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Sox Drawer: Hawk & Stone rip Beane, Moneyball

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Sox Drawer: Hawk & Stone rip Beane, Moneyball

Monday, Sept. 26, 2011
Posted: 3:20 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com
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The reviews are in for the movie Moneyball. Safe to say, its a smashing success.

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it 4 stars. Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune called it the best sports movie in a long time, period.

In its first weekend, the movie took in 20.6 million, the second highest grossing film in America.

But while moviegoers are flocking to theaters to watch Brad Pitt change the game of baseball as we once knew it, there are two men in Chicago who wont spend a dime, nickel, or penny on it.

Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone.

The two White Sox announcers are former players and longtime baseball purists. They both use computers and recognize the need for them in the modern game. But mention Moneyball, sabermetrics, or the achievements of Oakland As general manager Billy Beane, and they are not afraid to express their complete and utter disdain for all three of them.

I think its one of the biggest farces Ive ever seen in baseball, Harrelson said about Beanes computerized baseball strategy. I said at the time its going to get a lot of managers fired, and it has.

Hold onto your seats. The firing from Hawk and Steve has only just begun.

Stone, your thoughts?

When I take a look at all the attention that Billy happens to be getting now, I think the way he has gone about sabermetrics, number one, he didnt invent it. Number two, he didnt refine it. And number three, I like my winners to actually have won something.

Its true, Beanes Athletics have never won anything, except for a few division titles (in a four-team division), with the last one coming in 2006. For all of the praise that has been heaped on Beane over the last decade, his team has only won one playoff series, a fact Stone took great delight in expressing in fine, sarcastic detail.

Take Brad Pitt out of the movie, and then tell me about the success that Billys had. And then you make a movie about what? Of him not taking the Boston (general manager) job? How about the wins? Oh, there arent any wins? Dont worry about it.

The As did have a memorable 20-game winning streak in 2002, which is documented in the film. Stone is not impressed.

I understand that, he said. And Im sure there are other teams that have won 20, but how did that season work out for them? Did they win anything. See because they dont give trophies to teams with 20-game winning streaks. What they do is they give you a World Series trophy if you win the World Series. They even give you a smaller ring if you get in the World Series, but dont win it. Billy? Thats right, he never did that.

What was Harrelsons reaction when he heard they were making a Moneyball movie?

I laughed, Harrelson said. I said good for Billy. Ive known Billy a long time. I knew him when he had his head on straight so to speak. I think he got carried away a little bit. I know a lot of his own people hated it, what his concept was.

So I take it you havent read the book?

I wouldnt waste the money, Harrelson said. Ive heard some guys whove read it. Ive talked to some guys who liked it, and Ive talked to a majority of guys who thought it was a bunch of bull----, which if I read it, Im sure thats what I think it will be.

He continued.

Its bull----, and hes proven its bull---- by the moves that hes made and the deals hes made, and the games that hes lost. How long has he been there?

Harrelson and Stone did not exactly hold back.

So why such outrage?
"I think he's the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history, 52 years.-- Harrelson on Billy Beane.

For one, Harrelson believes that Beanes sabermetric concept has taken over the game, not just in the front office, but on the actual field of play. He says that a healthy balance of computers and old-fashioned scouting (a long-time backbone of the sport), is good for the game. However, he thinks that the Billy Beane School of Baseball tipped the scales to such a point that in the last decade players are behaving less like human beings, and more like robots.

When you start inundating players with numbers and information, you lose something, Harrelson explained. I think baseball has lost a lot of its childlike qualities, and its a kids game. You take Mark Buehrle, he has never lost his childlike qualities. Thats one reason he can go out there and throw an 86 miles-per-hour fastball and still compete and win. A lot of players have lost it. So if a lot of players lose it, the individual game loses it.

Computers can measure hits, runs, on-base percentage, and just about every statistical possibility the human brain can create. But one figure a computer cannot read is the beating heart and complicated mind that lives in all of us. Maybe our eyes can see it, but computers cant.

I think computers have a place in the game of baseball, Stone said. To use that as a tool is good. But its still a game played by human beings that you have to have some sort of feel for, because there are certain limitations that computers have. One of them is, if a guy has never been in a pennant race, and youre trying to evaluate how hes going to do in the middle of August and September in a pennant race. How does a computer spit that out exactly? It doesnt.

Americans like to cheer for the underdog, and Moneyball dramatizes the rags to riches story of the As, who despite their small market status were able to manipulate the game through sabermetrics, finding overlooked players like Scott Hatteberg, who helped carry the franchise to great heights.

Its a plot that Hawk and Steve say is nonsense.

A lot of the guys that this whole sabermetric philosophy was built upon were guys like Miguel Tejada. He was a young kid out of the Dominican Republic. Sabermetrics? I dont think so, Stone explained. Eric Chavez was the best high school hitter in the country. Thats not sabermetrics. Thats not a value pick. He was simply the best hitter in the country.

The As also had the best young trio of starting pitchers in the game.

When you have (Barry) Zito, (Mark) Mulder, and (Tim) Hudson, youre going to get in the playoffs, Harrelson said. You can write any book you want to write and its going to sell. But when those guys leave, and they left, look at them now.

Stone says he has no plans to see the movie, but was curious if it included some behind-the-scenes details.

Do they have Billy running through all those managers he ran through when he fired them and hired them? Does it end with him hiring his best man at his wedding (Bob Geren) and then having to fire him because none of his players listen to him anymore?

I have yet to see the movie. Something tells me these scenes were left on the cutting room floor.

Harrelson knows what its like to be a major league general manager. He held the job with the White Sox in 1985-86, and took many arrows to the chest for the firing of Tony LaRussa, who ironically went on to win the 1989 World Series with the As. That team happened to have a little-used outfielder that season by the name of Billy Beane.

We know what Harrelson thinks of sabermetrics, what about Beane as a GM?

I think hes the most overrated general manager in the history of the game. In my history. 52 years.

You wont see that written on the Moneyball movie poster.

Across town, the Cubs are currently looking for a general manager. Beane has been rumored to be a candidate, likely because chairman Tom Ricketts has expressed a desire to hire someone with a background in sabermetrics.

Mr. Ricketts, if you want some friendly advice from Mr. Harrelson, here it is:

I couldnt believe what Ricketts said about the Cubs, that whoever is going to be the new general manager is going to have to be well-versed in sabermetrics, Harrelson said. If thats got to be a criteria for hiring a good general manager, hes making a big mistake, or hes bought into the wrong game. He should hire a good baseball man to be the general manager.

There is fact and fiction. Baseball and Hollywood.
The truth behind Moneyball lies somewhere in between.

So far, audiences have spoken. Theyve given the movie a thumbs-up, going to see it in droves.

Stone?

I think that if they didnt have Brad Pitt playing the lead, there would be about eight people whod go to see it.

Harrelson?

Overall, I think the general public has been sold a bill of goods by this. And the recipient of it has been Billy Beane. More power to him. Thats like selling a deep freeze to the eskimos.

It was Al Michaels who coined the phrase, "Do you believe in miracles?"

Do you believe in Moneyball? That's for you to decide.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox slugger Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

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USA TODAY

Could Manny Machado's NLCS shenanigans impact White Sox potential free-agent pursuit?

"It's a dirty play by a dirty player."

That was Christian Yelich, the all-but-sure-to-be NL MVP, describing Manny Machado, who's about to become one of the best-paid players in baseball history, after Game 4 of the NLCS, a game in which Machado once again grabbed headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Machado's Los Angeles Dodgers and Yelich's Milwaukee Brewers have played four games in this NLCS, and after three of them, the focus has been on Machado. Not because of his bat or his glove but because of lack of hustle and certain methods on the base paths that weren't exactly on the up and up.

After Game 2, he was criticized for not hustling on a ground ball to shortstop. In something straight out of a public-relations person's nightmare, he defended himself by saying that hustling really isn't his cup of tea. During Game 3, he twice attempted to break up double plays by interfering at second base and was, upon review, busted for it the second time. In extra innings in Game 4, he appeared to intentionally drag his leg across Jesus Aguilar's at first base. That play cleared the benches, got Machado called "dirty" in the Brewers' clubhouse and earned him the reputation of postseason villain.

And so Machado's impending free agency gets to be discussed in a brand new light. There's now more baggage attached to the 26-year-old superstar with a fantastic bat and a stellar glove.

The question is: Will the White Sox, one of many teams that could be mulling a contract offer worth hundreds of millions of dollars, care?

As much as it’s talked about building a perennial contender of the future by developing the on-field skills of their fleet of highly touted prospects, the White Sox brain trust has discussed developing a culture, a way of doing things, to go along with all that talent and all that skill. Unsurprisingly that conversation has focused on the oft-used phrase of “doing things the right way.”

Does what Machado has been doing count as “doing things the right way”? It seems easy to assess that it doesn't. It's far more difficult to determine whether it will end up making a difference or not.

Not hustling is one of Rick Renteria's biggest bugaboos. He sat down multiple players on multiple occasions throughout the 2018 season — starting with Avisail Garcia in a spring training game and including a veteran like Welington Castillo as well as a young star like Tim Anderson — for not running to first base on pop ups and line outs and ground outs. Would Renteria's tune suddenly change if Machado and his preference for not hustling arrived on the South Side in what would surely be the biggest free-agent deal in club history?

Renteria got fired up over the issue at the end of July, when he benched Anderson for not hustling on what the shortstop believed was a line out.

“We tell these guys, don’t assume anything. ... It’s as simple as that, and he understands it. He knows it. We’ve talked about it. He comes out of the box, he doesn’t stand there. But we just reiterated to make sure that you allow the umpires to make the calls and you allow the other clubs to go ahead and ask for reviews. We run.”

But asked about not running out his ground ball in Game 2, Machado shared pretty much the opposite philosophy.

"Obviously I'm not going to change, I'm not the type of player that's going to be 'Johnny Hustle,' and run down the line and slide to first base and … you know, whatever can happen," Machado told The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal. "That's just not my personality, that's not my cup of tea, that's not who I am."

What about Machado's interferences at second base? It was that exact play that sent Anderson into an on-field tiff with umpire Joe West during the second Crosstown series of the season just last month. Javy Baez slid into second base, and Anderson thought Baez did something he shouldn't have, raising his arm to interfere with a double-play turn, that sequence of events ending with Anderson screaming at West on the field. Would Anderson be cool with playing alongside — and potentially vacating his position at shortstop for — an infamous interferer?

And what about being a "dirty player," a villain? The White Sox always seemed fine — heck, they loved it — having one of baseball's greatest irritants in A.J. Pierzynski on the roster. Perhaps no player wore the "villain" title as a badge of honor more than the catcher on the 2005 World Series team. But remember that Pierzynski took the punch, he didn't throw it. Being baseball's version of a "villain" and being a guy who makes dangerous plays that could hurt somebody are two different things.

The point being: Do Machado's actions in this postseason series make him anathema to the "Ricky's boys don't quit" mantra? If the White Sox were to turn a blind eye to the events of this NLCS, would it qualify as a betrayal of their quest to establish a high-effort, high-character culture?

Or do they value that culture so much that they stay away from Machado this offseason?

Here's Rick Hahn from September of last year.

"It’s the culture that Ricky and his coaching staff have been able to create in that clubhouse. I cannot tell you how many various fans have stopped me, or emailed me or mentioned to me that they’ve never been this excited over a 60-win team. Or they’ve never been excited about a team that isn’t going to the playoffs. And I think so much of that is based on how Ricky and the coaches have them playing day in and day out. You see them fighting for 27 outs, you see them prepared every night. Sure, we’re going to get out-manned at portions during this process, but the fight and competitiveness and the style of play is the kind of thing that is going to endure year in and year out. And that is extremely important for us to establish at the big league level for all of us."

Machado's talent would make any team he's a part of more competitive. But for the White Sox, who talk an awful lot about hustling and refusing to quit, perhaps all these postseason shenanigans make it so Machado just isn't their cup of tea.

White Sox Talk Podcast: What it would take for the White Sox to sign Manny Machado

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: What it would take for the White Sox to sign Manny Machado

It might be a long shot for the White Sox to sign free agent Manny Machado, but here on the White Sox Talk Podcast, we like dark horses. Chuck Garfien, Ryan McGuffey and Vinnie Duber discuss what it would take to bring Machado to the South Side. Plus, is he "the" guy the White Sox are targeting this offseason? Will the Rockies listen to trade offers for Nolan Arenado a year before he reaches free agency? Plus, Chuck talks about a cost-controlled, All-Star on a rebuilding team that could be an answer at third base.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: