Moneyball: Convenient & Inconvenient Narratives

I finally got around to watching Moneyball recently. (Yes, I know I should have seen it a long time ago!) As a film it is well acted, well directed, and compelling. Somehow it managed to make a compelling story out of the less than compelling business of sabermetrics (an in-depth analysis of baseball statistics). The story traces the internal struggles of Billy Beane, a general manager dealing with his own personal failings, and the triumph of the Oakland Athletics in the early 2000’s, an underdog team disadvantaged by the monetary weakness of its market. It’s a real American story. Little wonder it received so much critical acclaim and award nominations.

However – as some of our readers will know – there’s another side to that story. Steroid use was rampant, especially on the Oakland A’s. Perhaps Billy Beane knew little about it and perhaps the use of steroids did not substantial alter the results that sabermetrics introduced – the now commonplace use of metrics in all franchises suggests that most of Major League Baseball believes it stands on its own. Regardless, the story that Moneyball tells represents a whitewashing of this story.

More than that, the effects of sabermetrics might be devastating the game itself. With games frequently lasting over four hours due to managers, pitchers, and batters playing the numbers game, viewership and attendance has been plummeting. The sabermetrics certainly played an important role in the Red Sox’s breaking of the Curse of the Bambino, and I’m not complaining about that result. Yet MLB is growing obsolete, and Billy Beane’s strategy has been a key component in its decline.

All of this reminds me that one of the greatest danger we face is telling convenient narratives about ourselves. Great films remind us that our narratives are not so neat. They need not be depressing or especially dark; yet romance or achievement that is presented as simple or easy mislead us in the most dangerous ways. Instead, the gospel reminds us of the greatness to which humans and even the whole creation are called, and yet it only comes despite our sin and through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul explains it better than I ever could:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:18-23)

Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library