Last June, BallNine’s Kevin Kernan wrote an article about the 20th anniversary of the movie Moneyball and if you ever read one sentence of an AMBS special, you know you’re getting a healthy dose of 100% truth.
Sure, even Kernan admitted that the movie itself was entertaining and most would agree that it’s a fine baseball story. The heart of the article though was that the movie glosses over the larger reality of the 2002 A’s. Hollywood would have you believe that the A’s were a bunch of ragtag misfits and journeymen who used magic, voodoo spells and animal sacrifices to play winning baseball. The truth is, the A’s had three aces at the top of the rotation who combined for 490 career wins, the American League MVP at shortstop and Eric Chavez, a burgeoning 24-year-old star at third who hit 34 homers with 109 RBIs while playing stellar defense. None of that is mentioned in the film because all of those players, and other key pieces, became A’s using traditional scouting and player development methods. They didn’t fit the narrative, so they were left out.
Incidentally, the 2002 A’s were about league average in on base percentage, which seems to be the statistic at the root of Moneyball. In the 20 years since Moneyball was released, the A’s have made exactly one ALCS, in which they were swept.
The Moneyball concept might be a proven loser in reality, but since the Nerds in Charge do not live in reality, the movie and team are revered and seen as a road map to success.
One of the few parts of Moneyball that was accurate was the A’s 20-game winning streak, and that’s what lands on this installment of The Stud 400. At the time, there had only been five winning streaks of at least 20 games in Major League history and this was the first time an American League team had reached that mark.
The 2017 Cleveland Indians won 22 straight to top what the 2002 A’s accomplished, but there were no movies made about their season and they are nowhere to be found in our countdown. For better or worse, the Moneyball A’s have had an influence on the sports and have empowered nerds who were previously excluded from the sport. Their influence reaches further than the teams above them who have won more than 20 games in a row.
Such is life in The Stud 400.
That would have been enough time for the 1920 Robins and Braves to play two 26-inning games with an hour break in between.
Before we move on to this week’s edition of The Stud 400, here’s a look at the last five entries as we count down the 400 greatest moments in Major League Baseball history:
260. Robins and Braves play MLB’s longest game (1920)
258. Joe Niekro ejected (1987)
257. Jamie Moyer wins an MLB game at 49 (2012)
256. Deion Sanders plays in World Series and Super Bowl (1995)
256. Disco Demolition Night (1979)
And now, here’s Episode XXX of The Stud 400, featuring artwork by Will O’Toole.
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MLB Network Debuts (2009)
It may be hard to believe, but Major League Baseball was actually the last of the four major sports to have its own network. NBATV got things rolling in 1999, the NFL Network began in 2003 and the first season the NHL Network was available in the US and Canada was 2007. MLB Network debuted in December of 2008, running archived programs and promotions over the final two weeks of the calendar year before launching in full on January 1, 2009. The first show to air on MLB Network was Hot Stove and the first words uttered on the network were by its host, Victor Rojas. MLB Network was available to 50 million homes upon its debut and since then that number has soared past 80 million. The amount of programming offered by the network since its debut is too broad to list here, but let’s just say it reaches to just about every corner of the sport.
David Freese World Series Heroics (2011)
Doesn’t there always seem to be an unlikely hero who steps up in a huge way when professional sports are playing their biggest games? In 2011, it was the Cardinals David Freese who filled that role. In 2011, Freese was a 28-year-old backup infielder who was in just his second full season in the Bigs. After a solid NLDS in which he hit .278, Freese batted .545 in the NLCS with three home runs and nine RBIs. Still, that paled in comparison to his World Series heroics.
With the Cardinals down 3-2 in the series, the Rangers held a 7-5 lead with two outs, two strikes and two men on base in the bottom of the ninth. With just one strike left in the Cardinals season, Freese launched an opposite field triple just out of the reach of Nelson Cruz to tie the game. If that wasn’t enough, he blasted a long home run to centerfield in the 11th inning to send the series to Game 7, where of course he hit a two-run double in the first inning to answer a two-spot the Rangers put up in the top of the frame. Freese set a then-record with 21 RBIs in a single postseason, became just the sixth player to win LCS and World Series MVPs in the same season and joined Aaron Boone, Kirby Puckett, Carlton Fisk and David Ortiz as the only players to hit extra-inning walk-off homers with their teams trailing and facing postseason elimination. Wow.
Alex Rodriguez Sets Grand Slam Record (2013)
It would make sense that if someone hits 696 career home runs, some of them were going to come with the bases juiced. In the case of Alex Rodriguez, that number would be 25. Rodriguez set the record for most career grand slams when he passed Lou Gehrig, who had 23 when he was forced into retirement. The historic blast came while playing for the Yankees in a 5-1 win over the Giants. Reliever George Kontos was the hurler on the receiving end of it. The only other player besides Gehrig and ARod to top 20 career grand slams is Manny Ramirez, who has 21. Curious as to where some of the game’s all-time sluggers fall on the list? Ted Williams had 17, Babe Ruth and Albert Pujols had 16, Barry Bonds 11 and Willie Mays had eight.
Ichiro Records 4,000th Professional Hit (2013)
If you’ve been following along with The Stud 400 as we trudge along the timeline of baseball history, you can tell that we love the curiosities and unique occurrences of the sport. If something is awesome yet can’t quite be pigeonholed, we’ll fly the flag for it. In August of 2013, Ichiro Suzuki singled off Toronto’s RA Dickey to give him a combined 4,000 hits between his careers in Japan and the United States. It’s a beyond impressive feat for one of the game’s beloved figures, but what exactly does it qualify as? It wasn’t a record and he wasn’t the first person to 4,000 hits. Aside from Pete Rose and Ty Cobb who had 4,000 hits in the Majors, Stan Musial and Hank Aaron had 4,000 professional hits when you combined their minor league and Major League stats. Derek Jeter even passed the 4,000 professional hit plateau. That’s the great thing about this countdown. Accomplishments don’t have to be compartmentalized or explained. They don’t have to fit into some type of category and they don’t have to land you in a record book. They just have to be impactful – and it helps when they’re pretty damn cool; like a man recording a combined 4,367 hits between nine amazing seasons in Japan and 19 more in the US.
Moneyball A’s Win 20th Straight Game (2002)
Hollywood may have played fast and loose with the facts when it came to Moneyball the movie, but one thing they got right is that the A’s won an incredible 20 straight games in 2002. In a sport especially prone to randomness, parity and the law of averages, that’s damn near impossible to do. Since World War II, only eight teams have won more than 15 in a row. The 2002 A’s fell short of the Major League record, which is 26 and was set by the 1916 Giants, who were just 60-66 that year in games outside the streak. Making the A’s streak even more incredible was that eight of the wins were by less than two runs with each of the last three coming in walk-off fashion. And, yes, the A’s did actually get to their 20th win on a walk-off homer by Scott Hatteberg after blowing an 11-run lead to the Royals. Disparaging the inaccuracies in the movie Moneyball is all well and good, but don’t let it cloud the fact that a Major League Baseball team winning 20 straight games is a truly remarkable feat.
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Stay tuned for the next episode of The Stud 400 as we go streaking with a Yankee legend, have some salami with one of the great batteries of the new millennium and examine the shocking injury that befell one of the great power pitchers of his era. See you next time for an imperfect Stud 400.