My reading of the infamous Moneyball continues…and what a difference a few chapters makes. What started as a respectful reading of a game-changing book suddenly turned sour.
Rather than stick to presenting a new perspective of advanced statistics and never-before-seen baseball roster theories, Lewis – the book’s author – can’t help but throw bean balls at respected names like Manager Tony La Russa. As the then manager of the Oakland Athletics – a team that appeared in multiple consecutive World Series and won a championship in the AL – TLR is painted as an egotistical personality easily too selfish to get out of the way of baseball progress. It’s no wonder arrogant wanna-be’s like Keith Law revile La Russa. With such widely read literature like this on the shelves assaulting him, it would be all-too easy to villainize a man who clearly carried a great respect for – and responsibility towards – the game.
Of course, that’s not to say Tony didn’t have his flaws – as well as his place in the steroid debacle with that same A’s team – and it is true that La Russa has always been, deservedly, the poster boy for Old School vs. New School baseball…but to suggest Tony was the solitary and most onerous obstacle to Sandy Alderson’s efforts to modernize baseball through the Oakland A’s simply reeks of personal bias. (By the way…yes, many of the ideals and methods Billy Beane is credited with bringing to the Athletics were first introduced and championed by Alderson according to Lewis)
In fact, it is actually during Lewis’ suspect description of the conflict between TLR and Alderson – a description that positions Tony as the self-entitled celebrity “big timing” the nervous and hesitant Alderson – that the author gives himself away. Lewis seems to want readers to believe Tony and Sandy were arch rivals who simply couldn’t get along in Oakland as long as Tony was Tony and Sandy was…well…the next great savior of professional baseball. Except that such a description of their relationship does not “jive” with recent descriptions, rumors, and flat-out facts of La Russa and Alderson’s current relationship.
Ever since Tony’s retirement became an expected reality with the Cardinals, internet and media rumors have circulated suggesting a reunion between the “two friends.” In fact, one article exploring the possibility of an Alderson/TLR tandem with the New York Mets had this to say about Tony’s exit from Oakland:
After the passing of former A’s owner Walter A. Haas, Jr. new owner Stephen Schott believed to not want La Russa back after the 1995 season allowed La Russa to see if another team was interested in him. Eventually he signed with the St Louis Cardinals.
Alderson meanwhile who was told by the new ownership that he would be back for 1996 said that working with someone besides La Russa next season would be a “challenge” especially given the close working relationship they have.
But of course, depicting the two as having a “close working relationship” would deprive Lewis of his much-needed villain for Golden Boy Billy Beane to prevail against…at least figuratively.
Lewis’ depiction of Tony La Russa – and others like him – is honestly a shame because it distracts from excellent theories, stories, and sheer writing ability. For example, while many may find Lewis’ account of Bill James and his eccentric approach to the world of baseball statistics boring and oddly comical, I found it interesting, intriguing, and deserving of perhaps the heart of the book. It’s a shame Lewis is so intent on creating a villain/hero dynamic between men like Tony La Russa and Billy Beane/Sandy Alderson for the sake of a good read. It’s likely that if Lewis had not taken such a polarizing position regarding long-standing, respected baseball men while lifting up Billy Beane as the pinnacle of both baseball failure and promising progress capable of saving us all…his book would not be so vehemently discussed. It would just be discussed.
But then…that wouldn’t sell as many copies, would it?