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"Moneyball" is an American sports culture phenomenon. The movie, starring Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane, has grossed nearly $40 million since its release on Sept. 23 and has non-baseball fans and critics buzzing. Those of us who read Michael Lewis' book years ago have watched with curiosity and amazement as a true story about a baseball team that didn't even make the World Series (gasp!) has captured America's imagination. I joked a few months ago that the screenwriters must have tweaked the ending of the book to one where the A's win the World Series to enhance the story's appeal.
Thanks to the success of the book (published in 2003) and now the movie eight years later, many people use and understand "moneyball" as shorthand for a "do more with less" philosophy espoused by Beane as he built the A's to compete with large-market, big-spending teams like the New York Yankees.
Which brings us to this week. Sure, telling the story about trying to compete against the big-market teams is fun, and Brad Pitt is easy on the eyes. But what if a movie were to be made about how the biggest of the big-market teams struggles to spend its money and win numerous World Series championships? You think you wouldn't want to watch that movie about a "do more with more" philosophy? This faux trailer for "Too Much Moneyball" from the clever folks at Jest.com might change your mind.
The two-minute clip has taken the Internet and baseball blogosphere by storm. It perfectly captures not only the look and feel of "Moneyball" but also the absurdity that makes the Yankees such a universally hated franchise. The Bronx Bombers have tons of money and aren't afraid to spend it on players as they seek to add to their 27 World Series titles. I know there's more to it, of course, but ultimately it is about money. Not that the Red Sox (a $160,257,476 payroll) and Phillies ($172,976,381) aren't any less guilty of spending big in their attempts to secure championships. But the Yankees have been doing it for years and have become synonymous with "too much money."
The Yankees do find ways to spend money on players that other teams can't even dream of. It's not just "cherry-picking top free agents" like Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Jason Giambi. It's not just "overpaying for hometown heroes" like Derek Jeter. What makes the Yankees' unlimited financial resources so frustrating to rivals is that the team can sign a free agent like Carl Pavano to a four-year, $40 million deal and if he is a bust (just thinking about Pavano makes me boo out loud), the Yankees can afford to eat the contract, cut their losses and move on.
Or what about Japanese pitcher Kei Igawa, a perfect example of the Yankees' ability to "post obscene amounts for unproven foreign players" as mentioned in the "Too Much Moneyball" clip. The Yankees paid a $26 million posting fee for Igawa and signed him to a five-year, $20 million deal. He made 13 starts for the Yankees and when it was clear he didn't have the stuff to make it in the big leagues, he was sent down to the minors. He eventually became the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees' all-time leader in wins. A misstep like that would cost most other teams over the long term. For the Yankees, it's a rounding error.
On the day of Game 5 of the ALDS, with the Yankees facing elimination, we wanted to take a moment and laugh at the Yankees along with the rest of the baseball world. I laughed hard when I first saw the video. Pretty much every one of my Yankees fan friends thinks it's hilarious. My entire Facebook feed consisted of shares of the video for most of Wednesday prior to Steve Jobs' passing. We can laugh at ourselves and at our team. I hope we'll be laughing all the way to a 28th World Series championship.
Can money buy championships? Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is no. Stay tuned to see what happens with the 2011 edition of "Too Much Moneyball: The Story of the New York Yankees."