Almanac Baseball: Getting On Base

In the rich tradition of baseball movies, Moneyball (2011) was a welcome deviation. While not completely distancing itself from the apple-pie, cock-eyed hokiness of Field of Dreams or A League of Their Own, it did try to convey the modern reality of sport as primarily a combination of business acumen and data analysis.

In the movie, the everyman manager with an open mind on the best path to success enlists the support of a stats geek to help him lift the chronically under-performing Oakland Athletics out of the doldrums. Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is at first sceptical of the simple idea posited by Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) – pick a team of hitters who are good at getting on base, regardless of how they get there.

Conventional wisdom had been a powerful force in America’s pastime. There had been steady developments in tactics, to be sure, but the general attitude to picking a hitting lineup hadn’t really changed since the game’s inception around the turn of the twentieth century. It had always been felt that you have good hitters at the top of the order hitting regulation singles, or occasionally better, with “clutch” hitters in the middle capable of bringing these guys home. You hid your weakest links at numbers 8 and 9 and did it all over again when you got back to the top of the order.

The Moneyball proposition upended these conventions. Beane and Brand built a team around players who had been overlooked by other teams as they weren’t traditional hitters. They were, however, exceptionally good at getting on base. They could bunt. They could work the pitch count to get a walk. They crowded the plate so getting hit by a pitch became a more common occurrence. They could hit awkwardly to induce errors. No matter how, they got on base with enough regularity to allow the few good hitters to bring them home.

The A’s had a 20 game winning streak in that 2002 season and topped the American League West division. They looked destined for greatness. Alas, they lost their first series of the postseason. Seems getting on base only got you so far.

Why this charming tale of truncated and stymied dreams?

As the 2020 MLB season has been unfolding, it has seemed to exemplify the notion of that simple plan of getting on base and seeing what happens. The regular season is only 60 games, as opposed to the usual 162. The postseason has been extended a little to compensate. Some games have been rescheduled due to Covid cases and the Toronto Blue Jays have been based in Buffalo to prevent any crossing of borders. All in all, nothing unusual compared with other efforts to salvage professional sport when pestilence is ravaging all far flung lands.

Quite a few of the leading teams, like the Dodgers and Astros, have performed as anticipated. With the Red Sox reverting to 2019 form, rather than 2018 world-conquering form, it has been a slog getting excited about this season. On a bright note, local boy made good, Liam Hendricks, has been pitching the house down for none other than the Oakland Athletics. He has been a shining light for Australian baseball for many years now and with the A’s yet again in the “Moneyball” position of leading the AL West he may be key to whether they have a better postseason than 2002.

The Australian Baseball League has been popping up with some exciting announcements around their upcoming season. The marquee player this year is Manny Ramirez, a dual Red Sox World Series winner. He will run out for the Sydney Blue Sox. At 48, it is easy to be cynical about what he can bring, but he is a consummate showman so it will be worth a visit to the ballpark to see him.

Always loved the saying ‘life is not a spectator sport’. So no matter what comes of the MLB and ABL seasons, I’ll keep playing ball and doing everything I can to get on base. Once you do, as Brad Pitt showed us, anything is possible.



Grew up playing the rugby codes in suburban Sydney. Moved to Melbourne during the Carey era so becoming a Shinboner was the natural call. Still love the game they play in heaven. Took an interest in MLB a few years back and have become infatuated with America's pastime.


  1. Kevin Densley says

    Enjoyed reading this, Brian. I liked Moneyball a considerable amount, as you did, and baseball has such a rich history of being the raw material for good – or better than good – films. Other favourites of mine include The Natural (1984), Eight Men Out (1988), Bull Durham (1988) and Ken Burns’ wonderful documentary series on the sport, first aired on American TV in 1994. If I had to pick my all-time best baseball movie, I’d choose Bull Durham.

  2. Thanks for this, Brian. I read the book, but I felt a little short-changed by the film Moneyball (no pun intended).

    Great to see Liam Hendricks doing well.

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