By Michael Parente
Enough with your over-the-top sentiment toward the Boston Marathon bombings, enough with the T-shirts, hats and bumper stickers, and, for the love of Christ, enough with the idea that two pot-smoking knuckleheads setting off a homemade bomb at a road race five months ago had anything to do with the Red Sox winning the World Series.
You could run Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s dead body up the flagpole at Fenway Park next year and it won’t mean a thing if the Red Sox don’t have the right combination of pitching, hitting, defense and, most importantly, team chemistry.
Score this World Series for all the dumb jocks who’ve grown tired of the nauseating stranglehold statistical analysis has had over baseball the past few years, the ones who still believe in the eyeball test, not fancy algorithms. This one’s for the dusty, cigar-smoking curmudgeons who still study horseracing forms and can chew through three bags of sunflower seeds at a Class-A doubleheader in Greensboro. This one’s for all the high-school quarterbacks humbled by the pencil-pushing nerds in every coming-of-age teen movie over the past 25 years. This one’s for Ogre, Coach Harris and every misunderstood Alpha Beta.
More than a decade has passed since Michael Lewis shoved Moneyball down our throats, ushering in a new era of utilizing statistical evidence and sabermetrics to field a competitive team in lieu of spending big bucks from a seemingly endless stream of revenue.
What Lewis, and Hollywood, which spun Lewis’ concept into a major motion picture, fail to acknowledge is no one ever won a World Series worshipping in the House of Moneyball. The Oakland A’s, Moneyball’s model franchise, were perennial playoff failures during the height of Billy Beane’s reign, and yet Beane’s character – generously played by Brad Pitt in the 2011 film – is glorified like Rocky Balboa in the first installment of Sylvester Stallone’s iconic film series, who, at the end of the day, still lost to Apollo Creed, similar to how the A’s always lost to the Yankees.
Moneyball can measure VORP, BABIP, WAR and every other needless statistic, but it can’t measure heart. No formula can determine how well an otherwise random group of free agents and castoffs will mesh together in a new environment. Some of it is luck, but a lot of it has to do with good, old-fashioned one-on-one time, sitting face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball with a player, figuring out what his core values are and getting an idea of what he’ll mean to your organization well beyond the box score.
The Red Sox didn’t just sign the top five or six free agents based off on-base percentage and earned-run average. They signed players who filled particular roles, “good clubhouse guys” that are often dismissed by the sabermetricians who can’t evaluate players without spreadsheets and pie charts. They got rid of Bobby Valentine and his foul stench of negativity and hired a manager who quickly endeared himself to both the core veterans and newcomers. They sure as hell didn’t look like the best team on paper in April, nor did they look like it in October either, but no other team embodied the philosophy of solid team chemistry and camaraderie better than Boston. Forget the beards and marketing gimmicks; this was about being willing to pass the baton to the next hitter in the lineup if you didn’t get your pitch to hit, or picking up your teammate with a key strikeout following an error. There’s no statistic for having someone’s back, but you know it when you see it. That’s the eyeball test, and the 2013 Red Sox passed with flying colors.
Chalk this one up as a win for all those who still enjoy a nice wad of dip against their better judgment, or the ones who still value batting average despite what modern times tell us. The nerds always win in Hollywood, but real life gives the jocks a fighting chance.
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