Occupy Oakland Athletics

I’ll admit it, I’m part of the one percent: I didn’t love Moneyball.

The film (for those of you who haven’t seen it) is ultimately a contrived feel-good story about a team that lost in the playoffs. Billy Beane, GM for the Oakland Athletics, compiles an economically responsible roster of low profile players that prove they can be just as good as a team packed with big salary guys. The story itself is mildly inspiring – my reasons for disliking it lie mostly with Jonah Hill, musical anachronisms and a distracting father-daughter motif.

Regardless, I enjoyed the story between the Blind Side-esque B.S. The movie addresses the financial disparity plaguing Major League Baseball, which mirrors that of the U.S. economy. Both are notably divided between rich and poor, and in both, the rich typically prevail while the poor are left to pick up the scraps. I’ve been immersed in the Occupy Syracuse movement recently and couldn’t help but notice similarities between their struggles and those of Billy Beane.

MoneyballMoneyball decries New York Yankee baseball for the same reason Occupy decries big banks, big corporations and big paychecks: because they think it’s unfair. Occupiers think it isn’t fair that a small percentage of the population should control the majority of the wealth, and that said wealth can be used to purchase unlimited influence.

The New York Yankees are the one percent-ers of major league baseball. Their players, on average, are paid $1 million more a year than the next highest-paid team (the Phillies). With a payroll of more than $200 million a year, they have more than six times as much capital as the poorest team (the Kansas City Royals). They, along with teams like the Red Sox and the Phillies, can routinely buy the best players in baseball.

Billy Beane recognized that his team could not compete financially with large market teams like the Yankees. He and his staff worked hard to recruit and develop talent, only to have that talent poached by wealthier ball clubs. In such a system, his Oakland A’s would never win. America’s pastime, it seems, is subjected to the same perils of capitalism as the rest of the nation.

Beane was the MLB’s working class. The fruits of his labor profited the one percent (Yankees and Red Sox). He and his staff spent years developing Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon only to have wealthier teams reap the benefits (Damon would go on to win World Series with the Yankees and with the Red Sox). Beane was left with no championship and a team of no-name players.

Beane, however, didn’t insist the league commissioners change the rules. He didn’t blame the Yankees for having too much money. He figured out what he needed to do with his team to improve their odds against the one percent. And his relative success earned him unrivaled attention in the baseball world. The Boston Red Sox offered to make him the highest paid GM in baseball (an offer he turned down). His team never won the Series, but they set a record for consecutive wins and were routinely one of the top five teams in the league.

Beane figured out a way around the unfair economics. He didn’t fight capitalism by clamoring for socialism. He fought it by being a capitalist. After all, isn’t that the American way?