What Moneyball Taught Me: 7 Lessons from 7 Quotes
How can you not be romantic about this movie?
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Glendale, CA, sometime in early 2012.
That somewhat sunny afternoon, I left work early to visit a dentist because in recent weeks, my still-present wisdom teeth were beginning to make a bold, painful move. Searing, pulsing aching in my gums -- all 4, ready to destroy me.
The procedure, as you probably know, was going to be simple enough. Remove my wisdom teeth, like so many people before me. Little did I know, I maybe wanted to visit an oral surgeon -- one who would put me under anesthesia, who could extract my teeth in what felt like an instant.
In fact, years later, I did just that, because this first visit ended in pure agony and that night, all I wanted to do was hide in my anguish and watch Moneyball...
Let's Back Up A Little...
My mother raised me an Oakland A's fan, even if our NFL allegiances rested with the San Francisco 49ers. She had a special connection to the team -- her love of Dennis Eckersley, Rickie Henderson, their Modesto farm team we often patronized growing up...
But for the most part, not since I was born, the A's were not a very good team. The 90s were not kind to this underfunded, overworked misfit team.
Then, 2002 happened. "The Streak."
General Manager Billy Beane could tell you why, even if he couldn't fully explain. Luckily, someone else could. An author by the name of Michael Lewis.
I won't summarize the book, Moneyball, for you. I'm not here to talk about that. You'll just have to do yourself a favor and read it, love it, and cherish it.
No, I want to talk about the movie adaptation, the one starring Brad Pitt in his best performance. The movie should have won the Oscar for Best Picture in 2012 (instead of the fucking ARTIST.) The movie that got both Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt Best Actor nominations. The movie whose soundtrack I religiously play while in my home office trying to figure out how to send emails that'll make people buy things for my day job. The movie that features one of the best songs-not-made-for-movies-but-used-constantly-ever, "The Mighty Rio Grande" by This Will Destroy You.
Want more context? Here's the trailer:
It's road to the big screen was fraught with difficulty and, characteristic to the movie, a lack of faith from studio execs. You can read all about the drama behind trying to get this movie off the ground here. It's pretty fascinating and a lot of it revolves around one man: Aaron Sorkin.
Aaron was hired to punch up (and add some scenes) to an already strong screenplay by Oscar-winner Steve Zailian. He took the difficult-to-understand subject of sabermetrics and made it digestible for everyone.
And because of his brilliant work on the film, the world and I were given the gift of moments so quotable, they taught me a few important life lessons...
BUT WAIT! THIS FIRST!
Did you know I don't share my fiction on Vocal? I do share it in my newsletter, however... I am also going to share a lot more you won't find here.
1. "Hang up."
"When you get the answer you're looking for, hang up."
~ Billy Beane
I don't think I've ever heard better business advice. When I lived in L.A., I was so excited to get an offer for what I considered my first high-paying job, I accepted their first number (completely skipping over talks of benefits and bonuses) without any negotiation right off the bat. Rookie move.
The next job I got, I made sure to push back at the negotiation table and managed to increase my offer by $5,000 and add an extra day of PTO every year. It wasn't much, but it was something.
Then, I spoke up and asked if they could increase the 401(k) match and was told they would check but it was unlikely. There was radio silence for a week, I thought I had completely blown it. It wasn't necessarily wrong to ask the question, but it was not a concern before (therefore not a priority to me) and it's important to note changes to 401(k) plans and the like are far more complicated that just amending an offer. I should have just asked for more money instead.
They ultimately came back to me and said no but if I wanted the job, it was mine, I would just have to start sooner than expected and forego any chance of a vacation between jobs because the process was prolonged another week. I learned my lesson then and there.
Shut the fuck up when you get what you want.
2. "It's a process..."
"It's a process, it's a process, it's a process..."
We all have to do things with which we're uncomfortable -- like speak at a funeral or babysit a friend's kid and change their diaper. In this case, Billy Beane asks his entire squad to re-think how they play the game. They are asked to set aside everything they've ever learned in order to serve the greater good: Winning as a team using their new system.
The point being, adjusting to a new skill or something is a process, it takes learning. I've had to do it numerous times. At work, it's learning a new tool for marketing or when I took courses on copywriting or Salesforce. In life, it's learning how to parent a child.
I just keep telling myself every time I am put in a new, difficult-yet-good position: "It's a process" and that eventually, I'll get it.
3. "If we try to play like the Yankees in here..."
"It's an unfair game. And now we've been gutted. We're organ donors for the rich. Boston's taking our kidneys, the Yankees are taking our heart and you guys are sitting around, talking the same old good body nonsense like we're selling jeans. Like we're looking for Fabio. We've got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl! See what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies... If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there."
~ Billy to his scouts
It's a simple truth; the only way to best your competition is to do the unexpected. I hate doing things like everyone else, it's the quickest way to get a permanent seat in their shadow, especially if you're trying to outrun them. Billy says it best when he says they have "got to think differently."
Otherwise put, it's pivoting against the definition of insanity:
"Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."
4. "It's a problem you think we need to explain ourselves..."
"I'm a 44 year old guy with a high school diploma and a daughter I'd like to be able to send to college. You're 25 years old with a degree from Yale and a pretty impressive apprenticeship. I don't think we're asking the right question. I think the question we should be asking is, do you believe in this thing or not?"
"It's a problem you think we need to explain ourselves. Don't. To anyone."
~ Billy quells Peter's fears
Honestly, I don't know if I've ever had to take a risk so big, it put my entire livelihood on the line. But I've made small decisions or confronted managers or colleagues in a way that could have gotten me in deep shit. Yet I've always struggled with the idea of justification.
"I'm doing this because this..."
"You don't understand, this is why I did this..."
Whether it's a risk (calculated or brash) or even a mistake, you never need to explain yourself. Brad as Billy echoes in my brain every time I feel the need to over-justify anything I am doing. Honestly, if it's a risk that works out, the results speak for themselves. And if fails completely, take it on the chin, apologize, learn, and move on.
Stop explaining yourself.
5. "That ball went 60 feet over the fence."
"This is all of Jeremy's nightmares come to life..."
Jeremy Brown falls over first base.
"Aw, they're laughing at him."
"And Jeremy's about to find out why. Jeremy's about to realize that the ball went 60 feet over the fence. He hit a home run and didn't even realize it."
~ Peter proves to Billy he actually won, even if he didn't.
I've always struggled with my weight. In one of our more desperate phases, both my wife and I became crossfitters. The progress we made was astounding -- tire flips, pull-ups, rolls. I felt like I was on the way to having the kind of body I always wanted.
Then, I did a front roll and damaged my right scapula (shoulder blade) and slowly had to back away from it all. In my anger and depression, my wife pointed out all of the progress I made and the strength I managed to hold onto, even if I began to backslide into old habits.
That helped me put everything into perspective: Sometimes you're so obsessed with the goal, you feel to see all the things you accomplished along the way.
Or, if you're a real dork: "Aim for the moon because even if you miss, you'll still be among the stars."
6. "He always gets bloody. Always."
“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall — he always gets bloody. Always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game."
~ John Henry, Owner, Boston Red Sox
This is my favorite scene in the entire movie.
See, I constantly push people around me to try new things. For example, I am kind of obsessed with having friends apply at the companies I've worked for over the years. At times, it's worked out. Other times, not so much.
I have this obsessive need to self-innovate and help others do the same. It doesn't always end well, I've had people tell me back the fuck off more than once. But if there's one thing Moneyball taught me, it's that you can't be afraid to try anything new.
For you film nerds out there, it's like director Ang Lee and high-frame rate technology (see: Gemini Man). It looks ugly as hell on-screen, but he is willing to try and fail so that while he crawls on his hands and knees, risking his career in the process, future generations can run and perfect the art. It's the willingness to disrupt a system and get a little beat up that defines innovation, whether it works out or not.
It's like if you have siblings -- the first one to become a parent is going to fail over and over, setting an example for you to succeed.
Hell, I'd rather try something and fail horribly than do the same old thing and remain mediocre and comfortable. Wouldn't you?
7. "Don't go on the internet..."
"Don't go on the internet... or watch TV... or read newspapers... or talk to people..."
~ Billy to his daughter
This is mostly just a cute joke with a bit of good advice hidden underneath. I've often had to move forward with decisions, especially in my theatre/acting days, that might have been strange or unpopular or hard. It was up to me to ignore the haters. Or as Rebecca on Ted Lasso says, "Fuck the haters." But really...
You can't let what others think stop you.
Back at the Dentist...
The dentist had me in the chair for over 2 hours, breaking my wisdom tooth apart as the numbing agent constantly wore off. My then-girlfriend-now-wife could hear my screams and moans from the other room. I finally had to say "fuck this" and walk away, but not before forcing them to prescribe me painkillers to help soothe the work they royally fucked up.
In the pharmacy across the street, I paced and paced, trying to forget the relentless aching that spread from my face to my entire body as my lovely lady demanded the pharmacist hurry. I wanted to crawl into a ball and roll myself into traffic.
Then, we got home. I took the drugs, which only slightly took the edge off, and I asked if we could watch Moneyball. We held each other and she comforted me as her heart broke for my obvious, unsubtle pain. The movie, along with her, brought me a sense of peace. I focused in and began to absorb the lessons.
You know, it's amazing the power of a movie about a team who eventually fails at the end but at least makes math seem cool (and useful.) And we all said we'd never use math in our adult lives...
Here's to math.
Thank you for reading.
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About the author
Author, music snob, husband, parent, amateur neck cracker. A quintuple threat, if you will. This is a space for personal essays, life stories (and lessons learned), as well as unfinished/belongs-nowhere-else fiction. Enjoy!