Moneyball

I watched the new Brad Pitt movie Moneyball the other night. Pitt plays Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who in 2002 led his baseball team to an American League record twenty wins in a row. The A’s accomplished this with a shoestring $41 million payroll. Before the 2002 season, the New York Yankees bought the A’s top players out of free agency using their league high $125 million payroll. Pitt depicted Beane as one heck of a manager.

In 2002, Billy Beane and his assistant general manager and statistical wiz Paul DePodesta used a revolutionary approach to selecting players called sabermetrics. This radical approach ignored traditional player statistics like batting average and stolen bases and replaced them with metrics like on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Beane and DePodesta were alone in their faith in sabermetrics, facing stiff resistance from the coaching and scouting staff. But the A’s tiny payroll budget forced Beane and DePodesta to consider a bold plan.

The team started losing games as soon as the season started, and a quarter of the way into the year, the A’s were in last place. Sports radio hosts and commentators labeled Beane a failure and called for him to be replaced. In one scene, Beane is shown driving alone and he doubtfully asks himself, “What am I doing?” Being the only one who believes in a vision can be lonely.

He could have capitulated, but Beane was resolute. He redoubled his efforts to make his vision a success. He traded players who had the wrong attitude, and met face-to-face with the remaining players to explain his direction over and over. Beane’s resolve and persistence paid off, and the A’s went on to win 109 games that year.  

The title of the movie is even a helpful reminder for all business managers. We’re playing a money game that efficient companies can win with efficient managers. Managers can win the money game by creating a bold plan, believing in their vision, and having the resolve to see their plan through.

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