Two of the best sports movies this decade are Moneyball and Creed (I personally rank Creed at #1 and Moneyball #4, with the two Goon movies in between), but their critical acclaim and my personal enjoyment, over and over and over, is where their similarities end. While Moneyball is based on a book by Michael Lewis, and is focused on baseball executives who think outside the box out of necessity, Creed is the seventh installment in a franchise that began in 1976 with Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers.
They only made one Moneyball movie, as there was only one Moneyball book, but there could have been several by now. The Oakland Athletics continue to compete in a system where the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Los Angeles Dodgers can and do spend so much more on their rosters every year. But doing so would add another layer of misery for A’s fans by putting it in theaters.
In 2018, the A’s were the surprise success story of the American League. The Red Sox, Yankees, Houston Astros, and Cleveland Indians were all projected to be superteams before the season, and all made the postseason with ease. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim win the offseason with the signing of Shohei Ohtani out of Japan–the first legitimate two-way player since Babe Ruth a century ago–and the Seattle Mariners competed for a while, but the Athletics, with their combination of athletic defense (a facet of the game famously under-emphasized by Billy Beane in Moneyball), quality lineup, and deep bullpen made them the most complete of the non-projected juggernauts.
The Oakland A’s went 97-65, which was only good enough for the second Wild Card spot in this top-heavy American League. They had six more wins than they Indians, who were able to overcome their early season struggles by beating up on a historically horrific AL Central. But the A’s had the geographic misfortune of sharing a division with the loaded defending champion Astros, so they had to play a single-elimination Wild Card contest on the road against the 100-win Yankees, which they lost by a score of 7-2. If the 2018 season were the inspiration for Moneyball 6, it would end the same way as the first one did. They outperformed expectations, they zagged where others zigged, they were interesting the whole way, but they still have not reached the World Series in the Beane Era.
Maybe the most interesting player in this iteration of the A’s is Kris Davis. Not to be confused with Baltimore’s Chris Davis, Oakland’s Khris with a K Davis is a very good player. In 2018, he was 2.9 WAR, 136 OPS+, and hit 48 home runs. But the most fascinating thing about him is a much more traditional stat than WAR or OPS+. His batting average in 2018 was .247. His batting average in 2017 was .247. His batting average in 2016 was .247. And his batting average in 2015 was (you guessed it) .247. Khris Davis is the only player in the history of Major Legue Baseball to have the same batting average in four consecutive years. A’s manager Bob Melvin pulled him in the final game of the regular season, and when he did, baseball Twitter and the Effectively Wild Facebook group exploded with excitement. Davis showed us that even in over a century of baseball, there can still be new things that have never happened before, and more importantly, that batting average does not tell the whole story, which might be the most Oakland A’s thing to teach us.
I hope someday I can write a spec script for a Moneyball sequel that ends with the A’s winning the World Series, or at least getting there, but it will not be this year. It has to happen eventually, right? With Oakland losing the Raiders soon, and the Warriors departing for San Francisco, the Athletics are the only team committed to the city for the time being. In the world of sports movie narratives, drama, irony, and karma–the spaces where I more naturally operate–that has to count for something, but in the world of data-driven analysis that turned Billy Beane into a Brad Pitt character, those are factors that cannot be entered into a spreadsheet.
While Moneyball subverted the expectations of sports movie narratives, an A’s World Series run would make for a movie that would satisfy emotional and analytical baseball fans alike.