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Pursuits

The Real Lessons of Moneyball

You’ve read the book. You loved the movie. But what does the rise and fall of the Oakland A’s really say about how baseball works?

We are deep into October. The Yankees and Red Sox have been sent home, but the Oakland Athletics are still thrilling fans on a nightly basis. It’s the 2002 A’s, not 2011, and their exploits can be seen only on a dwindling number of movie screens. But we A’s fans (I’ve been one since the early 1970s) take what we can get.

What we get is a movie, Moneyball, in which Brad Pitt, as A’s General Manager Billy Beane, throws a few chairs and craftily rebuilds his team into a 103-game winner after the departure of three stars Oakland can’t afford to keep. We also get a seemingly unending debate over what the A’s run of success-but-not-quite-triumph from 2000 through 2006, and the team’s subsequent failure to put together a winning season, really means. Is Beane an innovative genius? A fraud? Just lucky? Is scientific analysis the key to success in sports and in life? Is baseball fair? My A’s are no longer just a baseball team; they are a heavily freighted metaphor.