Identity – World Series Edition


The movie Moneyball is based on the nonfiction book from 2003 which tells the story of the mathematical statistical overtaking of small-market baseball teams. Actually it is about the 2002 Oakland Athletics, but the focus is on the way that statistics changed the approach of how many teams are put together today. The 2001 A’s had some big names who left to become free agents following the 2001 loss in the American League Division Series. General Manager Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, is left trying to figure out the best way to field a competitive team given the budgetary restraints of a ‘small market’ team. He finds a Yale economics graduate (read that as Math Nerd) named Peter Brand, played by Jonah Hill, who has the idea to use sabermetrics, or statistical analysis rather than traditional scouting methods to determine the value of potential players.

Putting together this rag-tag bunch is not easy, but it turns out to be a very successful experiment. Beane turned down an offer to join the Boston Red Sox following the end of the 2002 season, but the Red Sox went on to use these methods themselves and won their first World Series in 2004. Of course, they have an opportunity now to win their fourth in the 14 years since.

This isn’t an earth shattering film, but it is interesting and certainly filled with big names. The aforementioned Pitt and Hill were among the nominees for Academy Awards for Best Actor and Supporting Actor alongside nominations for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and two others. Chris Pratt of the new Jurassic Park films and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy gets a turn as Scott Hatteberg as you will see in the clip below, and the ever impressive late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman gets a turn as Oakland Manager Art Howe. Fun fact: Art Howe grew up and graduated from Shaler High School in Glenshaw, PA one year ahead of my father.

Now clearly there are other baseball films I could discuss that rank higher on my personal favorite scale. Major League is at the top alongside The Natural for me. You may have others like Angels in the Outfield, The Sandlot (You’re killin’me Smalls!), Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, The Rookie, or maybe even give some props to Keanu Reeves and Hardball. Whatever your preference, there is (of course) intentionality with this choice.

When we discuss Identity, one of the major areas we look to is our Career. So often we identify ourselves or others based on what they do on a daily basis. I am a Superintendent. This is different from when I was a Principal, Activities Director, or a Teacher. There are different norms and perhaps values associated with different positions. These can cause us to label others (often unfairly) and sometimes cause us to interact with others differently.

In Moneyball, Scott Hatteberg, played by Chris Pratt, has been a Catcher for his entire baseball career. In 2001 he had surgery to repair a ruptured nerve in his elbow. Following this injury he had to relearn how to throw and hold a baseball and he was no longer able to make the throw to second base needed to stop runners from stealing. Also the consistent repetitive throws back to the pitcher were too demanding.

After playing for the Red Sox from 1995 to 2001, Hatteberg is traded away following the injury and is released after only two days with the Rockies in December. That’s where our clip picks up as Billy Beane pays him a visit right before Christmas in 2001. Take a look:

So they want him to play First Base. Did you catch the look on his face as he processes this shift in his Identity? He’s clearly wondering if this is something he is capable of doing. Billy Beane (Pitt) clearly believes strongly in Hatteberg and his abilities. Is this irrational? Perhaps. Did others doubt that this could work? Most definitely – there were many detractors who doubted and said this experiment would fail. As a side note, this team struggled initially but went on to set a then record of 20 wins in a row (since broken by the Cleveland Indians last year with 22 consecutive wins).

But here’s my question. Have you ever been a Billy Beane for a student or peer? Have you ever seen the potential in someone who everyone else has cast aside? Have you ever changed a life so dramatically for someone? I’ve witnessed this and let me tell you, it is magical. To find another human being who has been cast aside and help to build them up is life affirming. When that person is able to grasp that perhaps they really are worthwhile and have a purpose in life, the world opens up to them anew.

Will there still be bumps in the road of their journey? Most definitely. A life cannot be lived well unless there are potholes, road blocks, and challenges to overcome. However, granting someone a new opportunity to succeed in life is a feeling that cannot be understated. It begins with relationship. Seeing an individual for who they are at their core. Find their greatness and help them to see it. It is in every one of you. It is in every one of your students and peers. Let’s look for that today.