Saturday, October 29, 2011

On Moneyball & Wasting A Life

Like seven million other people in the world, I recently saw the movie Moneyball. Everyone is raving about it, and I hate to be the grand balloon popper, but I was slightly underwhelmed. I'd say it was a good movie, but I'd qualify the hell out of that statement, and continually mutter under my breath that it has problems and is not without its flaws.

(Tangent: I fear being the dissenting voice on a commonly enjoyed movie. It's like it bums people out, and I feel resentment seeping my way as I articulate my problems. But I'm learning to manage it, I was much less blatant with Moneyball, so I don't think I pissed anyone off.)

But yes, there was a lot to like about it. I was fascinated by the tension between "doing it the way we've always done it" and turning baseball into a science--demystifying, denuding and de-romanticizing the game. I thought they represented both sides of the argument well. Every time some old fart would tell Pitt he had no idea what he was doing and there were too many intangibles he wasn't accounting for, I was like "well, they're right. That makes sense." But I was frustrated because, though I am a casual baseball fan, I'm sorry to say that I've never read Moneyball, nor have I boned up on what goes into it, what the opposing arguments are, etc. And that bothered me. I was uncomfortable with not being able to take a side due to lack of knowledge.

So I started to think about doing what I've done for the last ten years when I get this feeling: Read! I wasn't sure if I would read Moneyball, as I do have about 100 books or so on my waiting list, but I was interested to go and find some blogs that offer critiques of the Moneyball approach.

And then Sanity stepped forward and said "stop it!" Yes, I could read up on Moneyball and anti-Moneyball and develop a formed and nuanced opinion on the whole thing--and it would be a complete waste of my time. It would be interesting, and I would enjoy myself, but I would be wasting a neat little slice of my limited time. Look, if I was going to be the next Ken Jennings then it would be easy to justify pursuing every rabbit trail of useless knowledge.

But Ken Jennings I ain't. It's taken me a long time to get here--I have fantasized about a long-standing Jeopardy run for several years now. But the bloom is off the rose. I'm not reading up on mid eval dynasties and obscure lakes and rivers. I haven't purchased a Complete Works of Bill Shakespeare.

It's a fine line I'm walking because in a lot of ways there is nothing wrong with pursuing "useless" knowledge. If you do you're more fun at parties and you'll be a better conversationalist. But I do something weird with it. It's as if I'm hiding behind the pursuit so I don't have to pursue what I'm supposed to be doing.

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