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196: Moneyball with Will Cooper

Moneyball tells the story of sabermetrics and the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season and joining us to separate fact from fiction is attorney Will Cooper, who worked in the A’s clubhouse during the timeline of the movie.

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Note: This transcript is automatically generated. There will be mistakes, so please don’t use them for quotes. It is provided for reference use to find things in the audio more easily.

Dan LeFebvre  01:42

We’ll dig into some of the details of the movie in a moment. But before we do that, if we take a step back and kind of look at the movie overall, how well do you think it did capturing the essence of that 2002 season for the Oakland Athletics?


Will Cooper  01:56

I think at a very high level, it did a good job of capturing what was going on. The overall arc of the story I think was right and accurate. Certainly there are a lot of objective facts in the movie about the 20 game win streak and records of VAs and the payroll compared to other teams, things of that nature, that we’re all accurate. And we’re sort of the core of the movie, as you drill down lower and get more granular and the analysis becomes kind of a mix of accurate and inaccurate. But at a very high level, I do think it did a good job of capturing the essence of the season in most respects,


Dan LeFebvre  02:36

This was a movie made about events you were there for, what were your first thoughts as you were watching?


Will Cooper  02:45

I’ve watched, like most of us hundreds, if not 1000s of movies in my life. And this is the first time there’s ever ever been a movie made and and very well, maybe the last movie ever made where I was on the ground floor for a fair amount of, of what happened and experienced firsthand and knew and knew many of the folks in the movie. So it was really cool. I mean, I’m sure it was much more surreal for the people in the movie that they were actually characters in the show, as opposed to me where I was just an observer. But the book itself. When that first came out, of course before the movie was really exciting to read. And then to see the movie a few years later, was just a lot of fun and certainly stands out as a unique movie. For me, given that the underlying facts I was familiar with.


Dan LeFebvre  03:44

We were talking a little bit before we hit record here, but can you clarify what your role was with the ACE during the season?


Will Cooper  03:51

Absolutely. So I had two roles with the one I was on the clubhouse staff was in the visiting clubhouse. So I did a lot of work for these directly. But then I would also on game day I’d be in the visiting clubhouse where the teams that would come to the Coliseum and PDAs we would take care of them but how staff so pregame meals and laundry and running errands and all of all of the the activities in the clubhouse I was part of the team that helped on that side of thing on the visiting side. And then I would do a lot of activities for the A’s as well. It’s one it’s one group, the home side and the visiting side. It’s all one team. But my my focus on game day would be the visiting side. And then I was on the video editing team. So it was part of the scouting department where I would take a bunch of film edited in all sorts of different ways so that players coaches front office could all review and analyze the film and that and that was one of the main ways that I got to know the folks that were in the movie because in the movie as you see there’s all the video room is consistently a part of the movie. And that was that was that accurate, Billy and his team would be in the in the video room watching the game watching film quite frequently. And so I wasn’t obviously my, my character wasn’t in the movie. But I was in that room and got a lot of exposure by being


Dan LeFebvre  05:18

you alluded to something I wanted to ask about, because in the very beginning of the movie, it actually opens October 15 2001. And we see some footage of the A’s Johnny Damon pitting against Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees. And it says the elimination game of the Al Division Series. And then the movie shows something you mentioned that the payrolls of the two teams like over 114 million for the Yankees, and the A’s payroll is below 40 million. And the Yankees win the game. So they go into the offseason, trying to figure out how they’re going to compete against these big payrolls. Can you give a little more context around what things were like for the A’s at the end of the 2001 season? Going in the offseason?


Will Cooper  06:01

Absolutely. So obviously a huge disappointment. Nothing unique to the ACE, anytime you have a really good team, and you gear up for the postseason and lose. It’s disappointing, especially when you when you lose in a close series. And then we lost some of our big, our big key players. Gianni being of course the main the main one. So there was curiosity at the time. Okay, how are we going to replace Gianni? What are we going to do about that? One thing that that was big at the time, that wasn’t a part of the move. The theme of the movie was that we had a really, really good team, a really deep team, notwithstanding losing Giambi, and Damon and isringhausen. So our three or three young starting pitchers, Hudson, moulders, Ito, all of whom were drafted by the A’s and brought up through this organization with over three of the best pitchers in baseball and to have three of them. Like that was incredibly valuable. So nobody was expecting the A’s to tank and win 60 games. But there certainly was some concern about what we’re going to do to to what the A’s were going to do to make up for the fact that they they were losing primarily Giambi, as the as the who’s really the face of the team that at that point in a real leader, one of the reasons I use the word curiosity is because it wasn’t until Moneyball the book came out, which was of course about this season, so So a year or two later, that all the sabermetrics that the A’s were using to create their team and and all of the things that the book in the movie talked about, that wasn’t really out there and recognized until the book came out. And then it really caught on. Certainly people that were very knowledgeable about baseball, knew what was going on and people that were following the A’s closely. And Bill James was a known a known figure in the sport. But at the time of the book in the movie, The sabermetrics stuff was a lot less prominent than after the book came out. And that’s when the revolution sort of became more and more public. Okay, well,


Dan LeFebvre  08:27

that sort that kind of process starts to get introduced in the movie, it shows a Billy Beane is negotiating trade in Cleveland, and he notices that the deal is disrupted when one of the guys who kind of whisper something to somebody else and later on, Billy tracks him down and find out his name is Peter brand. He’s an analyst all about the numbers. And before long, Billy ends up hiring Peter to work for him in Oakland, how will this the movie do showing how Billy Beane met this character Peter Brant so I


Will Cooper  08:57

don’t know I wasn’t I don’t have first hand knowledge of exactly how Billy identified Paul and what their one on one conversations were like at that at that time. But one thing I learned one lesson I learned generally about movies is you have to Hollywood it up. You have to have a story and drama. And real life is sometimes a lot more boring and sort of slow moving that even really fascinating areas of life like baseball in front office’s. I think it’s really unlikely that the meeting in Cleveland, where where Peter brand who in the movies, Peter brand, but his characters Paul de Pedesta in real life Billy’s assistant, I don’t think Paul whispered in someone’s ear and Billy saw it and then walked through his cube. That was great theater. But what was going on at the time was the people that were that bit excuse me, Billy, and a number of other people in baseball, you know, people actually running the teams. Were aware of the sabermetrics revolution that was going on Again, Bill James had been doing it for years. It was growing, it was still a minority of teams that were thinking that way. But the people really at the heart of baseball understood what was going on. And so it wasn’t like Paul had some secret that Billy had never heard of. And Billy said, Wow, you have some secret, you know, come to the A’s. I think what what the most likely scenario was Billy was well aware of sabermetrics. And he identified Paul as somebody with very high IQ, very strong, analytical thinker, well versed in sabermetrics, and had been in the game for a few years already, and said, Why don’t you come to Oakland so we can implement this philosophy? So it’s still a cool story to me. But but not the not quite the the drama of that scene in Cleveland? I think that’s unlikely to but


Dan LeFebvre  10:59

it’s a movie if they have to make it fun to watch. And sometimes meetings aren’t always fun to watch.


Will Cooper  11:06

Exactly. Yeah. And that takes me back to when I first heard the movie was coming. I was like, wow, how are they going to make a movie out of this? I mean, because it really is guys sitting around and chairs, you know, on the phone and watching games. And I thought that I really liked the movie, setting aside the extent to which it was accurate or not, I really liked it. And and I think the people that wrote the movie and produced it did a good job of using drama to kind of fill in, fill in the blanks, and what otherwise been, would have been somewhat of a boring, boring narrative. And that’s a good example.


Dan LeFebvre  11:42

It’s meetings about numbers. Yeah. That sounds like a real fascinating thing to watch.


Will Cooper  11:52

Yeah, I know. And they I, the people that made the movie are very talented, because it was a really good movie. And using that raw material, to create a really good movie takes a lot of talent.


Dan LeFebvre  12:06

Yeah, well, speaking of the numbers, the way that the movie shows, or kind of explains this is that baseball has historically used a lot of different factors to find their players. And a lot of them are overlooked for a variety of reasons. Scouts think that, you know, different players have flaws and things. But then I mentioned, Bill James, that you talked about saying that he kind of cut through all of those intangible things to focus on the numbers that using math to build up the team. And according to the movie, it mentions, basically boiling all the numbers down all the stats that they track, boiling it all down to a single number. The on base percentages is what the movie mentions. Did the movie do a good job explaining sabermetrics and the method of using mathematics to analyze the players?


Will Cooper  12:55

I think the movie did an incredibly good job of, of taking sabermetrics and making it into something that a movie could focus on, which again, was a huge, huge task, and I think they did it. They pulled it off. In terms of actually being accurate. I don’t think I don’t think that it was sabermetrics is it I’m not. I’m not steeped in sabermetrics myself. But I know enough to know that it’s a real science, very, very intelligent people from PhDs from Berkeley, MIT, dedicate their entire professional lives, just crunching these numbers and building out spreadsheets. And so it’s a really it’s a real science really complicated deep science. And on base percentage, definitely is an example. One example, among others, of a stat that Bill James in the sabermetrics community identified as being underappreciated. And it makes sense when you think about it, right? If you get a base hit, and you and you in line drive to center and you go to first base, that’s exciting. But if you get a walk, you’re still on first base, it’s the same thing. And oftentimes, that hit was on the first pitch, whereas a walk would have been six pitches, and the attrition with the pitcher, you know, in the aggregate as all of your your players get their at bats, the additional pitchers can really matter. So having a good eye and getting a walk and having a high on base percentage is really important. And it is definitely something that the old school crowd didn’t appreciate. They they actually thought batting average because that’s that’s showing your skill that showing that you can take the bat hit the ball with it was more important. So no, it’s not the case that all sabermetrics boils down to on base. I think there’s a lot of have different factors that go in a lot of different stats that are looked at. And I think the true experts look at the totality of any player in context and look at all the various stats giving appropriate weight to, to each category. But on base was one of the main, the main ones, and one of the more prominent ones earlier where it was really easy to explain why this is important and why it was often overlooked. You


Dan LeFebvre  15:26

talked about something that certainly shows up in the movie, and that is that some of the older scouts the you know, the kind of the more traditional scouts, they don’t like this idea of just looking at the on base percentages, as the movie points out, you know, this guy has problems off the field, he’s this guy is too old, he can’t you know, this guy can’t play defense. I think there’s even a scene in there where Billy’s like, I don’t care if you can play in the field. I don’t care what position he plays, he can get on base. That’s all that matters. So the impression I got was that there was a lot of push back to this idea of sabermetrics and using math to drive which players to sign, is that true?


Will Cooper  16:07

Yes, yes. And the movie, the movie dramatize Is it a fair amount, particularly I think, with art Howe and and and Grady fusion, where there’s like very overt, excessive tension between them and Billy. And I think that I don’t think it was, from everything I saw and all the emphasis I could draw from the people involved that don’t think it was like that the movie made a caricature of it, but but there was undoubtedly real tension, intellectual tension at all times, and I think some sometimes it would become interpersonal tension. But intellectually, yes, the scouts were overwhelmingly wedded to old school style of analysis, where you watch baseball, you watch hundreds of games a year, you’ve been doing it your whole life, you can spot talent, every Scout that’s been doing it for a while, does have some successes, and they, they weigh those successes very heavily in their, their own self analysis. And, and that that was a really core feature of, of the culture of baseball. And that’s what made that’s what really makes this a story is that and by a story, I mean, that the the story of Moneyball the book and the movie and the revolution, and I think it’s a fair word to use that to work, the word revolution is that baseball really was filled with sort of this insulated universe, not subjected to typical market forces. You know, if a team’s not doing very well, it’s not going bankrupt, it’s still going to be there. This the SOS insult insular world, this sort of club of old school, thinking, and what Billy and the A’s did, and some others too, but I think Billy, and he is deserved to be considered the leaders here is take science and rationality and objectivity. And just bring it into that universe in a very forceful way. And that did create tension.


Dan LeFebvre  18:19

Okay, yeah. The you mentioned Grady fusion in the movie, the impression that I got kind of walking away from it was this concept of, it’s Billy and Pete Brandon movie, at least, it’s those two against everybody else. And no matter what Billy is all in, we’re doing this, you know, it’s you and me against the world kind of atmosphere. Was that the atmosphere that was going on in the front office thing?


Will Cooper  18:43

My sense is it was it was a lot more collegial than the movie would portray. I think there were there was tension. And I think the tension boiled over at times. But in general, I think I mean, if the movie really portrays, for example, Billy, and art has been just really disliking each other Billy, a walk in the room and art will, you know, look down in anger, and art will will refuse to do the things Billy says, and these guys were all professional, good people. So I don’t think it was I’m obviously not privy to all of the things that went on behind closed doors between people, but I don’t think it was like that. But I think there was tension I do. And I do think Billy and Paul and their team, I think they understood this new way of thinking they’d fully internalize that they recognize that it was that it was the right way to think about it, that it did give a real advantage to the A’s and in some ways, a lot of it was driven by the A’s salary cap restrictions, right. There could be a player that the A’s thought, you know, Billy and his team thought was the best player in the in the league from a sabermetrics standpoint. And that same person might happen to be six five to 30 and hit 40 500 rounds a year. So you know that they would love to have been able to have that person, they just couldn’t afford them. So a lot of it was driven by the payroll. But my sense was, yes, there was tension. And it took time for other people in the organization to actually internalize and understand this philosophy. And so if you’re Grady fusion, or are how you’ve been in baseball for 35 years already, and you’re successful, and you’re a manager, and you’re the head of scouting, and you’ve got World Series rings on your fingers, you’re going to have strong views about how to go about things. And your strong views will have decades of reinforcement, right? That that they’re that they’re correct. And then these these new people, one of them’s 24 year old, who never played pro pro baseball, and Paul Artel are saying, You know what, you’re wrong. This is the better way, there’s going to be tension. And it just takes time for people to understand how this process works. And some people, some old school baseball players, I don’t think we’ll ever will ever get there. Now. Fast forward now. 20 years later, and I think it’s ubiquitous throughout baseball that sabermetrics is a key consideration. I think, probably every team has Sabre nutritions in the front office. And I think, I don’t know, but I would guess a strong majority have a solid core team of people doing sabermetrics. And it’s a guiding part of their philosophy. So it happened, but it took time in the really early stages, even within the organization, you were going to have lots of people who just didn’t understand what was going on. That


Dan LeFebvre  21:44

makes perfect sense. And the character that you mentioned, they are how the way that the movie portrays it, it shows that after art refuses to play, Scott hatteberg When he signs signs him, refuses to play him and instead plays Carlos Pena, then Billy Beane, ends up trading Carlos so that the manager can play him. So you know, I got, I could certainly see how that that could be using that tension, as you know, as a plot point in the movie in order to get that there. But as far as reality, we know of course, from from history, if you’re a baseball fan, then Carlos Pena did play for the A’s and he did get he did get traded. But how much of what I guess the sabermetric aspect of that. Between Carlos Pena and Scott hatteberg. Do you know how much of that played into what really happened versus what we saw in the movie?


Will Cooper  22:38

Yeah, I don’t I don’t I think even in the movie, you see that a lot of this is conversations between Billy and art how? One on one. So I don’t want to I don’t want to suggest that I that I have a great window into how this played out. But what I think my sense is, first of all, and this is important for context, probably the biggest distortion in the movie, in my view, among others that are close in terms of being big distortion. Bart Howell was a really friendly, positive, nice person. His demeanor was cheerful and optimistic. I didn’t know him incredibly well. So he may have had a dark side I wasn’t aware of but I doubt it. And the movie portrays him as this just really surly angry person. And the movie also portrays him as somebody who tells Billy what to do. You know, I’m not going to start Hattiesburg, I’m going to start paying you. You know, Billy is the boss, right? Billy was the boss. I doubt there was that level of insubordination? From what I saw, it was not that way, at all. I think. So I think the movie dramatize that some but what the movie did was take this underlying tension between people that believed in sabermetrics and those who didn’t, in one way that was within the Oakland A’s organization, but it was also broader. It was within between different teams. There were different teams with different philosophies. And there, there’s, you know, arguments between the A’s and other other teams about who, whose approach was better. There was a lot of tension throughout baseball, what Moneyball did was take the tension that was in Oakland, and dramatize it in fairly elaborate and creative ways to to make a movie out of it. I would be very surprised if it’s actually it was actually true that art how refused to do what Billy wanted. And as a result, Billy had to trade a player in order to get his guy to start. That’s strikes me as very unlikely. More likely, there was just general differences in how people were looking at, on base percentage how people were looking at You know how important defense was walks versus average. And the movie was just traumatizing.


Dan LeFebvre  25:07

A little bit of a comedic aspect that as I was watching the movie you don’t really see this in the public but he went in that trade with with Pena barely works in that the Tigers, the Detroit Tigers are going to stock the a soda machine for three years. Is that Is that something that ever gets thrown into trains, things like that.


Will Cooper  25:26

As a member of the clubhouse staff I can I can speak definitively about soda and tell you that that is not true. The A’s did not charge for soda.


Dan LeFebvre  25:37

See David justice putting that was pure


Will Cooper  25:41

that was not even drama theorization of a negative of reality that that was full fledged Hollywood. Vas payroll was very low, but every player was allowed to drink as many cokes as they wanted for free. I can attest to that with first hand knowledge.


Dan LeFebvre  26:00

Yeah, I thought that was that was funny that they kind of threw that into, I’m sure to just exaggerate that that payroll difference. And yeah, in the movie in the beginning of the 2002 season, things start off really rough. And it only exacerbates this tension. It’s going on we there’s a scene I think we hear on the radio, there’s some talk show, there’s kind of explaining that what they’re doing is, you know, it’s called Moneyball and based on a book by Bill James, and they’re kind of explaining some of this, but then it says that the A’s lost 14 out of 17 games, and they’re really part of the season. So apparently, this isn’t really working. How well did the movie do showing how the 2002 season began?


Will Cooper  26:38

Well certainly did a good job of showing that the IRS got off to a slow start. And there were some challenges. From my perspective, though, going back to what I mentioned earlier on, I think the prominence of Moneyball. And sabermetrics really arose after the book. And so this, the public conversation was less focused on Moneyball, during the time the book was being written. And the time the events of the book were taking place, then after, so that wasn’t, that wasn’t a huge part of the conversation at the time. Now, of course, it makes sense that the movie would suggest that it was to have sort of a coherent narrative about what was going on. But it was really it was really later on. And it was probably, you know, a year or two years after Moneyball was written and published, that that debate, you know, reached, its, its sort of zenith in terms in terms of caring about it, and the emotion that, particularly the critics of Moneyball philosophy, were expressing their views. So it did. So the movie did a good job of portraying the slow start, but to me, the emphasis was a little bit inaccurate.


Dan LeFebvre  27:54

Okay. And then after the after the star kind of they made a point at that. All Star break, you know, in July, the first half of the season, their goal was to be within seven games of first place. Was that kind of what the target was, for the first half of the season?


Will Cooper  28:14

I could see that. I mean, my my guess would be that the thinking and then Paul wasn’t is very good with numbers and very analytical. And so my guess would, is that he would have said something along the lines of You know, as long as we’re within seven games of first place, we still have a strong probability of making the playoffs or something like that, as opposed to, we want to be within seven capture, you know, that the A’s would want to be, you know, ahead in first place, if they were gonna choose to choose their goal, and they were certainly capable of achieving that. And I think they knew that they were capable of achieving that before the season started. So that that would be my guess I don’t I doubt that was that was posted on the wall as the wall.


Dan LeFebvre  28:57

And in the movie it it shows Billy Beane going around, there’s a montage of a Brad Pitt version of Billy going around and motivating the players to get them on board and have patients at the plates get on base to get on base. We win. And it seems to work, the A start winning and even win 20 games in a row setting the American League record. How well did the movie do showing this turnaround


Will Cooper  29:21

in the season? Well, the turnaround was great. And certainly I thought I think the movie captured the enthusiasm in a nice way. The trade up Jeremy GRB at the time was a really pivotal moment. And it was a surprise because Jeremy Giambi, his numbers were really good. And he did fit the mold, high on base. Not as good on the defensive side of the ball, which at the time, you know, was part of the model. So that was a surprise and then maybe came in and it really did change the trajectory of the season. Now probably a lot of that could have been quite to dental, the timing. And then the A’s really took off now, in my opinion, and I think, the Moneyball you know, the folks that the Sabre nutritions and the people that believe in Moneyball, my senses would agree with me. A lot of what was happening, that season was less VAs changing, was less people being motivated in a new way, and was more about a sample size, just growing and reaching a higher number such that the accurate sort of inherent potential of the team was showing, you know, over a small sample size, you can have a poor record, but be a really good team. And then as your sample size grows, typically, the inherent sort of intrinsic performance, you would expect starts to reveal itself. And to me, a lot of what was happening was reversion to the mean, and just the A’s performance, taking shape in the way that that a larger sample size, you know, was was bringing out now the movie showed scenes of Billy going around motivating people and talking about taking pitches and, you know, dry walks. I don’t know if there was a lot of that going on. But what I do know is the his philosophy. And Billy and, and his team, David forrest and Dan Feinstein, the folks that are currently running, running the organization and all the folks that have been at the A’s, the last 30 years even deserve a ton of credit for having a philosophy that permeates not just the big leagues, but the minor leagues as well. So when players enter the system, they are taught, you know, these philosophies about patients at the play. Now a lot of the players that come into the system already have an orientation in that direction. That’s why they pick them. But emphasizing the right things, including patients at the play. It’s not something where Billy just walked in and middle of season started talking about it in that everybody started doing it. It’s something that the foundation was being laid for many years. And the A’s should really, to me should get a lot of credit for that player development side of the equation. They’re not just plucking out people with statistics from other teams, that other people are recognizing and making trades. They are doing that. But but another big thing they’re doing is just having an organizational philosophy that emphasizes the right things.


Dan LeFebvre  32:34

Yeah, as I was watching and watching Billy go around and motivating everybody himself. I’m not saying that he didn’t doesn’t motivate people. But like, there’s, there’s not really any coaches doing any of this or, you know, I would expect that it’d be more of a team effort.


Will Cooper  32:49

Yeah, there’s a lot more interaction between art how and his staff and the players in that way, then, really,


Dan LeFebvre  32:56

during that winning streak, what was the atmosphere like in the clubhouse,


Will Cooper  33:01

it was absolutely phenomenal and hard to think of more enjoyable place to be than a big league clubhouse when your team is white hot. I mean, it was awesome for everybody, even even the folks like me, who were, you know, filling up soda cans with Pepsi, as opposed to hitting the baseball and it was just a lot of fun. And the movie dramatizes it. Some, but the A’s did have a boisterous clubhouse. The A’s did play loud music, sometimes probably when they shouldn’t have is did a bunch of young millionaires, you know, running around. So there was partying going on. And there was there was an atmosphere, again dramatized in the movie, but not coming out of nowhere. So what during the win streak not only there was just a lot of euphoria from how the team was performing, but a team that already had a personality that was, you know, happy and, and, and not having to be prodded into into partying.


Dan LeFebvre  34:06

I know there’s a lot of superstition in baseball, I know during the the streak. Nobody would I’m sure nobody would ever talk about the record. Is that something that it has to be on on people’s mind if you start to get close? I mean, it has to has to be something that gets talked about.


Will Cooper  34:23

Yeah, it’s one of the fun things about baseball is you know, the superstitions are real. People take them seriously. You don’t talk to the pitcher about the no hitter in the in the eighth inning. So, so yeah, it was it was a part of it. And one of the things that the movie doesn’t touch on much. And obviously this is not the fault of the movie, a movie is only going to be able to capture so much and the narrative is only going to be a sliver of what actually happened but the angels were really good that year. And they were winning a ton too and they won the World Series not long after and a lot of the 20 game win streak was okay, we won. The angels won Again, you know, how do we get a more comfortable lead from these guys because they were they’re a really good team. So that was a big part of the ultimate reality. It didn’t need to be in the movie it didn’t really fit the narrative but that but that in but on the ground at the time that was a big part of what was happening


Dan LeFebvre  35:16

is some of the superstition at the movie shows with with Billy is he doesn’t he doesn’t like to be at the stadium when there’s a game during this strict movie shows he’s driving, listening to it on the radio and the A’s are up like 11 to nothing early. So he’s like, you get the impression. He’s like, okay, it’s it’s safe, you know, go to the stadium. And just as he does, they’re playing the Royals, they start mounting their comeback and they end up tying the game and it’s only on like this pinch hit homerun from Scott Hedberg with the A’s end up winning the game. And that gives them the ale record for the 20th when How well did the movie do showing that actual that last game in the in the winning streak.


Will Cooper  35:55

I actually I don’t know the specifics of what Billy did during that game. But the movie did a pretty good job of making it entertaining. To follow somebody game watching habits, which is a testament to the movie producers that they were they were able to make make drama out of that, which the truth is, at least back then, Billy did it was true. And this is all public, you know that Billy, Billy didn’t sit there and watch the games every time and, and would would sometimes be driving or while you’re watching something else or in the weight room. And not not sitting there watching the game, which you kind of assumed that GM would do. But that is true that he that he did not sit and watch the game and he’s been open, you know, open about that. And it is it is in fact true. And it’s a quirk of its you know, I think it says a couple of things. One thing it says is that, you know, he really, really cares about the A’s and who wins the new losses and who loses and it’s just easier for him to, to not sit there and have to watch it because because it you know he’s so committed to the team and their success. And then it also to me at least it’s sort of harmonious with the philosophy that a lot of the things you see with your eye and and think are important in baseball that watching you know, the the sweet swing or the confident stride, the player whatever, are actually irrelevant. And if you have and even misleading to the extent they’re relevant, they mislead the people’s perception. And as long as you have a command of have the right data and write facts, you’ve got what you need. And and I’m over simplifying it. But I just think it’s an i It kind of it’s a nice way to think about that as as that sort of interaction between Billy’s game watching and the overall philosophy of vas.


Dan LeFebvre  37:52

I’m assuming then that he was that way he now was hit kind of his game watching habit, even prior to this season, because part of the impression that I got from the movie was because he’s trying this new thing. It’s just so nerve wracking to watch.


Will Cooper  38:07

No, I think I think it was his his approach generally. And that touches on the movie, in a way that makes tons of sense for a movie portrays at much more as we’re trying this big new thing. That’s a totally different situation. And we’re gonna see how this big new thing plays out. There was a lot more continuity over a number of years. You know, Billy was reading Bill James before he was GM when Sandy Alderson was the GM. He was getting more and more familiar with sabermetrics. Paul came on board that train was already moving. To some extent, I think Paul accelerated it and brought a lot of firepower to it. And it’s also the case that that while again, Giambi, Damon and Israel housing left, there was a lot of continuity on the roster as well. So it wasn’t like the season before was one universe and then this season was some transformative new thing. This was, again, the is doubling down on what they were already doing with this philosophy.


Dan LeFebvre  39:17

Okay, that makes sense. And the movies do that a lot. They change the timeline around and you know, okay, that makes sense. They have it all happen in season,


Will Cooper  39:23

for example. What I just described is not is not a movie, you know, they had to do it. But that that my sense is that there was a lot this was much more of a snapshot of something that was ongoing then then a huge change.


Dan LeFebvre  39:43

Towards the end of the movie, if we do talk about the 2002 season that it’s focusing on, there’s not a lot of time between the 20 game winning streak and then we see the A’s playing the alts elimination game against the twins and the twins end up beating the A’s. So their season’s over the hope at a championship is gone. Can you feel a little more context around how the 2002 season came to an end for the ace?


Will Cooper  40:12

Yeah, I mean, the movie did a good job actually capturing and though it was kind of abrupt in that way, but that was, that was reality. I mean, we had this incredible season. You know, I’ve been a diehard ace fan my whole life, so it was painful still to talk about it, it always will be. But to have such a cool situation where people where you’re, you’re, you’re the underdog, you know, your, your, your David, you’re slaying Goliath, you know, for 162 games, to be setting records and leading the league and wins. And then to have it, you know, then you march into the postseason, and four games later, your season’s over. It’s very, very painful, and more much more painful, of course, for for the people that were directly involved in building the team and the players. But it was a fan and a part of the organization, very painful, and the movie captured it and, and it goes to the movie doesn’t get into this much. Because because this is not a movie. Subject matter for a movie. It’s not something that resonates with people, while they’re, you know, eating popcorn and drinking, you know, gallons of coke, but the sample size point that I made a little while ago, about over time, but with a bigger sample size, your intrinsic performance is, you know, comes true, but over smaller sample sizes, anything can happen. The as the first half of that season, we’re not as bad as the first third of the season. We’re nowhere near as bad. As the record suggested. Of course, during the 20 game win streak, they weren’t that good. So even in 2030 4050 games, sample sizes you don’t get you don’t get an accurate, accurate reflection. By the time you get to 162 games. There’s a lot of signal and a lot less noise. But then you start over again, and all of a sudden, it’s a five game series, right? And again, anything can happen. And it’s it’s a it’s a nice point that here we are talking in 2021 about this phenomenon. Look who just won the World Series, the Atlanta Braves. Atlanta Braves won 88 games, the A’s 186 This year, their best pitcher Chris Bassett didn’t get hurt the A’s win two more games, they have the same number of wins as the world series champion. The giants in the Dodgers both won 107 games, neither one of them even even had gotten to the World Series, let alone winning the team that won at 120 fewer games. And so it just shows how the playoffs really is a crapshoot. Because you get nowhere near the sample size, you need to have your intrinsic performance actually be reflected in the result, your intrinsic strength reflected in the results. And it sounds like an excuse to an awful lot of people. And maybe I’m drinking the Kool Aid as an ace fan. But I really believe that and while the movie, of course isn’t going to talk, you’re not going to sample sizes is not riveting, but but it did. I think it did do a good job of capturing the disappointment of losing quickly in such a short series.


Dan LeFebvre  43:39

And I could see how that would be something that would almost speak against using sabermetrics if if you need this bigger sample size, but yeah, when it comes to the playoffs, how many years in the playoffs are you going to have to have in your teams are going to all be different before you can start to build up the sample size because there’s not that many games.


Will Cooper  43:57

It wouldn’t it wouldn’t weigh against using sabermetrics because you can’t change the fact that the playoffs are a small sample size. So two points number one you need to get in the playoffs, you need to get in over the 162 games. So you should always maximize the probability you’re going to get in. And sabermetrics is helps helps all teams do that irrespective of their payroll. sabermetrics is just another way of saying being smarter about baseball and more scientific. That’s that’s all it is, is using additional tools to analyze your team and build your team. And then once you’re in the playoffs, you wouldn’t discard sabermetrics as a tool, you would still want your team to be the best it could be, you just need to recognize there’s eight other teams in the playoffs. So your best probability is going to be below 20%, no matter who you are. But if you have a good team rooted and sabermetrics, maybe your your probability of winning is 19% instead of 18. So you still want to maximize your probability. You just have to recognize that because of the same Sighs it’s going to be, it’s going to be difficult to the odds are going to be stacked against you, no matter who you are just like the Dodgers in the Giants this year, two historic teams top 20 all times and wins both of them. And, and they were quick, quick to get out of the playoffs. And then and then the champion at eight games. And they were missing their best player.


Dan LeFebvre  45:22

I can Yeah, no kidding. Yeah, they’ve put on a good series, though they did put on good series.


Will Cooper  45:27

They did. And I’m not taking anything away from from the Braves. They deserve it. But it’s just a it’s just a really powerful example of what the movie showed in a movie way by you know, where the is lost in the twins, just how a quick series can be real, real devastating and not feel like the result it should be in front of losing it.


Dan LeFebvre  45:49

While at the very end of the movie, it kind of goes back to something I mentioned the very beginning the the payroll, and I mentioned that the A’s in 2002 had the same number of wins as the Yankees, but the Yankees paid $1.4 million per win on their payroll, whereas the A’s pay $260,000 per win. And then we see at the very end, we see Billy Beane touring Fenway Park with the Red Sox owner, John Henry. And we find out that the Red Sox have hired Bill James and they make an offer to Billy to become the highest paid GM in the history of sports. But ultimately, he decides to turn that offer down and stay in Oakland, something the movie very heavily implies has something to do with his family. And then I think there’s some text at the very end dimensions using that philosophy. The Red Sox won their first World Series since 1980, a couple years later. So how well did this movie do showing kind of the aftermath of that season and how things kind of all wrapped up?


Will Cooper  46:48

So the movie did, I think a pretty good job of showing what happened at the end. It is the case that Billy got an offer from the Red Sox. And when went to Boston, it was a very, very strong offer. Ticket Buddha made them the highest Jim Highest Paid gm of all time. The Red Sox were one of the I mentioned earlier how there were there was a growing pocket within baseball of people recognizing sabermetrics as a really valuable tool for analyzing players and building your team and the Red Sox. Were very much a part of that, that pocket and recognize the value and recognize Billy’s success in implementing the philosophy on the field. And then it’s, you know, I absolutely believe that, you know, Theo Epstein came when Billy didn’t take the job. And then Theo Epstein came. I do strongly believe they were implementing the A’s philosophies, the philosophies, the A’s, were using crunching lots of numbers, and they were able to unlike what, what happened at Oakland, they’re able to put a lot of money behind that. And, you know, the results were incredible for Boston. Now, it the simple narrative is, well, they had a bunch of money, they implemented the philosophy and then they won World Series. But the more nuanced, and I think more accurate way to think about it touches back on the playoffs, the sample size in the playoffs that the Red Sox use the philosophy to get in the playoffs, but the ACE had already done that is already established, they could do that year in and year out. The cookie crumbled the Red Sox way, in the postseason, under Epstein a few times and crumbled. The other way for the A’s. I’m a bitter ace fan, so maybe I’m rationalizing but I do, I do believe that that’s what happened. And I think that his teams that were winning 105 games were just as good as, as the Red Sox teams. You know that that being said the movie was right. That Boston recognized what Billy was doing, wanted him to come and then implemented that philosophy to great success in the subsequent years.


Dan LeFebvre  49:08

Okay, yeah, and always helps to have a bigger budget behind it as s usually.


Will Cooper  49:15

Does. There’s no question about it. Yep, there are a lot of got a lot of players that are very strong Sabre metrically are also traditionally very strong, right? Our pool hosts six five to 40 4500 rounds a year 145 Avios. He also happens to walk a ton you know, so you get the same player can be really really highly regarded in both schools of thought. And in that instance, you know, the money will flow to that player so a lot of guys he is really liked for different reasons, and then other teams might like them to some extent, back in you know, this is back Now, just about every well, it’s much more the case now that people are all looking at the same sheet of music and singing the same song. So you don’t see that as much now, but back in the day, there were there were a lot of examples that so the Red Sox would be able to, they were they were really smart, they’d get sort of Kevin Youkilis, and the guys who traditionalists might not recognize, and then they would also be able to go out and pay for Manny Ramirez, who everybody, no matter what your school of thought was recognized as incredibly valuable.


Dan LeFebvre  50:29

Yeah, I think they even mentioned Equalists. Because his his, his batting stance, some of the old the older scouts, you know, the kind of more traditional scouts were not a fan of him for that reason. And that they use that as an example in the movie, I think,


Will Cooper  50:44

the great when that when the when there’s when there’s works right on the on the player, it creates an opportunity for people to discount that player in a way where if you recognize the work doesn’t actually matter, or if it doesn’t matter, it matters a lot less than people do. Creates a ton of opportunity and get Kevin, you puts a great example of that, just like Matt stairs was and Chad Bradford and Scott had a bird. Yeah.


Dan LeFebvre  51:13

Well, as somebody who knows, was there for a lot of the events that we saw in the movie. What’s something that somebody who watched the movie that you that you wish they knew that didn’t make it into the movie for whatever reason?


Will Cooper  51:27

I think if there was something that I would want people that only know about the A’s through Moneyball to, to recognize it, the only thing you know about the A’s is the movie, I don’t think you appreciate like, how this was something that this revolution in baseball, where objectivity, rationality, slowly gained more and more market share, and eventually took over was something that that that lasted decades. And it started that started many years before the movie. And it continued on many years after the movie. And I think now it’s common. If you’re watching a game on ESPN, you see on base percentage, right there, you see, you know, oh, PS on base plus slugging right there. So it’s really, it’s really integrated itself into the game, and into the ethos of everybody just about. And it was an evolution that started long ago, and only recently, I think, really has fully settled in. And there’s probably even more, I would suspect, there’s even more room for progress. But it’s pretty ubiquitous at this point. So that that would be something that I would want people to to be aware of about the overall story of VAs and Moneyball, the way the A’s deserve credit. And they deserve a lot of credit, is being the first team to go all in, which takes a lot of a lot of confidence, a lot of willing, a lot of willingness to go out on a limb. Because even if you even if you make all the right decisions, you know, the results could be could be negative, right. And so these deserve a lot of credit for innovating for sure and accelerating the understanding. But to go all in and implement it and be successful, was a huge accomplishment and the catalyst for really accelerating the evolution in the game.


Dan LeFebvre  53:37

Okay, and that makes perfect sense with what you were saying earlier about how you need that bigger sample size. So somebody has to be the first to essentially dedicate an entire season if this is going to work or not.


Will Cooper  53:48

Yeah, that’s a great, that’s a great point. Agreed.


Dan LeFebvre  53:52

Well, thank you so much for coming on to chat about Moneyball. I’ve had a ton of fun.


Will Cooper  53:58

Absolutely. It’s been great and getting to reminisce about about this has been has been a ton of fun for me as well. So thank you, Dan. I really appreciate you having me on.



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