La Russa no fan of 'Moneyball' concept
One of Tony La Russa's final acts as manager of the St. Louis Cardinals was to criticize "Moneyball" -- the movie, the book, the concept.
Just before the Cardinals won the 2011 World Series -- and thus not that long before his retirement -- La Russa went out of his way to critique the entire "Moneyball" concept, on the basis of placing numbers ahead of human factors in any sort of baseball evaluation.
In a way, this was completely fitting, because the triumph of the Cardinals was a human victory as opposed to a statistically expected outcome. Where were the numbers predicting the Cards' World Series championship when they trailed Atlanta by 10 1/2 games in the National League Wild Card race in late August?
They were the essence of unpredictability, individually and collectively reacting to what seemed to be an objectively hopeless situation. Their response lacked precise mathematical order, but it certainly was uplifting from a human standpoint.
"I think Brad Pitt is a great actor," La Russa said of the actor who played Oakland general manager Billy Beane in the movie. But the thrust of his remarks was not in the direction of praise.
"Good acting," La Russa said in his evaluation of the movie. "I'm serious. Good acting. I mean, I was offended because of what the book represented, and I know a lot of those guys [who] were portrayed. I knew a few of those guys as scouts. It strains the credibility a little bit.
La Russa's managerial ranks
"It was about a couple of trades and turning Scott [Hatteberg] into a first baseman. That club was carried by those guys that were signed [and] developed the old-fashioned way. That part wasn't enjoyable, because it's a nice story, but it is not accurate enough."
La Russa was subsequently asked if it had been difficult observing as the numbers became ever more important, as the human evaluations were devalued.
"Well, it's been hard, because guys have lost their jobs," La Russa said. "Scouting staffs have been reduced; their importance [has] been reduced. That's hard.
"You've got to be careful, because I think about when I first came in the league years ago and I had no experience. I was a lousy player with no managing experience. You had all these great guys who managed for years, so preparation was the only way that myself and my staff could survive. So we were looking for everything.
"I think a lot of those stats and tools, they're helpful when you prepare. But they eliminate to a great degree the human element, which is a big part of every day that you play. Wherever those numbers are, that's one starting place, and then you look at how a guy feels.
"Some of those stats about you [shouldn't] bunt -- let me tell you something, some of these guys, you want to sit there and try to get three hits, you're never going to score. And the better teams you play, like in the playoffs, you'd better find a way to advance the runner.
"Handling the bullpen -- I can remember that they had this concept there wasn't anything special about the ninth inning pitcher, they were going to pitch your closer in the seventh. Well, the guys pitching in the seventh are coming up in the ninth, and the ninth is different. I don't know any team now -- even the ones that tried it -- [who] have not gone back to understanding that the ninth is different. [You start with] your closer, and then you build around [him].
"My opinion is I think a lot of people -- a lot of people, not just fans, but owners -- they gave it way too much credibility as far as how you scout, how you develop and then how you end up playing in the big leagues. It's a nice tool, but that's all it is. It's not even as important as the human characteristic that you have to think about all the time when you play the game."
La Russa didn't need to say any of this, but apparently he felt moved to say all of it as his managerial career came to a close. The timing was perfect, for La Russa, the Cardinals, and the entire concept of human conduct defying statistical probability.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.