It's not Pirates-related, at least not directly, but I was somewhat excited to see the trailer for the upcoming movie Moneyball, which stars Brad Pitt as Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.â†µ
There are a lot of things I don't agree with in that book, and a lot of things upon which history hasn't looked favorably, like the Athletics' drafting strategy, which appears to have a prominent role in the film. It's still a great story, though.â†µ
And really, though, Beane has won. Nearly every general manager is now well aware of what Beane was up to a decade ago, and the result is that most teams have smart GMs. The change has been the difference between most teams being run poorly and most teams being run well.â†µ
The tragedy of the situation, for the Pirates, was that they happened to fire GM Cam Bonifay in 2001. At that point, the ideas behind Moneyball - look for market inefficiencies, question conventional wisdom, use statistics well - were just beginning to take hold. A few teams had Moneyball-type GMs, but most did not, and Beane's ideas were still very controversial within the industry. Really good young GMs who combined the Moneyball ideas with careful attention to scouting were a couple years away - the Red Sox' Theo Epstein was hired late in 2002, and the Rays' Andrew Friedman came along in 2005.â†µ
In 2001, the Pirates hired Dave Littlefield, who proceeded to lay waste to the franchise for the next six years. In 2005, I don't think Littlefield would have been hired. If Bob Nutting had had controlling interest in the team at that time, Littlefield certainly would not have been hired. And that's at least partially due to the way Billy Beane and others changed the way people thought about baseball. I'm not saying Littlefield was purely an 'old-school' guy, since obviously, there have been many old-school GMs who have done their jobs well. But I do think the Beane revolution caused GMs to be held to a higher standard, and that Littlefield wouldn't have been likely to get a second interview if he'd been on the job market only a couple years later.