Moore: How Wall Street strangled the life out of sabermetrics

From Jack Moore at Vice Sports on October 22, 2014, with mention of SABR members Bill James and Pete Palmer:

Baseball is getting awfully weird. Recently departed Rays executive Andrew Friedman wrote a letter thanking the fans—”some of the most passionate and well-informed fans in all of baseball,”—to team blog DRaysBay. Former Red Sox executive Theo Epstein’s appearance at a Chicago Starbucks caused a two-week media stir. Brad Pitt appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated not for his portrayal of an athlete, but rather his role as baseball’s most mythologized general manager. It would appear that Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,” has a new application. A baseball team, it could be said, is the lengthened shadow of one man: the executive.

Baseball teams have a long history of lionizing their patriarchs, dating back to John McGraw and Connie Mack in the early 1900s and extending through Sparky Anderson and Earl Weaver as the league grew in the 1960s and 1970s. McGraw’s Giants, Mack’s Athletics, Anderson’s Reds, and Weaver’s Orioles were all the lengthened shadows of their respective managers. The managers were the deciders, the men who called the shots, and for this reason it was upon their shoulders that the glory of victory or the agony of defeat would ultimately rest. Such a viewpoint was perfectly suited to the business world.

The authors of The American Business Creed, a 1956 sociological examination of the symbolism of businessmen, cite responses to a survey asking the purpose of the business executive: “Benjamin Fairless of United States Steel considered himself a playing manager, while A. S. Igleheart of General Foods Corporation preferred to manage from the dugout.”

The release of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball in 2003 marked the introduction of the hero GM to the public. However, the patriarch’s shift from the dugout to the front office can be traced back to 1965 and the institution of the amateur draft. The Philadelphia Phillies, then and now an organization built on scouting, decried “the amateur draft and its socialistic tendencies” in their 1981 organizational handbook. Scouting Director Paul Owens told Kevin Kerrane, author of Dollar Sign on the Muscle, “It’s part of a push to equalize talent from team to team… The draft rewards mediocrity. It stifles initiative in scouting… The best thing I can say about the draft is that it’s a bad way of keeping a ceiling on bonuses.”

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Originally published: October 22, 2014. Last Updated: October 22, 2014.