As a sports fan, I’m always glad for movies and books that relate the intricacies of professional sports. My interest began in the 1970s with Jim Bouton’s inside-the-locker-room classic, Ball Four.
I was also excited to read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball when it came out, given that it profiled a pioneer in using computer analysis to determine future player performance, Oakland As General Manager, Billy Beane. The book was terrific, though I thought it shortchanged the art of player assessment in favor of statistics.
Beane showed how much a team could be improved by incorporating additional sophisticated measurements into the mix. However, in my opinion, a General Manager ignores the subjective judgments of scouts at his own peril.
What’s so wonderful about baseball is its mix of art and science. The artistry may be squishy to measure, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant to success. You can’t simply reduce player assessment down to numbers, particularly when players are young and largely unformed.
With the release this weekend of the film version of Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, there’ll be many non-fans showing up at theaters. I suspect they’ll enjoy the compelling drama of an enterprising man bucking a conservative establishment. Though Beane’s experience includes plenty of “man against the system,” I hope the artistry and subjective impressions of players and the game aren’t lost to the machines.