September 23, 2011


Watching 'Moneyball' With Bill James: A legendary baseball mind, once ignored, gets the Hollywood treatment. It took Bill James only 35 years (Ira Boudway, 9/22/11, Bloomberg Business Week)

Moneyball, the movie, had a couple of false starts--a pair of directors came and went before Bennett Miller came aboard--and James didn't know what to expect. "At one time, I think I was supposed to be a cartoon character," he recalls. In the end, he says, they got the details right. "That's what the offices look like. That's the way the conversations go. That's the way the meetings and the phone calls go." The crusty scouts are real too: "You point something out that's true; you don't expect it to take 25 years for people to accept it." But James is not holding a grudge. "I never felt that baseball hated me," he says. "I was pretty sarcastic myself, as I recall. I wrote some things about players and scouts that probably delayed the acceptance of my core ideas by 10 or 15 years."

Even so, there a few things James would like to clear up. First, the failure of Billy Beane's Oakland A's to win a World Series, he insists, does not represent the failure of the Moneyball approach: "It worked at that moment because he was ahead of the game. And then that moment passed because you can't stay ahead of the game."

Second, he does not think statistics are the be-all, end-all: "My work is trying to figure out how to quantify something that has previously been regarded as intangible. It's not to say that there aren't true intangibles. People think that you start with the statistics, which was never true. You start with a question and you end up with a statistic."

James watches the revelers stream into the after-party and says that the thing people need to understand is that he's not as big a deal as Moneyball makes him out to be. "It's somewhat exaggerated, but my contributions to the game have been a bit exaggerated for quite a while now."

Not that he's complaining. "I thought it was a terrific movie. Among all the baseball movies of the last generation, this was the baseballest."

Posted by at September 23, 2011 7:06 AM

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