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Moneyball

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The only thing I hate more than watching sports on TV is watching sports movies. And as for baseball, well, I would rather watch the AstroTurf grow. So when I tell you that Moneyball is an excellent film, that really means something. All my prejudices were against it, so the bar was set very high.

In Moneyball, Brad Pitt plays “Billy” Beane — the diminutive is emblematic of the arrested boyishness of sports fandom — a failed professional baseball player who is the general manager of the Oakland A’s, which I learned is a baseball team here in the Bay Area. The film is supposedly based on a true story, but I have zero interest in where it mirrors or distorts history. My interest is in the drama and the psychological and even “philosophical” truths it portrays.

The film begins in 2002. The A’s are facing a crisis. They have far less money than the teams against which they have to compete. (Maybe that has something to do with being located in Oakland.) The richer teams, moreover, are poaching their star players. Beane is told that he simply cannot spend more money rebuilding the team. So Beane needs to think innovatively.

But when he meets with his cabinet of scouts and trainers — a bunch of sentimental old ex-jocks — he finds them fixated on building a team of individual “star” athletes, each of whom is evaluated in terms of astonishingly superficial criteria: their looks, whether they have a “baseball body,” the aesthetics of their play (the crack of the ball off their bat), the hotness of their girlfriends, and the like. Yes, of course, they also factor in athletic ability, the ideal of which is to have “tools” in as many areas as possible: hitting, running, etc.

The trouble with these star packages is that they are very expensive. Moreover, a group of prima donnas polishing their resumes and constantly searching for more lucrative contracts does not necessarily work as a winning team.

I found the “cabinet” scene astonishing. The spectacle of ostensibly straight old men making serious staffing decisions based on the looks and physiques of young men (I call it “jock-sniffing”) is something I have seen again and again in the real world, but never on the movie screen.

Of course such criteria are relevant in modeling. They might be understandable in sports and acting, were these not billion dollar industries with objective standards of performance — and countless good-looking failures testifying to the enduring temptation of this particular folly.

But jock-sniffing is astonishingly common in serious endeavors, such as politics and the military, where the dire consequences of failure would seem to dictate making decisions strictly on the basis of character and objective qualifications, not looks.

I would be very interested to read a good psychological, even evolutionary psychological, investigation of jock-sniffing and “golden boys.” Many elements need to be disentangled: the nostalgia of old men for their youth, romanticized self-images, vicarious gratification, latent homosexuality, etc.

Culture also surely plays a role. A German comrade once spoke disdainfully of the prevalence of conscious and unconscious of “Anglo pederasty” throughout American culture, which astonished me, because I did not see it at the time. It is, however, a phenomenon that Jews see clearly and do not hesitate to exploit. Jewish philosopher Jonathan Lear once wrote about how Anglo pederasty served him well in his academic career in England and America.

Nobody involved in serious enterprises can afford to be unaware of the power of these sorts of motives, which can be profoundly destructive if allowed to work unconsciously.

Beane decides that he needs to junk the “star” system and instead focus on building a team of players who are not stars on their own but who are capable of working together as a team to outperform teams of expensive prima donnas. He is aided in this project by Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill Feldstein, who inexplicably omits his last name from his film credit), a young Yale economics graduate. Brand obviously loves baseball. But he is not a jock. He is an obese geek with a love of sports statistics and a knack for number crunching. Together he and Beane assemble a team of undervalued players — has-beens and near misses — who, based on their statistics, can “in the aggregate” (e.g., as a team) outperform more expensive rosters of stars.

At first, the new team seems to be a disaster. But it is just growing pains. After Beane trades a few prima donnas for other undervalued players, and kicks a bit of middle management ass, his team hits its stride and goes on a record-breaking 20 game winning streak. Beane’s new management techniques are adopted by other teams, giving the Boston Red Sox (which even I have heard of) their first World Series victory in nearly 100 years.

Beane’s quantitative approach met a lot of initial resistance from old school management and fans whose approach to baseball is essentially romantic and aesthetic. They maintain that there is something mysterious and ineffable about baseball that cannot be quantified. Baseball, they say, is an art, not a science. It all smacks of 19th century Romanticism and holism. And it is true, of course, that not everything can be meaningfully reduced to numbers.

But it is also true that numerical models can have such predictive power that we can frequently act as if the quantifiable is the only factor that matters. For instance, we know that there is more to human intelligence than IQ, and more to the human soul than intelligence. But in terms of its predictive power for a whole array of real-world effects, it is as if IQ alone matters.

What I find objectionable about Beane is not that he subjects the hallowed traditions of baseball to empirical criticism. The ability to stand up to empirical tests (quantitative or otherwise) is what differentiates between what Edmund Burke called “blind” and “wise” prejudices.

No, the real objection to Beane is that he is using quantitative methods to subject the game of baseball — which is inextricably caught up with romanticism, sentimentality, and the cult of well-rounded and excellent athletic heroes — to the business of baseball, which rates the Oakland A’s better than the New York Yankees, simply because the A’s spend less money per win. To this mentality, a man who airbrushes Jesus on black velvet is superior to Michelangelo if the former produces more pictures for less money.

I admit that I am annoyed by professional sports, sports fandom, and sports movies. I despise their ethos of self-indulgent romanticism and perpetual boyishness. I want to smack grown men for wearing baseball caps (if they are not actually playing baseball, that is). Thus I found Moneyball‘s unsentimental, intellectual approach to baseball appealing. Part of me loved this movie precisely because I don’t love baseball.

But that’s just my prejudices speaking. If Billy Beane went to work for the San Francisco Opera (talk about self-indulgent Romanticism!), rather than the Oakland A’s, I would be screaming for his head too.

In the end, the romantics are right, because baseball is a game, after all. It shouldn’t be serious. It belongs to the realm of play, not work; luxury and freedom, not necessity; the sacred and aristocratic (the worship of heroes), not the profane and leveling (the statistical “aggregate”).

If Moneyball teaches us anything, it is the old lesson that the heroes of the business world are all too often the destroyers of the rest of the world: history, tradition, nature, culture, and everything that people hold sacred. Moneyball is another example of how the 9 to 5 world erodes and destroys the 5 to 9 world.

Beane is portrayed as a character whose emotional detachment is uniquely suited to a quantitative approach. He obviously loves baseball, but it is intimated that his own professional career fizzled because he was somehow not emotionally invested in it. It is also hinted that he feels victimized by the patter of the old school scouts who convinced him to pass up a full scholarship at Stanford to go professional. Beane then went into scouting and management, which is one step removed from actual play. As a manager, he tries to remain detached. He does not attend games, and he cuts players in a cold, business-like manner. But perhaps as a sop to the romantics, the script shows that Beane has to become more of a “people person” and more emotionally invested in his new team to make it work.

I highly recommend Moneyball. It is a serious, intelligent film with a superb script. It is dramatically paced, beautifully photographed, and free of sports movie clichés. There really isn’t a weak link in the cast, but Brad Pitt’s performance is particularly noteworthy. I would like to see him play Howard Roark in The Fountainhead, another story of innovation versus tradition on an even grander scale. (And unlike Billy Beane, Howard Roark’s struggle is not merely a disguised form of subjecting art to commerce — although most modern architecture is precisely that.)

But best of all, Moneyball is not just thought-provoking and full of lessons for politics and life in general. It is also highly entertaining — which is what sports, at their best, should be.

 

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12 Comments

  1. Fibbles
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Great review. I actually didn’t like the movie much, but it was worth it for your review. Full of profound turns of thought and linguistic aereolites.

  2. Posted January 31, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    For some reason this reminds me of my all time favorite quote regarding “but the best players are black” [e.g., "The Red Sox never won because they were racists and wouldn't hire good black players" or "Now golf is exciting BECAUSE the stupid racist clubs let Tiger Woods play" etc.]:

    “It is not a question of winning. It is a question of winning with a team of your own people.”

    Romanian Fascist re purging “those damned Transylvanians” from the R. Olympic team, 1936.

    Speaking of finances and race, the guy over at castefootball.us had a great piece on how whites will watch anyone play ["universalism"] while Jews and the darker people want to see their own. So, logically, teams gradually become less and less White. But it also has nothing to do with “ability”. When the Dodgers were in Brooklyn, the team was full of Jews. Then, when moved to LA, suddenly Jews became “unathletic” and baseball discovered “those wonderful Latin American players”.

    • Posted January 31, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

      James, where did you hear about the Rumanians purging their Olympic team of Transylvanians? I’m asking because my mother’s family were Transylvania Saxons who weren’t very well-treated by the Rumanians, after the region was ceded to them by Hungary at the end of WWI.

      • Razvan
        Posted February 1, 2012 at 4:04 am | Permalink

        The Romanian history books are telling a different story at least regarding the Saxons in Transylvania. As matter of fact I think they were better treated in Romania after 1918 than Austro-Hungary before 1918.

        1. Romania had a German dynasty – Hohenzollern that brought many Germans not only in Transylvania but in the rest of the country (Muntenia and Moldova too). I personally know few such families. German immigrants in Romania from the beginning of the XX century (also many Italians, Czechs and Slovaks).
        2. The Germans were loyal to Romania. Best case probably is the great warrior Arthur Phelps. He was the first officer of Romanian Army to reach the outskirts of Budapest in the war against the Bolsheviks of Bela Kuhn in 1919. Later professor at Romanian Military Academy, commander of Romanian mountain troops and finally SS general.
        3. You can check the statistics of the population in Transylvania during the Empire. And you’ll see that the only two ethnic groups to shrink or grow too little were exactly the Romanians and the Saxons. Of course they were growing but they were loosing their identity. The so called “maghiarization process” a process unfolding after a set of rules edited by the Hungarian Academia before the turn of the century. Especially after 1867 – the key date of the issue.
        4. The national Assembly of Germans of Transylvania and Banat held in Mediaş on December 1918 supported the Union of Transylvania with Romania as it was voted before by the large Romanian majority of Transylvania on December 1 1918.
        5. Hungary had not “ceded” anything to Romania – that’s for sure. Transylvania was freed by the Romanian divisions of the Austro-Hungarian army and by the Romanian divisions of the Romanian army. It was freed by Romanians under different flags.
        Transylvania had and has a large Romanian majority that was extremely poorly treated by the Empire. In WWI the Romanian people lost 1 million men and women to make the Union. One million people lost so that a small people to be free and under one single state.

        Now, strictly on the topic
        6. In 1936, at the Olympic Games Romania had 71 delegates. Among them:
        - Henry Rang (silver, Equestrianism) – Romanian, born in Lugoj, Banat.
        - Iosif Tojar – Romanian born at Oradea, Crișana – fifth, Greek-Roman wrestling, cat. 56 kg.
        - the handball team (back then a team had 11 members not 7 like today) and all of them were ethnic Germans
        - Andrei Abraham – born Cluj, Transylvania
        - Ion Albert – Born Cluj
        - Iuliu Hateganu, Cluj, Transylvania
        And so on and on.
        You can check these stats at
        http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/countries/ROU/summer/1936/
        and you’ll see that it was an extremely fair distribution among the Romanian provinces and ethnicities. I am extremely sorry to disagree with Mr. O’Meara on this issue but I really don’t think that it was any trace of “discrimination” against anyone born in Transylvania, Banat or Crisana. If needed I’ll make the stats showing the population of each Romanian province and the number of delegates.

        Have a nice day.

  3. Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Razvan, with all due respect, that’s not at all what I’ve been told previously. Fortunately for us, my mother’s family had already come to America prior to the First World War, and thus missed out on all of the Transylvanian chaos of the20th century, but some of our relatives did stay behind, and I have heard stories and done some reading on this. The Saxons of Transylvania were loyal to the Hapsburgs and Austro-Hungarian rule during the war. As a result, they were quite poorly treated in the aftermath, and were deprived of the right to own property in the 1920s. Codreanu was also opposed to the Saxons, I believe. Goebbels wrote about the Romanian oppression of Saxons in his diaries, in fact, since he viewed it as being of concern to the Reich and said that he had complained to the Romanian government about it. Northern Transylvania was returned to Hungary for a brief period during the Second World War, which brought a temporary respite for the Saxons, and thousands of Saxons served in the Waffen-SS. Of course, what the Romanians had done was nothing in comparison to the brutal behavior of the Russians who occupied the region at the end of the war, culminating in Stalin’s deportation of a large portion of the male Saxon population to Siberia. But it didn’t end there, as the new Communist government of Romania had a number of show trials of allegedly disloyal Saxon conspirators in the 1950s. Ceausescu sold exit visas to Saxons who wanted to leave the country, for a hefty price, and virtually the entire Saxon population departed Romania altogether shortly after the collapse of Ceausescu’s regime. Neither of these events suggest that the Saxon population felt very comfortable in being Romanian subjects.

    I hasten to add that I, personally, hold no grudge against Romanians, as I am an American – both Romanian and Saxon identity are alien to me – and I experienced none of this first-hand, but what I know doesn’t jibe with what you’re writing. As for the 1936 Olympics, I have no idea one way or the other, but even if it is true that Saxons were kept out it would just have been one manifestation of a larger problem.

    • Andrew Hamilton
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:27 am | Permalink

      Your maternal grandparents were Transylvania Saxons, yet “both Romanian and Saxon identity are alien” to you because instead you identify as an “American”?

      That’s interesting, because, after biology, identity (the group[s] people self-identify with) is perhaps the crucial component in white survival.

      For example, Jared Taylor has quoted an Establishment columnist (probably Maggie Gallagher) to the effect that she identified as “Irish,” and to some extent “Catholic,” but was revolted by the idea of considering herself “white”—which she refused to do. Virtually all whites psychologically and emotionally detach themselves from their race in this fashion. That’s the only way the anti-white system can work. (Well, people also lack principle, obviously.)

      I’ve always self-identified ethnically as Scandinavian-American far more than American—from my earliest days, long before I thought of myself as white. On the other hand, in terms of social values I have always been in tune with America’s founding traditions, but completely alienated from the social systems or values of Norway and Sweden.

      • Posted February 1, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Andrew, I’m sorry I don’t live up to your identitarian standards. I know there are some White Americans who were raised and inculcated with a strong sense of belonging to a specific European identity. I, however, am part of the large portion of White America which was not. Yes, my mother’s grandparents had emigrated from Transylvania to Pennsylvania with their families when they were children. But my grandfather died before I was born, and my grandmother died when I was 1, so I never knew them. While they had been raised with a sense of their German-Saxon identity, this came to be viewed as a liability during the Second World War, when most German-Americans wanted to avoid being associated with the Nazis, and as a result, my mother was raised with very little knowledge or curiosity about her background, and she made no attempt to impart it to me. My father’s ancestors emigrated from England to Virginia in 1724, and my family remained there until my father moved north, but he has always been embarrassed by our Southern background and, likewise, made no attempt to give me any sense of WASP or Southern identity. The only reason I know anything about my ancestry now is because I made an effort to find out something about it when I was in my 20s.

        However, I can’t say that I identify as a Saxon, a German, a WASP, or any of the other groups to which I’m related. When I first began to think of myself as a nationalist, for a time I liked to think that I had some special kinship with Germans. However, when I meet people who are actual Germans, I realized there are a few similarities, but they are far outshone by the differences. I can’t pretend that I am a German, or even “European,” whatever that means. I understand the importance of White identity for strategic purposes, but it’s ludicrous to think that a White American of German, Italian, Polish or whatever descent has a special connection to Europeans from those same groups. Being American is, in itself, a unique and specific identity, whether we like it or not. Now, of course I more closely relate to other White Americans. So, if I have to label myself, that’s really the best I can do with any sincerity. And I think 90% of White Americans feel the same way. If anything, regional identity within America is probably more important than one’s ancestry to most White Americans.

    • Razvan
      Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

      Everything I told or tell can be easily checked on the Internet. Dates and events. To prove or disprove my points.
      But on 1918 there was no more Austro-Hungary and every people in the former Empire wanted to break away. Including the Romanians.

      The motives behind Hitler decision regarding Northern Transylvania are a complicated subject and I will not talk about Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and Wien Diktat here. But it had nothing to do with the Germans (Schwabes and Saxons) in Transylvania. As a matter of fact in Northern Transylvania there were too few Germans: 68.268 in 1930 – Romanian authorities census or 44.600 in 1941 – Hungarian authorities census. In entire Romania lived 745.421 Germans in 1930.

      So it had nothing to do with the German population of Romania.
      Now I have read that Hitler considered that the entire German population should leave Romania for the Reich. He wanted a continuous territory and not small islands everywhere. So, many families left for Germany. So in 1948 there were only 343.913 Germans left in Romania in 1948. I’ll try to find the Goebbels diaries.

      The fact that the Germans fought in the SS (many Romanians did it too) was a deal between Ion Antonescu and Hitler and I think a natural thing at that time.

      The communist processes that involved the Germans were show trials organized by the soviets and communists (almost all of them jews). Not the Romanians are to be held accountable. Imagine something like hundreds of thousands Romanians were deported, imprisoned or killed by the soviets and the communists, along with the Germans. But not the soviets and the jews are to be held accountable but the Romanians.

      Regarding Ceausescu epoch. In the eighties the economic situation was extremely really scaring. And believe me that it was even harsher for the Romanians than for anybody else. It was natural for the Germans to go for the capitalist heaven of FRG. In that time Germany was regarded as heaven on Earth. Anyway Germany had launch the process of immigration.
      As in communism the education was supported entirely by the state it was a deal between Ceausescu and the German authorities that a certain amount of money should be paid for this.
      10 000 DM for each German with an University degree or 5 000 DM for a student. For that Ceausescu got even the highest distinction of FRG – “Der Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland”. Strange but true. Check for Hertha Muller – she’s stirring the issue.

      The devil is always hidden in the details. I don’t say it was moral or not. But it was a secret deal between two states regarding unsolved historical issues. It was a fair deal and Germany proposed it. Not Romania. Nor Ceausescu. And because it is about sports, imagine something like a team buys a player from another team. Next the entire world sees the owner of the buying team decrying on CNN, CBS, Fox, etc that the first team has “sold” that player, when it would have been morally correct to let him go for free.

      After 1990 Romania was seen as in the sphere of influence of URSS and Russia (later on). The economical catastrophe was so evident that you had to be strong willed to want to stay in Romania. The country was practically destroyed to say the least. Why would have the Germans remain?

      Think of everything as like the powers to be really want to stir every real or invented grudge between European people. They will distort and lie on every and each issue. Only to stir bad feelings.

      I was not trying to convince anyone of anything, only to show some details beyond the current lines. Details that can be easily checked.

  4. Stronza
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I don’t follow movies much, but isn’t Brad Pitt the little prick who starred in Inglorious Bastards? I wouldn’t give him the sweat off my ****, never mind pay $8.00 (or whatever it costs nowadays) to watch a bunch of overrated, selfhating freaks whose only talent is this elaborate form of lying called “acting”.

  5. Lew
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I will probably find time for this one. I love watching sports. My TV stayed on ESPN and Sports Center around the clock between my first and second marriage.

  6. Posted February 2, 2012 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    The Moneyball revolution which has swept the sports world represented a triumph of substance over style and perception. The quantitative analysis was useful, but not quite in the way that we romantically envision: of powerful secrets and synergies buried deep in the data. The data was more of a crutch necessary to bludgeon the bluffing “experts”. He just kept hammering away at “on-base percent” and other fundamental variables which were being ignored in favor of anecdotal and sentimental whimsy.

    The meteoric rise and colossal failure of the Moneyball method of designing teams and investing in the stock market is to some extent the story of the West in a microcosm. “Wisdom” and “knowledge” have been inappropriately dichotomized, with the modern West coming out strongly in favor of the scientific process, encyclopedic aggregation of data, and a quantitative approach to analysis in virtually every context…even religion.

    Accurate knowledge beats degenerate and derelict “wisdom”, often explosively (as we saw with the early success of the Moneyball strategy and technical analysis in the stock market). Where it comes up short is in its failure to account for paradigm shifting “Black Swan” events which human intuition and wisdom are superior at detecting. It’s much more difficult for purely quantitative approaches to detect emergent patterns. For instance, the “fuzzy logic” of a moderately intelligent human can more quickly perceive that a team of ten White or Asian players with equal or even inferior “stats” will outperform a team of ten Black players.

    While most Counter-Currents readers will arrive at this conclusion because they’re racialists who know on an explicit level that Blacks are less collaborative and cooperative, even a bonafide anti-racist could intuitively discern from hanging out in a locker room or watching how the players socialize with one another that one team is effectively collaborating and coalescing into a sum which is greater than its parts while the other team is a hot mess. Human wisdom, both of the type (problematically) described in Gladwell’s Blink and of the traditional type codified in sacred texts and cultural habits, is extremely powerful.

    The resolution lies neither in discarding wisdom and magic in favor of wonkery nor discarding facts and credulously adopting myths and rituals at face value. It lies in arriving at an effective synthesis, wherein somebody who has access to a wealth of data can interpret and react to that data through the lens of wisdom and experience. In baseball, that means developing a new school of team development with a mastery of the numbers and a wealth of experience. In broader terms befitting our mission, it means integrating our vast inheritance of science and technology with Tradition rather than dichotomizing them.

  7. Lew
    Posted February 4, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    I just watched it. It was a good film, and I saw no anti-White propaganda in the entire two hours. That in itself makes Moneyball a little unusual. Even when a film’s source material doesn’t lend itself to working in anti-White content, Hollywood usually finds a way to include some.

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