Before it became a poetic, romanticised movie starring Brad Pitt, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game was a novel written by Michael Lewis, a financial journalist who worked for Bloomberg and New York Times Magazine. Moneyball was written about Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his pursuit of finding a new and better way to identify and acquire players that would bring success to his organization.
Did Beane ever succeed in winning the world series? No, not yet. But for general managers, as long as your employed, the game is never over. Professional sports teams are like ancient empires, they rise and they fall. Rarely does a general manager fall and get an opportunity to rise again, especially with the same organization like Beane has, a few times actually.
The failures of the Oakland A’s baseball team, known in Moneyball, has always been attributed to the lack of financial resources that then owner Stephen Schott, either didn’t have, or wouldn’t spend. Schott’s financial record’s have never been known as the private owner of the Schott family business that is Citation Homes in California.
Schott and his real estate partner Ken Hoffman, sold the team to John Fisher and Lewis Wolff, Los Angeles real estate and hotel developers, in 2005. In 2016, Fisher, who is also the son the The Gap founders Donald and Doris Fisher, bought out Wolff to become sole owner of the A’s. Wolff’s desire to be bought out may have been brought on by two dismal season’s in a row where they went 68-94 and 69-93.
After a near decade of growth when Oakland had reached the playoffs 3 years in a row in 2012-2014, this recent downturn has been especially hard to take in the bay area. Fisher has been close on numerous attempts to get a new stadium built, but to no avail.
Things have gone from bad to worse in the bay area sports landscape after the Oakland Raiders and World Champion Golden State Warriors have announced they are moving out of the Oakland area. Things are considered so bad, that in a sign of goodwill to the fans and city leadership, the A’s doubled down on their commitment to the city by offering free admission to the April 17th game against our own Chicago White Sox, to commemorate 50 years of Athletics baseball at the Oakland Coliseum.
Even a free game between two teams picked to be the worst in baseball this year, wasn’t expected to be a sellout on a Tuesday school night. But sold out it was, with over 65,000 in attendance. Players said the atmosphere in the ballpark was electric in spite of it being a non-competitive blowout with the A’s winning 10-2.
Offering the free game was a 2nd major public relations victory for the A’s management in the last year. In December of 2017, the A’s signaled to the St. Louis Cardinals that they were open to dealing for the Cardinals Stephen Piscotty, a bay area native and Stanford alumnus, whose mother had fallen ill.
Stephen Piscotty’s already tough season for the Cardinals got a lot tougher, after finding out about his mother’s diagnosis on May 26th of 2017. Gretchen Piscotty was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lou Gehrig was a legendary New York Yankees ballplayer and teammate of Babe Ruth who was diagnosed and succumbed to the disease in 1941 at age 37. The movie “Pride of the Yankees” chronicled Gehrig’s life.
After the diagnosis, Stephen took leave of the team for a week. Piscotty who had a concussion and bruised elbow in April, was put on the disabled list when he returned from leave. He ended the season with a demotion to the minors and batted .232 for the year, after he had been given a 6-year, $33.75 million dollar extension on his contract to start the season. He requested a trade to be closer to home when the season ended.
The Stephen Piscotty trade was widely hailed around baseball as having the grace and humanity not often seen in modern sports. Piscotty is a near all-star caliber player who was dealt for two minor league infielders.
“There were certainly some opportunities to move him elsewhere, and when you’re looking to break a tie, clearly that did play into it.” Cardinals President of Operations John Mozeliak told reporters about the chance to move Piscotty closer to his family.
Weeks after the free game, on May 6th 2018, Gretchen Piscotty passed, both she and her son grateful to have been reunited in the bay area.
Oakland was promptly swept by the Houston Astros in the next three days, then lost 2 out of 3 in New York, before traveling to Boston where Piscotty re-joined the team. A day later in his first at-bat since his mother’s passing, Stephen Piscotty homered in a 5-3 Oakland victory.
The A’s would go on to play average ball for the next month before Houston came back into town, and beat in their brains again, sweeping Oakland and outscoring them 26-11. Then it happened, Moneyball awoke. The team that had been in a literal “bay area fog” and the player who was grieving… has rallied like they are on a mission.
Oakland has had the majors best record since getting swept by Houston, starting June 14th, going 44-17 since. Piscotty has slugged 18 homers to be within 4 of his career high. His batting average is up 25 points over last year, and his slugging percentage up over 90 points as well.
This wasn’t supposed to happen after last years dismal season when Oakland had no choice but to trade their ace pitcher Sonny Gray, to the Yankees for prospects. It was believed that this team, and their minor league system wouldn’t compete for a few years, as they sold what they could to get prospects back and make another run around 2020.
But Billy Beane and the 2018 edition of Moneyball sits just 2.5 games behind Houston for first place in the American League West, as they opened a three game series in Houston last night. Oakland is currently the 2nd wildcard team and on a collision course to play the New York Yankees to open the playoffs. The A’s are almost 5 games clear of the next best team in the American League, and will make the playoffs baring an epic collapse.
Almost twenty years after the concept of “Moneyball” was brought to Beane’s attention in 1999, by Paul DePodesta, comes possibly Oakland’s best shot at the title, backed by metrics, the baseball gods and enough karma and goodwill to fill the Oakland Coliseum a hundred times over. An angel follows their outfielder.
Do you know why the Oakland A’s really acquired Stephen Piscotty? “He gets on base!”
The Miracle Cubs
Cubs Team President Theo Epstein would tell you that to repeat last year as World Series Champions was too tall an order. A shortened off season, players worn out by the playoff run and off-season appearances, sounds like a laundry list of excuses, but it’s was just reality.
After bidding farewell to pitchers Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and reliever Wade Davis. The Cubs reloaded with starters Tyler Chatwood, Yu Darvish, and relievers Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, and Drew Smyly. The Cubs have been preparing all season like they are back in it to win it. That feeling intensified at the trade deadline, when angst over Darvish’s lack of production, gave way to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer doubling down to win this year.
With the ok from the Ricketts family ownership, the Cubs have gone on a buying spree similar to the 2016 championship year. The media and Cubs fans were convinced that they didn’t have the capital to acquire top level talent but, they traded minor league pitchers Eddie Butler, Rollie Lacy and a player to be named later to Texas, for former all-star pitcher Cole Hamels and some cash. The Cubs are only paying a little over $2 million for what remains this year of Hamels $22.5 million annual salary.
Cubs fans were thrilled to get any help after the Darvish and Chatwood debacles. And they weren’t done, when they beat the trade deadline by an hour, acquiring closer Brandon Kintzler from the Washington Nationals for minor league pitcher Jhon Romero.
Days later, when the Nationals waived 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy, the Cubs could not believe no other team made a claim, and shipped a minor league infielder to complete the waiver trade. So legendary Cubs killer Murphy has joined the Cubs for what he is owed for the rest of this season.
The Cubs are basically renting Hamels and Murphy with their contracts expiring when this season is over. The cost to the Cubs future was as minimal as it could be, considering they acquired 3 former All-Star players. The impact has been immediate with Hamels delivering the teams first complete game of the season, and the Cubs going 6-0 since Murphy got into town.
These acquisitions have brought the Cubs payroll to over $192 million, leaving them $5 million short of having to pay the luxury tax to the league for having payroll exceeding $197,000,000.00. Cubs fans long term investment in their team is finally paying off with dividends like hole plugging roster moves, and annual playoff baseball. Where I was once skeptical about the Ricketts team ownership, now I’m jealous. It’s time to concede that they may be some of the best owners, not just in Chicago, but in all of sports.
Where Cubs fans used to spend decades praying for miracles, they now have ownership and front office talent that can perform miracles.
Both the Oakland A’s and the Cubs management groups have performed admirably for several years. Whether it’s Moneyball or miracles that gets each team deep into the playoffs this year, there is no doubt that the baseball gods are shining a light upon them right now. Fans from both teams can rest assured that these organizations are doing everything they can to win another World Series.
As a White Sox fan, I know you need analytics, miracles, talent on the field and also in the front office, to make everything look like divine intervention. That’s what 2005 was for me, and luck, lots of luck.
My most recent article on Bears Tight End Trey Burton, published by the Last Word on Pro Football is available here: