Moneyball

Keith Law did NOT like “Moneyball”

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Aaron had his review of “Moneyball” yesterday, and if you didn’t read it, you should. Today I link a counterpoint review: Keith Law’s.  It’s on his own site, not ESPN, so it’s free.

I won’t give it away, but Law didn’t like it. At all.  And it’s not just some insider baseball geek takedown. He reviews it as a film on its own terms, as he should and finds it seriously lacking.  Anyone who has read Law’s book reviews on his personal blog will be familiar with his tough-but-fair reviewing style.

Less interesting than the review of the film itself, however, is Law’s discussion of a scene from late in the movie in which a John Henry stand-in is offering Beane a job with the Red Sox.  I touched on this concept in a post the other day, and it rings resoundingly true:

Beane is sitting in what was then called the .406 club at Fenway Park with John Henry, who is about to offer him a record-breaking deal to become the Red Sox’ new GM. Henry expounds on how Beane’s method of doing things is going to sweep through the industry, and how critics within the game weren’t just trying to protect the game, but were expressing their own fears about their livelihoods. That speech applies just as well to any industry undergoing the kind of creative destruction ushered in by Bill James, Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane. Remember that when you see the next written attack on “stat geeks” who are ruining the game along with a defense of RBIs or pitcher wins.

Which, Law’s unfavorable review aside, may stand as a good reason to see the movie. Not so much for the baseball, but for the story of the price that is exacted from anyone who tries to change any hidebound organization.

There will be Under Armour logos on the front of baseball uniforms

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Yesterday’s announcement that Under Armour will be taking over the MLB uniform business brought with it an added bit of news: for the first time, beginning in 2020, baseball uniforms will feature the maker’s logo on the front of the jersey. From Paul Lukas of UniWatch:

While the Majestic logo has appeared on MLB sleeves, the Under Armour logo will be appearing on the upper-right chest area.

Lukas has a bunch of Photoshopped images of MLB players wearing uniforms with UA logos on it to give us a sense of how it will likely look.

It’s certainly weird and in some cases even a bit jarring. It would be my preference not to see baseball uniforms go this route as I think they’re aesthetically pleasing parts of the game in and of themselves. But it’s inevitable. If there is a chance for leagues and sponsors to make money and if it doesn’t cause them to lose fans (i.e. lose money) they will take it. You can say you’ll give up baseball if they put corporate logos — including paid advertisements, not just the logos of the companies which make the gear — but you’re lying to yourself about that. You and I will complain and grumble and then we’ll get used to it. At some point, after a couple of years, we’ll start talking about which ads look better and which ones look worse and applaud particularly savvy and pleasing looking logos.

As I wrote back in April when the NBA approved ads on uniforms, there may even be a bright side to all of this.

Sports teams have had it both ways for a long time. They’ve worked to make a buck off of anything that isn’t nailed down all the while pretending to be something greater than any other business. They play on our nostalgia and our loyalty in order to portray themselves as something akin to a public trust or institution, entitling themselves to perks no other businesses get and the avoidance of regulation. By turning players into walking billboards, perhaps the four major North American sports will inadvertently make some folks realize that they are just businesses and that they aren’t deserving of such special treatment.

I’m not holding my breath about that, but anything that takes away even a bit of the faux public trust luster that sports leagues and teams use to manipulate their fans is a good thing. Maybe it’ll make, say, the Yankees or the Dodgers look less venerable and sharp. But maybe it’ll remind people that they’re just business units of a $10 billion industry, not some fourth branch of government or whatever.

Bud Selig is still, laughably, pleading ignorance about the Steroid Era

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig speaks at Clark Sports Center during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Yesterday I raked Bud Selig and the Hall of Fame over the coals. Selig for his considerable responsibility for the prevalence of performing enhancing drugs in baseball during his tenure and his failure to take responsibility for it, the Hall of Fame for inducting Selig while continuing to bar the door to players who used PEDs.

Later in the day yesterday a remarkable story was written by Jayson Stark of ESPN. It was based on a one-on-one with Selig in which his legacy with respect to steroids was discussed. It was framed by Selig talking about how the students in the baseball in history seminar he teaches at The University of Wisconsin recently grilled him about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs and what could have been done to stop the proliferation of the stuff in the game.

What makes it remarkable is that, until yesterday’s interview, Selig believed that he had done everything he possibly could have done to deal with PEDs. It took Jayson Stark telling him that, maybe, he could’ve done more:

“Now let me ask you a question,” he said. “And I’m being serious. If you had been me then, what would you have done?”

Frankly, I was amazed that he asked . . . So that, I told him, was what I thought he could have done. He was the commissioner. So the one thing he could have done, without needing a bargaining table to do it, was raise this issue, speak about it more, admit to it earlier and bring it to the forefront.

And Selig, as if he had never considered the notion, agreed:

“That’s fair,” Selig replied. “That’s very fair.”

A moment later, he looked me right in the eye again. “Maybe you’re right,” he said. “Maybe I should have said more.”

It’s incredible that a man as honored and lauded as Selig has been — a man who has been praised for his savvy and effectiveness as a leader and, eventually, a negotiator — had never considered using the bully pulpit to deal with what he has claimed to be his most vexing problem as commissioner before yesterday. And when I say “incredible” I do not mean “amazing.” I mean “literally not credible.” As in, I believe he is simply lying when he implies that the thought never occurred to him.

Rather, I believe that he had little if any interest in speaking out about steroids until, years later, he had no choice but to thanks to Jose Canseco and BALCO and all of the rest. Steroids served baseball admirably. They increased offense and made big stars out of marketable men and helped everyone forget that, just a few years before, Selig and his fellow owners drove baseball off a cliff and cancelled a World Series because of it. The men who employed Bud Selig, baseball’s owners, made a lot of money off of that juice and, as such, Bud Selig standing up in, say, 1998 and saying that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were cheaters and that PEDs were a scourge that must be addressed was simply never going to happen. Not because Selig was in the dark or at a loss, but because, as it was with the players who used the drugs, it was in Bud Selig’s own self-interest not to speak.

Selig’s mendacity in that interview yesterday was even more remarkable than that, actually. Indeed, in addition to claiming he had no idea how to act back then, he claimed that, back in 1998, he was totally in the dark about why Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were shattering Roger Maris’ home run record:

“I talked to the Cubs about Sammy,” Selig recalled. “The Cardinals were thrilled with McGwire. It was a big civic celebration.”

And no one on either team mentioned a word, he said, about what was really driving those two men toward the threshold of history. So Selig said he turned to his “baseball people” in the commissioner’s office.

He says he asked, “What’s causing this?” And they reeled off what we would now describe as the usual, everything-but-the-elephant-in-the-room, theories: Expansion. The dilution of pitching. Questions about whether there was something different about the baseball.

“They gave me a whole bunch of reasons,” Selig said. “And I kept asking about steroids.”

Why Selig was asking people about steroid use in 1998 is a mystery, because Selig knew damn well that Mark McGwire was using PEDS as early as 1993, several months after he took over from Fay Vincent and became acting commissioner.

We know this thanks to an interview with former FBI agent Greg Stejskal, who was extensively quoted about his investigations into steroids in the early 1990s. Investigations which revealed Mark McGwire’s drug use dating back to 1989, which Stejskal told Major League Baseball about:

Stejskal said federal authorities, through their undercover operation, learned of McGwire’s steroid usage by 1993. A year later, Stejskal recalled that he shared information from the investigation related to baseball players with Major League Baseball’s then security boss, Kevin Hallinan, though the sport had no drug testing program at the time.

That story was written nearly seven years ago, by the way. No one associated with Major League Baseball has ever explained how the league did not know that McGwire was using PEDs in 1998 as a result. They clearly knew for five years by then. Unless you think that an MLB security chief, when informed of player being caught up in an FBI drug probe, wasn’t going to tell anyone about it.

Despite all of this, Bud Selig is walking around the Winter Meetings this week, getting his attaboys for his Hall of Fame induction and spinning unadulterated bull crap about what he knew and when he knew it with respect to PEDs in baseball. He’s gotten away with doing so for so long, so why should he change course now?