits on my bookshelf, four feet to my right. I have not read it, but will soon. I’ll tell you all about it. The timing of the production and release of the film adaptation has become interesting to me in recent days, for two reasons. Those things both signal the end of an era in Major League Baseball.
Apparently Brad Pitt made the movie happen. He told a television interviewer it’s about “re-thinking why we do what we do.” By bringing the story to the attention of mainstream mass media, Pitt is attempting to pass a development in the culture of professional baseball into the broader North American culture. This means he’s trying to sort of force-co-opt what in our culture becomes (if it wasn’t already in baseball) a subversive notion. The idea is that as time passes, the methods of conventional wisdom are eventually caught and surpassed by different methods, which were not available when the popular methods were adopted in the first place. I get the feeling Mr. Pitt refers to himself as ‘a progressive.’
This is interesting to me, in and of itself, sufficiently for me to begin a post about it, and then change my mind and leave off. Then the other shoe dropped, by which I mean the Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs and fired ‘Tito.’ Sure: The Red Sox are not a “Moneyball” team. When Francona took over in 2004, they had the second highest payroll in baseball to the Yankees. While they have traded around the top 5 with a few other teams since then, they have spent the second most on salary during his time. Epstein’s choice expenses, though, have long been “Moneyball” guys in at least some sense. They walk and have range in the field. They were overlooked (Pedroia), had difficult to quantify strengths (Varitek) or were ‘high upside risks’ (Daisuke). Perhaps as importantly as anything else, they were largely home grown. Hardly any regulars from either the ’04 or ’07 World Series Champion Red Sox had had star seasons previously with another team, except for the volatile misfit (Ol’ “Banned Substance” Ramirez) and Johnny Damon. Who else was a big-ticket acquisition? JD? The knuckleballer?
The man who made all of that work was Francona. Sure, they were hugely talented teams; but they took two big money sluggers and surrounded them with scrappiness and speed. The Boston Red Sox adapted the moneyball strategies to their situation, utilizing the stolen base while wearing out pitchers with endless at bats. Now that Francona has been let go, it is not because his trick stopped working, it is because now they are popular.
Not that Fancona will be easy to replace. The Red Sox failing, if it is not simply Carl Crawford and Jonathan Papelbon failing to get it together, is in General Manager Epstein’s department. The emphasis on a certain kind of starting pitching which has suited recent World Series finalists Tampa, Texas, Philadelphia and San Francisco has not been mirrored by Boston, and they had a team ERA nearly 6 in September. As Moneyball becomes the story of an outsider notion becoming mainstream, teams will continue to adapt. It remains to be seen if the Red Sox will do so. Maybe Epstein can find inspiration in cinema.
Anyone with a real zeal for sports, at least in North America, must find something interesting in self-flagellation. It may be engaging or inevitable or hilarious to you, but the physical exertion becomes unpleasant (or resembles unpleasant sensation, at least) at times, and is still continued in the pursuit of something. It is in both the celebration of other people’s hilarious eagerness to cause themselves pain and in celebration of the pursuit of something that I need to draw your attention to one Martin Parnell.
Mr. Parnell is a Canadian of unverifiable sanity but verifiable tenacity, who ran 250 marathons in 2010. Even if you’ve never run for half an hour you can take delight in the idea of some lunatic running pretty much all day every for a year. He did it for Right to Play. He raised 200k! What a beast! Further bonus points to Mr. Parnell for rhyming historically with Terry Fox, and segueing to the following links:
Why not play a 24 hour hockey game? They’re all the rage these days . . .
By way of introduction, and in order to be as upfront as possible about my biases, I present for your perusal my personal wish-list of sports related items I would like to discover on Christmas morning.
1. An acknowledgement by the NHL and NHLPA not just that ‘the code’ is real, but that it has historically served a purpose, but that video replay provides an opportunity for an alternate system of dispensing justice. I would like furthermore for both sides to commit to exploring such a system in a meaningful way.
2. An ESPN channel devoted to competitive pursuits practiced at the college level, but previously considered ‘not real sports.’ My suggestions for prime time live events would be NCAA student politics, NCAA lying convincingly about having scored with that girl from lab, and NCAA dentistry.
3. Another crack at starting a ‘Cito! Cito!’ chant at the man’s last game as manager. What a class act. Between Cito and Halladay, we had it better than we realized.
4. Baseball cards.
5. A pickup street hockey game in my hood I can realistically participate in. The adults here play early on Sunday, as if Saturday night didn’t exist. Their children think I’m weird when I ask to play with them.
6. 40 more basketball courts in this and every other large city. I know some parents don’t want their kids always hanging out at the courts, and basketball is not a substitute for a community, but it’s not society’s responsibility to make them do their homework. It is a society’s responsibility to provide a place for children to recreate other than staircases and alleys.
7. Less twitter.
8. A gentlemen’s (and gentlewomen’s) agreement to resume calling the guy ‘Chad Johnson.’