Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian’s screenplay for Moneyball (2011) accurately depicts the overall financial state of the Oakland A’s baseball organization when General Manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) sits down with former A’s owner Steve Schott (Bobby Kotick), a successful real estate developer. “Billy, what are we, the Taj Mahal? We’re a small-market team.” Steve Schott says. “I need more money Steve. I can’t compete against a $120 million payroll with a $40 million payroll.” Billy demands. “I’m asking you to be okay with not spending money I don’t have.” Steve responds. “Get back in a room with your people and figure out how you’re going to replace these guys with the money I do have.” Steve says, as he nails the dagger into Billy Beane’s heart. This exchange of dialogue is the true essence behind the condition of the Oakland A’s as a small-market baseball club and why they probably won’t win a World Series, ever again.
Professional sports are big businesses. Especially baseball, where players are expendable and General Manager’s don’t receive the necessary support they request from their owners. This has been the case for the Oakland Athletics for decades. Where opposing teams in the post-season eliminate the A’s from World Series contention simply due to highly paid ball players coming through in clutch situations. Take the Oakland A’s 2020 season, where they went 36-24, winning their division, the American League West, and securing a pseudo-home field advantage, since every single game in the Division Series was played at a neutral location: Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles – just minutes away from Hollywood. Not to mention that every single game of that series was played during the day, under the sunlight; the last time this happened was decades ago. It’s up for debate on whether or not the 2020 Major League Baseball season is accurate and worth counting, since the season was shortened and a wide variety of drastic changes were made due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, excuses are for failures and winners understand that they must perform their best under any given circumstance. Even if that means playing in stadiums with no fans and not being able to take advantage of your home field in the playoffs.
There’s no doubt that there was some serious mojo occurring at Dodger Stadium in 2020 when the Oakland Athletics faced-off against the Houston Astros. Both teams combined for a total of 24 home runs in 4 games – a record. But, despite the continuous slugging with home runs flying out of the ball park, the A’s managed to lose the series at four games to two, with some of the games ending with final scores not even close. Who is at fault here for these losses? The players for not performing? The manager for making mistakes in pitching? Or is the root cause much deeper than anything occurring on the field? In 2020, the Oakland A’s 30-man payroll was approximately $35,520,598 versus the Houston Astros 30-man payroll of more than double, at $78,018,436. Perhaps, one could argue that, though the Astros had a lackluster season (with a losing record of under .500 at 29 wins and 31 losses) they were still able to beatdown the superior Oakland A’s ball club in the ALDS because of one reason: more money. Money that is capable of acquiring quality players that can come through in the clutch when the pressure is insurmountable.
Do the Oakland A’s need another new owner, if they ever want to win a World Series again? It’s been over 31 years since their last ring, when they swept their Bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants, four games to none in the 1989 Battle of the Bay. Perhaps, it’s worth proposing the question: is it even worth it for John J. Fisher – the current owner of the Athletics – to spend more money on his ball club? Any team that wins the World Series in Major League Baseball receives an average of $382,358 as a bonus prize, and owners receive an average of $42 million per year. Do the numbers pan out to a profit? Or is it better for the owner to not spend another penny, and let the organization work with what they have, just like the character of Steve Schott says in Moneyball? Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay in Bennet Miller’s Moneyball (2011) seems to drive this point home, early on in the first act of the script.
Perhaps, it’s true, that, owners don’t care about the fans. Why should they? Millions of their dollars are at stake. Would you care about the fans if you invested $35 million in a baseball club? You’d probably care more about staying afloat on your big business, or breaking even, at bare minimum, then worrying about the risk versus reward that comes with spending more money for quality players, which was the true story behind Moneyball in how Billy Beane lost 3 of his best players (Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Jason Isringhausen) to other ball clubs after the Oakland A’s tremendous 102 game winning season in 2001. Billy Beane had to figure out a creative way to replace them – in which he came up with the “Moneyball” strategy: a statistic based approach that gets rid of overvalued players and replaces them with undervalued players who have higher on-base percentages.
Bottom line, professional sports aren’t authentic and don’t stay true to their nature when there’s money involved. You can’t call it “sports” when there’s a Las Vegas gambling spread, when players are getting paid vast sums of money, when television networks and advertisers fight for revenue – you can’t call it sports. The true essence of any sport is a physical activity when one team competes against another team for entertainment purposes only. Once money gets involved, it’s no longer a sport. So, what do we call it? Business. BIG, BIG, business. Perhaps, the only true level of sportsmanship that remains authentic to its nature is high-school athletics, or maybe the World Cup in soccer, or maybe the Olympics. Because at least in those arenas, players, coaching and staff are working for one thing, and one thing only: passion. Passion goes out the door when money is involved. It becomes a job; a duty; a responsibility; an obligation; accountability.
It’s not baseball; it’s Moneyball.