Moneyball: Billy Beane and Parallels to Anti-Federalism

 

 

Whether you’re a sports fanatic, a Brad Pitt loyalist, or just an avid moviegoer, I highly urge you to see Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. It is a remarkably made adaptation based off of the award-winning book by Michael Lewis. In sum, the novel focuses on the success of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team lead by general manager Billy Beane. With a limited budget ($41 million) – 5th lowest out of 30 total teams – Billy Beane is forced to compete with the elite (i.e. the New York Yankees’ budget of $125 million) in order to save his job. Given his inherent disadvantage, Beane and the Athletics organization are forced to rely on undervalued, yet productive players within the market. They achieve this by using “sabermetrics” – highly specialized statistical analysis – to acquire players as opposed to the more traditional method of scouting.  In doing so, we come across many paralleled themes to our class discussions regarding Anti-Federalism.

In the film, Billy Beane (Pitt) asserts: “We are card counters at the blackjack table. And we’re gonna turn the odds on the casino.” Essentially, so it seems, anti-federalists shared virtually the same sentiment in the debates over ratifying the Constitution. In other words, anti-federalists sought to accomplish their goals with the cards that the Federalists were dealing. To “general managers” like Patrick Henry and George Mason, these cards – the proposed Constitution – appeared to be: rule by the elite, a noticeable lack in participation/representation, and most prominently, ignorance for the common good.

The central argument to Moneyball is that baseball, without any form of a salary cap, is an unfair market where businesses, or teams have a tough time competing due to the unequal “power of the purse” across the league. Simply put, wealthier teams can afford more talented players, and thus, are more likely to win. A common trend in baseball, contrary to other sports, is that the same few – elite – teams consistently dominate the competition year after year. However, when a team like Billy Beane’s 2002 Oakland Athletics disproves this tendency, it becomes a truly remarkable story. This is because baseball is not only a sport, but is also a business that requires balancing high levels of efficiency and production.  In other words, it does not provide nor care for teams that have financial concerns. Much like the Anti-Federalists, who were foremost concerned about the “common good”, feared that rule by the elite would naturally create a corrupt, self-absorbed government. “…it is not a fair and equal representation of the people even in proportion to its number…the representation is unsafe, because in the exercise of such great powers and trusts, it is so exposed to corruption and undue influence…” (The Anti-Federalists, 17).

Typical of most Anti-Federalists, and more specifically Civic Republicans, there is a burning desire, or yearning for participation in government. Therefore, representation must be adequate enough to provide for an expanding populace. Anti-Federalists argue against Federalists by claiming without such widespread participation, representation would cease to exist in the amount that it should. Without a close connection between citizens and their delegates, government would become deficient in supplying people with welfare. “To produce these essential requisites, the representation ought to be fair, equal, and sufficiently numerous, to possess the same interests, feelings, opinions, and views, which the people themselves would possess…” (The Anti-Federalists, 16). Similarly, as Moneyball suggests, Billy Beane’s yearning to participate, or rather compete, is exemplified by his relationship with his daughter. Having skipped college for the big leagues, the audience will be exposed to Beane’s passion to keep his job so that he could provide for his child. Baseball, being a sport of unpredictability, and at times instability, provides no safety net for Beane and his family. Undoubtedly, Beane’s hunger to compete with the wealthiest of teams parallels the Anti-Federalists yearning for participation in government.

Furthermore, like the innovative management techniques used by the 2002 Oakland Athletics, the anti-Federalists proposed that an original bit – the Bill of Rights – be added to the Constitution. Professional baseball is notorious for being “one of the most tradition-bound businesses in America…”[1]. Beane and the 2002 Oakland Athletics forever changed the game of baseball by completely altering the way in which management had traditionally operated. Teams began to use statistical research to scout for players in contrast to basic, instinctive nature. Beane had successfully redefined what was needed to be efficient in a very disproportionate market.

The Anti-Federalists, unique in their own right, had also forever changed the foundation of the United States. While being one of the few winning arguments to the Anti-Federalist ideology, the Bill of Rights reconfirmed, in writing, the civil liberties of the people. The Bill of Rights was necessary in “ascertaining and fundamentally establishing those inalienable rights of men…” (The Anti-Federalists, 16). And as my peer Andrew Haddad alludes to in his blog, this would aspect of the Anti-Federalist ideology would fall under the third part of Morone’s Democratic Wish – “new political institutions being created to accommodate the popular response” (Haddad, 9/26/11).

The United States Constitution, while one of the oldest written frameworks in the world, was influenced by many European philosophies and ideas. Likewise, the Constitution has also influenced many nations worldwide to adapt written frameworks of their own. However, the Bill of Rights, as promoted by the Anti-Federalists, is an innovative institution in its own right. It is tremendously unique in that it takes into account the liberties of the people it intends to provide for. Like Beane and the Athletics, the Anti-Federalists forever changed “the way in which the game is played”.

 

 

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6 Responses to Moneyball: Billy Beane and Parallels to Anti-Federalism

  1. vanessabarton says:

    I love your connection. Consistently also the presidential candidate who raises and spends the most money throughout the election becomes president of the United States. 2000 Bush raised more than Gore, 2004 Kerry raised more than any Democrat had before yet Bush raised more than Kerry, and finally in 2008 Obama raised more money than anyone ever had. http://www.opensecrets.org/pres08/. This is the exact fear or the Anti- federalist, those with the financial means (the elites) would carry the most power. Which is your direct correlation to this film and baseball in general. Although the Yankees are the highest paid team in the country and have Alex Rodriguez the highest paid athlete in the United States, the Tigers are going to win the world series this year and I’ll be wating it from first row behind home plate! My family loves baseball.

  2. jason5brown says:

    An avid baseball fan, I really enjoyed the comparison of the Anti-Federalists to Billy Beane’s strategy to make a small market team competitive. Many of the elite baseball teams can be looked at as aristocratic, based on hereditary wealth that keeps big market teams such as Boston and the Yankees among those with the most money to spend, and are therefore constantly at the top of the league. Just as Beane’s position as a general manager of a small market club created an atmosphere for him to envision an innovative new system for evaluating top players to create a winning team, the Anti-Federalists believed that, “[those] with the common concerns and occupations of the people, which men of the middling class of life are in general much better competent to, than those of a superior class” would make more representative decisions (50). In the context of Moneyball, because Beane was in a more humbling, “middling” position, he had a better grasp of how he could most efficiently manipulate his power of the purse to achieve positive results (money).
    Beane’s methodology helped to change the status quo for evaluating baseball players, yet it did not alter the game completely. Since 2000, 6 of the 11 teams who have won the World Series had a salary that was among the top five in the league. However, Beane’s efforts were not a lost cause, which leads to another parallel with the Anti-Federalists. Although the Anti-Federalists ultimately lost and the constitution was ratified, there was an important compromise in the Bill of Rights that was added. Similarly, although the inequity in baseball still exists today, in 2003, shortly after Beane’s strategy was enacted, the MLB introduced a luxury tax. This tax discourages teams with high payrolls by penalizing those whose payrolls exceed the determined maximum via a tax. The result is a more equitable distribution of money in the league, but in no way makes the league completely fair. While both the Anti-Federalists and Billy Beane ultimately lost their battles to attain more justness, both made impacts whose implications can be seen to this day.

  3. bkemeter says:

    I like the comparison as well. Neither side may have completely accomplished what they wanted, the Federalists still got their constitution basically as they wanted it and the A’s didn’t jump up to start competing with teams like the Yankees on a yearly basis. However, there was a strong impact made by both sides. Morone might say that these cases are why the Democratic Wish doesn’t really work and that compromise failed the two causes, but I really think it could be easily argues that it small wins like these have major impact.
    Also, Go Tigers!

  4. lgeorge905 says:

    I think an important part of your blog is the section where you note that Beane was successful because other teams undervalued the type of players he was interested in. You wrote:

    “The central argument to Moneyball is that baseball, without any form of a salary cap, is an unfair market where businesses, or teams have a tough time competing due to the unequal “power of the purse” across the league. Simply put, wealthier teams can afford more talented players, and thus, are more likely to win. A common trend in baseball, contrary to other sports, is that the same few – elite – teams consistently dominate the competition year after year. ”

    The fact is, baseball is still an unfair market. Teams like the Red Sox, that spend 3 or 4 times the amount that that A’s spend, simply adjusted the types of players they sought. They now draft, trade, and sign the types of players that Beane realized had value and pay more for them than Beane can afford. They have essentially negated Beane’s effectiveness.

    I think the brilliance of the Anti Federalists was the establishment of the BIll of Rights. You cannot adjust for the Bill of Rights. You cannot circumvent the Bill of Rights. Until baseball adopts a Bill of Rights (salary cap) men like Beane will struggle to survive.

  5. a15haddad says:

    I also really like the author’s comparison of Billy Beane and “Moneyball” to the Anti-Federalists. Extending the analogy further, both Billy Beane and the Anti-Federalists “lost” in the sense that the Oakland Athletics never advanced to the World Series under Beane and the Constitution was ultimately ratified, but succeeded in the sense that their rivals copied some of their views and strategies and they had a massive impact on their fields. Virtually every team in baseball has now copied Beane’s once-heretical method of baseball analysis and the richest, most tradition-laden teams in baseball like the Yankees and Red Sox now employ sabermetricians and Wall Street analysts high in their front office (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/6466015/cashing-new-moneyball). Specifically, Beane’s view of baseball as a market in which inefficiencies can be found and exploited (in 2002, it was the undervaluing of on-base and slugging percentage; in the past couple of years it has been defense) has become an established part of baseball. Similarly, the Bill of Rights became a cornerstone of the Constitution; it was argued against at the time but is now probably the most famous and revered part of the document.

    Both Billy Beane and the Anti-Federalists have been criticized because they are sometimes seen as flashes in the pan. Beane received wide praise for leading the Athletics to five playoff appearances from 2000-2006, but since then his team has been mediocre, leading many to argue that the game has passed him by. The Anti-Federalists are sometimes seen as overly idealistic and naïve in their belief that the Articles of Confederation were sufficient and the Constitution created an unnecessarily strong government. Even if these arguments are true, they miss the point. Billy Beane is probably not a baseball genius and the Anti-Federalists’ vision of our nation was probably not for the best. The point is that both made a tremendous impact on their respective fields (baseball management and American government) and the world would be a different place today without them. Billy Beane is important to baseball history and the Anti-Federalists are important to American history.

  6. nmanningham says:

    As an avid baseball fan, I find the connection between the 2002 Oakland Athletics and the Anti-federalists to be interesting. While reading this post, I could not help but relate George Mason to the former New York Yankees General Manager George Steinbrener. Mason and the Federalists wanted power in the hands of the few, much like Steinbrener wanted power in the hands of a few teams in the MLB. Steinbrener ensured the Yankees were part of this few by buying or trading for the best players. Mason and the Federalists ensured the power in the hands of the few by setting up a system where the wealthy elites were elected to represent. This ensured qualified citizens would represent the interests of the many.

    Billy Beane fought for parody in baseball by constructing a new way of scouting players. He wanted more representatives in baseball’s elite group. This is similar to the Anti-federalists, who wanted more representatives in our government in order for the people to be truly in control of the government. While I do believe parody is important in Major League Baseball, I do not believe the Anti-federalists were correct in wanting ordinary mean to be our nation’s representatives.

    In the end the two sides compromised and shaped what we see today. The Anti-federalist got the Bill of Rights added to the Constitution, while in the MLB we see a bit more parody. However, we now have large-market teams using the same scouting strategies as the small market teams. Therefore, they value the same players and the large-market teams are able to outbid the small-market teams like they did in the past.

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