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Frankie O's 'Moneyball' journey - Part 2

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Frankie O's 'Moneyball' journey - Part 2

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

WATCH: Beane & Pitt discuss 'Moneyball'

Its always about the first impression. Doing what I do for a living gives me a vast database for information on anything that piques my interest. But, of course, it comes with a subjective slant. Sometimes, the more libations served, it can get overly subjective. Thus, I always try to take any information gleaned at the bar with a grain of salt. When I told folks that I was going to Oakland, the response was always, Why? Then, those whod been there gave me gritty details. It couldnt really be that bad, could it? I always had a soft spot for the city from the time of my youth. The early 70's was when my sports psychosis started to take form. I was crazy about every sports team in Philadelphia and watched and read about them as much as I could. But I couldnt help but notice all the other teams that they played. You know, the teams that actually won.

It was at this time that a kid from Philadelphia became infatuated with two teams that dominated while playing more than 3,000 miles away: The Charlie O. Finley Oakland As, who won consecutive titles from 1972-74, and the Al Davis Oakland Raiders, who after breaking hearts year after year, finally won a Super Bowl in 1976. Both teams were known as renegades, and to yours truly were larger than life. The As featured Jim Catfish Hunter, Sal Bando, Mr. October Reggie Jackson (later known as Wedgie Jackson) and Gene Tenace the Menace who came out of nowhere to become the 1972 World Series MVP.

The Raiders were my first sports obsession. At this time, the Eagles were awful, so all of the guys in the neighborhood would root for other teams also. It was usually the Dolphins or Steelers, since they won all of the time. I, of course, took the road less traveled, the one full of agony and despair (youd expect anything less?) and followed John Maddens team religiously. The first NFL game I ever went to was an Eagles-Raiders game at the Vet during that magical 76 season. To this day, Kenny Stabler is still my favorite quarterback. And, he threw to my all-time favorite receiver, Super Bowl XI MVP Fred Biletnikoff. During this time, since both teams played there, and still do, the Oakland-Alemeda County Coliseum was the place to be. Go figure, I would soon be there.

As the plane was landing, I watched out the window to the rolling hills and water below. The airport is right on the bay, and compared to the view Im used to at Midway, it is visually stunning. Getting into the cab, Im usually pretty direct with the instructions since Im always convinced that cabbies want to take their fares from the airport on the scenic route to the hotel, but this time I didnt care. Mapquest had told me there were two ways to the hotel in Berkley, and both went by the Coliseum. What a great ride.

I had time to catch up on my fantasy scores -- good -- and watch the end of the Niners-Dallas game -- bad -- in my room as I ironed my TV bartender garb (Im a man of many talents). Waiting for the shuttle to the theater to see the movie was a reunion with others I had done junkets with before. TV-types from around the country (and Canada!) mingled with the moonlighting bartender from Chicago. I was pleased to hear that they all were as excited as I was to see the movie. Trust me, this is not always the case. As we all do our research before we come, sometimes things become a little too obvious about what we are about to encounter. The references to The Social Network and The Blind Side abound as everyone is upbeat about the screening.

During the ride we are given a verbal outline of how our day should work out for Monday. Its not quite the riot-act but its close. The bigger stars have a lot going on around them and they dont get much bigger than Mr. Pitt. Our day will have twists and turns, stops and starts, but everyone will get what they came for. One very big thing working in all of our favors is that since we are the sports press we wont be asking any Brangelina questions, or asking about Jennifer Aniston and her fun issues. That is if any of us wants to come to another junket! This should make the Bradster very happy.

He neednt worry about any of us. Its all going to be about the movie. As we all exit the theater, sometimes its like poker players trying to get a tell on the others. What did YOU think? That generally happens when the movie is iffy. After a screening of the unintentional horror-flick Leatherheads starring the handsome George Clooney, there were many in the theater lobby bellowing about how awful the movie was and lamenting the fact that we would never get those wasted two hours of our lives back. Personally, I was embarrassed to think that someone saw me come out of the theater. I was way too uncomfortable to even talk out-loud about it, especially in public. After we were safely out of view of any studio execs, several of us wondered out loud if anyone at all connected with this movie realized how god-awful it was.

Theyve got to know, dont they?

That movie was so bad that six months later, when a bunch of us were checking in for the next sports-movie junket, it was all we could talk about. A guy who had missed the junket laughed at his good fortune. The person checking us in from a different studio was laughing for a different reason: He felt our pain. Seems a short time prior, the studio he was working for was making a Nicolas Cage movie. Well, his guess was that the hierarchy of the film realized what a mess that they had made (at this point Im flabbergasted: A bad Nick Cage movie?! LOL! Dont get me wrong, Im a big fan, but hes taken a few epic swings and misses). Anyway, they decide to round up a few young guys in the office for a private screening. As in private with Cage, the director and a couple of producers, all of whom are big-time in their own right.

At this point we all guess what it is and say, Oh my god, you didnt have to watch Blank-blanker in front of them, did you?

You got it, he replied. Then afterwards, we all sat in a circle as they asked us our impressions.

At this point Im going crazy just thinking about that.

What did you say? You werent honest were you? I mean, you kept your jobm right? I asked.

I still work for the same studio, he laughed. When they got to me, I was so nervous I did not know what to do. So I remembered one scene that I really liked and could honestly talk about it in a good way, then, thank god, they let us go.

Wow.

You know what you are? I asked, setting up the punch-line, An enabler! They still released that piece of garbage!

Its as old as time, no matter what the business: give the boss what he wants! There would be none of those uncomfortable moments for any of us since all of us were sharing how much we liked the movie on the way out. This should make doing our jobs that much easier. Its like when Im at the bar: How hard can it be to serve someone one of the best steaks that they are ever going to have? When things are good, everybody wins!

I had spent much of my time trying to figure out which parts of the book they would leave out and which parts that they would keep or embellish. Hollywood was going to put its spin on this story. My hope was that they would not forget about the numbers side that excited geeks like me. In The Blind Side I felt that much of the football aspect of the book had been crammed in at the last minute. Example: Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy walking out of the stands and onto the practice field, in skin-tight pants none the less, grabbing young Michaels facemask, as she is being ogled by his teammates for cinematic effect and explaining to him that he has to protect the quarterbacks blind side. Im not saying, Im just saying. That movie was turned into a Sandra Bullock movie and it worked.

My hope for this film was that it could capture the tortured, manic, genius that was Billy Beane, who was a product of his entire baseball life, not just the year portrayed in the book. Billys journey though the many sides of baseball had brought him to a unique place. He was the right guy at the right time. Baseball is a game of failure. It is how a man deals with failure that will determine his fate. Billys story was not one of tidiness that could fit nicely into a box with a giant bow on top for us to open at our pleasure. It is full of the ups and downs that challenge us all. Repeatedly. And in the end he doesnt triumph in one shining moment, gaining mass adulation, just like in the real life that most of us live. Life isnt that simple. Its the reason I liked the book.

Obviously with Brad Pitt in the movie, there was going to be a lot of Brad Pitt. To my surprise, there was just as much of the formulas and numbers, the complete source of the internal debate in baseball. It gave the film balance to the riveting portrayal of a man seeking his place, within a world he loves, as much as it might not love him back, on his terms. The portrayal will spur a lot more of the anti-Billy Beane sentiment that exists in the baseball establishment, and that cant be helped. Its a great portrayal. But the movie shows that the discussion should be much deeper than that. Its not just about one man, even if that man is very interesting and is being played by one of the most famous people in the world on film.

I cant wait to meet them both and to ask them about it. Wheres my red bow tie?

Could the Price be right for a big White Sox move?

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USA TODAY

Could the Price be right for a big White Sox move?

SAN DIEGO — The White Sox still need two pitchers, and the pool of free-agent options is shrinking.

Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, the two names at the tippy top of the starting-pitching market, might never have been true possibilities for the White Sox, but they sure won’t be now, each signed to a massive deal at this week’s Winter Meetings.

Zack Wheeler spurned the White Sox and their high bid to take less money and pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jordan Lyles is now a Texas Ranger. Tanner Roark is now a Toronto Blue Jay. Josh Lindblom is now a Milwaukee Brewer. Michael Wacha is now a New York Met.

Yes, the options still out there remain attractive. Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel or Hyun-Jin Ryu would do the job of firing up the fan base and pairing with Lucas Giolito atop the South Side starting staff. But those are just three pitchers. And there are a lot of teams on the hunt for starting pitching.

Of course, it’s also not that simple. Hahn might have said this in talking about losing out on Wheeler: “You either get the guy or you don't. When you don't, you move on to the next one.” But it’s not as easy as just moving down to the next biggest name on the free-agent market.

“Any guy we target is because we feel strongly that they fit in for the long term, in terms of a big-ticket free-agent acquisition that we feel is going to help make us better throughout the good portion of this upcoming window,” the general manager said Wednesday. “There does come a point on any list, whether it's after the third guy or after the sixth guy or after the 10th guy, where you're no longer describing that type of player. So it's up to us to figure out how quickly we drift into that group.”

The price tags are getting high for these pitchers, and Hahn admitted that the prognosticators missed the mark a bit when it came to predicting the massive paydays Cole, Strasburg and Wheeler received. Those big deals could drive up the price on the Bumgarners and the Keuchels and the Ryus.

It’s not that the White Sox are incapable of spending in that area — they reportedly offered more than $120 million for Wheeler’s services — they just might not be as enamored with those options as folks on the outside might be.

Hahn is still committed to the idea that “the money will be spent,” though he’s not 100-percent committed to it all being spent in one place.

“I think it would be awfully foolish to say we're going to go out and spend whatever the amount of the offer (to Manny Machado) was immediately,” he said. “The point of that comment was there's other ways for us to allocate this money, and it's going to be allocated toward player acquisitions.

“You could argue some of it went to (Yasmani) Grandal, you could argue some of it went to the Eloy (Jimenez) extension or re-signing (Jose) Abreu or whatever we have coming down the pipe next.

“That offer was over an eight- to 10-year period, so to say it's all going out the door in Year 1 just because it's sitting there, maybe, but it's got to be for the right players.”

But does the right player exist anymore? Wheeler certainly seemed to be that for the White Sox, but he’s off the board and they still need two arms. It might be time to get creative.

What about David Price?

Hahn’s been throwing the spotlight on trades this week, talking at length Wednesday about an intriguing proposal the front office was considering, one that might not line up perfectly with the White Sox rebuilding plans.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Tuesday that multiple teams have targeted Price, the Boston Red Sox playoff hero who is still owed a whopping $96 million over the next three seasons. The Red Sox, interested in ridding themselves of salary, could attach him to another player to incentivize a team to take that contract off their hands.

This is where the White Sox could come in. They have the financial flexibility to eat up Price’s remaining dollars. And they’d probably be pretty interested in acquiring one of Boston’s bats to stick in the middle of their lineup. The Red Sox have a lot of hitters who could be of use to the White Sox, but certainly Andrew Beninitendi comes to mind. He’s under club control for three more years, and while his addition would probably require a bit of realignment in the outfield, it’d be a good one to the South Side batting order.

The 34-year-old Price, meanwhile, wouldn’t exactly be, from a production standpoint, the high-quality add to the starting staff that other, still-available arms would be. He had a 4.28 ERA in 2019, the second highest of his career and his highest in a decade, even though he had positive stretches during the Red Sox otherwise miserable World Series hangover.

There are more concerning elements with Price, too. NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase writing last week: “He's no longer a 200-inning pitcher. His elbow could blow. He considers himself a great teammate, but he consistently brings negativity into the clubhouse, which multiple rival executives have noted warily. He's too expensive. He hasn't made an All-Star team or earned a Cy Young vote since 2015. He's past his prime.”

Certainly none of that is terribly appealing.

But the White Sox need pitching. They need it. They can’t go into next season with what they’ve got or we’ll see the same parade of ineffective fill ins that we saw in 2019. Price might not be Cole. He might not be Wheeler. He definitely is preferable to Manny Banuelos and Odrisamer Despaigne.

And if he brings Benintendi with him? What if he brings J.D. Martinez with him? What if he brings Mookie Betts with him? Well, you can probably forget about Betts, the White Sox not at all interested in trading their top-flight prospects for one year of anyone, but the other two are worth thinking about.

There’s another element to all this: the return cost. When discussing that mysteriously appealing trade offer Wednesday, Hahn alluded to the popularity of the White Sox prospects. That comes as no surprise. What does is that the White Sox would consider trading any of them away. It’s near impossible to envision Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal or Michael Kopech going anywhere. But what about Andrew Vaughn? Or Dane Dunning?

It’s all speculative at the moment, of course. But the White Sox pitching need isn’t going to go away until they make some moves. Other teams are doing just that, making Hahn’s job harder by the minute.

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Hawk Harrelson joins Hall of Fame

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Hawk Harrelson joins Hall of Fame

SportsTalk Live is on location at Day 3 of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Vinnie Duber and Scott Merkin join David Kaplan to react to Hawk Harrelson making the Hall of Fame. Plus, they share their thoughts the Nomar Mazara trade and what may be next for the White Sox this winter.

10:00- Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer joins Kap and Tony Andracki to talk about the Cubs slow offseason and the importance of staying under the luxury tax. Hoyer also responds to Anthony Rizzo's agent's comment that the team will not be signing the first baseman to an extension this offseason.

19:00- Kap, Chuck, Vinnie and Tony discuss Gerrit Cole's record contract with the Yankees.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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