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Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game online

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addressed directly to Scott Hatteberg. First base as he played it
became a running social event. "Guys come to first," he said, "and
they step into my little office. And I do Hke to chat." Rafael
Palmeiro draws a walk and Fiatty asks him which As lefty is
tougher to hit, Mark Mulder or Barry Zito. (Mulder, Raffy says.)
Jeff Cirillo hits a single and, with only the tiniest prompting,
starts to bitch and moan about hitting ninth in the Seattle lineup.
Jeff Bagwell gets on by a fielder's error, and Hatty lets him know
what a Bagwell fan he is, prompting Bagwell to go into this Eeyore-
like dirge about what a poor natural hitter he actually is. "He
keeps saying, 'I hate my swing I hate my swing,' and I'm like,
'Dude, you are unbelievable.'" Hatty encouraged all of it, and
more. "The funny part is the etiquette," he said. "When a guy gets
on, knowing when to break the ice. I try to be courteous. If a guy
got a hit I might say, 'Nice piece of hitting there.' Before you know
it, they're chattering away."

He was having fun. He began to make plays people didn't expect
him to make; he began to make plays Wash didn't expect him to
make. He still thought the whole Oakland experiment had been


more than a tad unorthodox. "I think it's odd," he said, "the way
they shove guys in on defense every vs^hich way." But by midsum-
mer, he was overhearing people referring to him as an "above-
average" first baseman. By the end of July, when you asked Wash
wiiat he made ot the transformation of Scott Hatteberg into an
above-average first baseman, he just shook his head and smiled.
"He made a liar of me," he said. "Now he goes out and does wliat
he does and he's a ballplayer, reacting." Then he'd think about it
for a moment and say, "These are the kind of guys you go to war
with. The Scott Hattebergs."

A knack for playing first base had little to do with the Oakland
A's interest in Scott Hatteberg. It was a bonus that Hatty had made
himself as good as he did but he could have played worse without
wearing out his welcome. Hatty had been on a collision course
with Oakland from the moment Paul DePodesta and Billy Beane
had concluded that on-base percentage was three times more
important than slugging percentage, and that certain secondary
traits in a hitter, widely ignored by the rest of baseball, were also
critically important to the success of the team. Hatty had some
power, hut what he really had was an approach to hitting that
helped an offense to create runs. When he was with the Red Sox
he had gotten on base at a rate about 25 points higher than the
league average, and did so while (a) not playing regularly, and (b)
being worn out behind home plate. Rested and playing regularly,
he'd only get on base more.*

He'd do something else, too: wear out opposing pitching. Scott
Hatteberg's at bats went on and on; they were nearly as drawn out
as Jason Giambi's — this in spite of the fact that pitchers didn't

* Despite hitting in a pitcher's park, Hatteberi; would tinish the 2002 season
tied — with A's teamm.ue R.iv Purham — for thirtccnih iii tlic American League in
on-base percentage. Behind him, in addition to the rest ot the Oakhind A's, were a
lot of multimillionaires you might not expect to tind there: Derek Jeter, Johnny
Damon, Nomar Garciaparra.


have nearly so much reason to fear Hatteberg as they did Giambi.*
Hatteberg's was a more subtle, less visible strength. He was
unafraid of striking out and this absence of fear showed itself in
how often he hit with two strikes. The reason for his fearlessness
was how seldom he struck out. He consistently worked himself
into deep counts and yet, in spite of hitting often with two strikes,
routinely put the ball in play. The ratio of his walks to his strike-
outs was among the highest in the league. t

His talent for avoiding strikeouts was another of his secondary
traits that, in the Oakland calculus, added value, subtly, to Scott
Hatteberg. The strikeout was the most expensive thing a hitter
routinely could do. There had been a lie at the heart of the system
to train A's minor league hitters. To persuade young men to be
patient, to work the count, to draw walks, to wait for the pitcher
to make a mistake that they could drive out of the park, the A's
hitting coaches had to drill into hitters' heads the idea that there
was nothing especially bad about striking out. "For a long time I
think they believed that a strikeout was no different from making
any other out," said Paul. "But it is."

Ideally what you wanted was for a hitter neither to strike out,
nor to adjust his approach to the task at hand simply to avoid
striking out. The ideal was hard to find. Most hitters had holes,
and knew it; most hitters hated to hit with two strikes. They
knew that if they got two strikes on them, they were especially
vulnerable. Paul had done some advance scouting of big league
teams. Most big league hitters, even very good ones, had some
glaring weakness. Paul could usually see quickly how a pitcher
should pitch to any given big league hitter, and how he could put
him away. Hatty, he couldn't figure. Hatty's at bats often didn't

* Hatteberg would finish the 2002 season third in the league in pitches seen per
plate appearance, behind Frank Thomas and Jason Giambi.

t Hatteberg's ratio of walks to strikeouts in the 2002 season was fourth in the
American League, behind John Olerud, Mike Sweeney, and Scott Spezio.


bc.^in until he had two strikes on him. Hatty wasn't afraid to hit
with two strikes; he seemed almost to welcome the opportunity.
That was because Hatty had no hole. Obviously that couldn't be
right: every hitter had a hole. But Paul had watched him plenty of
times and he still couldn't find Hatteberg's weakness.

These secondary traits in a hitter, especially in the extreme
form in which they were found in Scott Hatteberg, had real value
to a baseball offense. And yet they were being priced by the mar-
ket as if they were worth nothing at all.

Where did these traits come from? That was a big question the
Oakland A's front office had asked themselves. Were they learned
skills, or part of a guy's character? Nature or nurture? If nature, as
they were coming to believe, physical gift or mental predisposi-
tion? Scott Hatteberg had something to say on these matters.

As far back as Hatteberg could remember — and he could
remember Little League — two things were true about himself as a
hitter. The first was that he had a preternatural ability to put a
bat on a ball. Not necessarily to hit the ball out of the park; sim-
ply to make contact. ("Swinging and missing to me is like 'Jesus,
what happened?'") The second was that it angered him far less to
take a called strike than to swing at a pitch he couldn't do much
with, and hit some lazy fly or weak grounder. Walks didn't partic-
ularly thrill him but they were far better than the usual alterna-
tive. "There was nothing I hated more," he said, "than swinging
at the first pitch and grounding out. It struck me as a worthless

It was also true that, as a boy, he had sought and found useful
role models that encouraged his natural tendencies. The first
and most important of these was Don Mattingly. Mattingly
posters decorated his bedroom wall. He kept clips of old articles
about Don Mattingly. On a trip to Florida he went to the Yankees'
training facility and sneaked under a security rope to catch a
glimpse of the great Mattingly. Security guards caught him and
tossed him out of Legends Field — though not until he had a good


look at his hero in the batting cage. Whenever the Yankees played
the Mariners he'd make the two-and-a-half-hour drive into Seattle
from Yakima — where he mostly grew up — just to see Mattingly
play. "He was a little guy/' said Hatteberg, "and I was tiny grow-
ing up. So I was drawn to him. And I loved his swing. It was just
poetiC; his swing. It was similar to the way I swung — or wanted to
swing. We both kind of squatted down a little bit." Mattingly was
also, like him, a finicky hitter: he cared more than most what he
swung at.

Hatteberg identified with this particular trait of Mattingly's
though it was difficult to put into a single word. A baseball man
might call it "patience" but it was more like "thoughtfulness."
Mattingly, like him, but unlike a lot of the guys he played with,
did not treat hitting a baseball as pure physical reaction. Hitting
was something that you did better if you thought about it. Hatty
owned a record of Mattingly talking about hitting. The Art of Hit-
ting .300, it was called. He'd listened to it dozens of times. "One
thing Mattingly said," Hatteberg recalled, "was that you could
look at a guy's strikeouts and his walks and tell what kind of year
he'd had. That stuck in my head." (The odd thing about Mat-
tingly's sermon is that he himself never drew all that many

The trouble with Billy Beane had been that he couldn't find a
way to get his whole self into a batter's box. Scott Hatteberg
couldn't keep himself out of it; the pieces of his character fit too
neatly together for him to leave any one of them outside the box.
The outside world didn't fully understand this; it often tried to
make him into something he was not. The Phillies had drafted
him in the eighth round out of high school, for instance, when he
himself didn't think he was ready. Scouts pressed him to sign, told
him it was for his own good. Hatteberg had always been small,
especially for a catcher, and when he graduated from high school
he was only five ten and weighed 160 pounds. "I looked like I had
pneumonia," he said. The Phillies ignored his objections. His own


high school coach — on retainer from the PhilUes — uAd liim he'd
he making the mistake of his hfe if he turned down the PhilHes
eighty-five grand and went to college. He turned down the money
and went to college. "If I didn't make it m college," he said, "I
wasn't going to make it anyway."

He'd made it in college, and was taken in the first round of the
1991 draft hy the Red Sox. Once in the minors, crude ability got
him as far as Douhle-A ball. There he encountered the two obsta-
cles that routinely ended professional hitting careers: pitchers
who had not only stuff but control too; and game theory. In
Double-A, as in the big leagues, a hitter saw the same pitchers
more than once. More to the point, the pitchers saw you more
than once, and invested some energy in trying to exploit what
they learned about you. He began to keep records of his at bats:
what pitchers threw him, how he responded. Keeping written
records, like seeing lots of pitches during each at bat, was a way to
gather information. The more information he had about a pitcher,
the better he hit against him. He didn't have the luxury of coast-
ing on raw talent; very few guys did. Sure, you might get to the big
leagues and even have a sensational month or two, but if you had
some fatal flaw you were found out. Kevin Maas! Maas comes up
in 1990 with the Yankees and hits ten home runs in his first
seventy-seven at bats. Had he kept hitting them out at that rate
for a full season he'd have broken Roger Maris's single-season
home run record as a rookie. He didn't. He stopped hitting home
rtms; he stopped hitting period. After a couple of frustrating sea-
sons, Kevin Maas was out of baseball.

Why do you think that happened? Hatteberg knew, or thought
he did: it happened because the big leagues was a ruthlessly effi-
cient ecosystem. Every hitter had a weakness. Once he arrived in
the big leagues, teams saw him often enough to tind that weak-
ness, and exploit it. "Once your hole has been exposed," Hatteberg
said, "you have to make an .idiustment or the whole league will
get you out. Any pitcher who can't exploit that hole isn't in the


big leagues." If you were unable to adapt, you were doomed. If you
had a weakness for pitches out of the strike zone, without some
extraordinary talent to compensate for it, you were doomed. Hat-
teberg took that logic one better: he believed that if he swung at
anything he couldn't hit hard, even if the pitch was a strike, he
was doomed. "If I just went up there and hacked," he said, "I'd
have been weeded out well before the big leagues." He forced him-
self to look for a certain pitch from each pitcher, and then trained
himself to see that pitch. He knew not just what he could do but
what he couldn't do. He knew what pitches he couldn't hit well.

Billy Beane thought himself out of the big leagues. Scott Hatte-
berg thought himself into them. He'd been called up for the first
time at the tail end of the 1995 season. With the division title in
the bag, the team went into Yankee Stadium for a meaningless
game — if any game between the Red Sox and the Yankees can be
meaningless. Hatty was assigned to catch relievers in the bullpen,
and didn't expect to play. He went out to Yankee Stadium early
anyway because he didn't want to miss seeing the Yankees' first
baseman, Don Mattingly, take batting practice. The game itself
was a mess. The Red Sox quickly fell behind. In the top of the
eighth inning the Yankee pitcher, David Cone, was working on a
two-hit shutout. With the Red Sox down 9-0, the manager called
the bullpen and told Hatteberg to pinch-hit. Hatteberg ran down
from the pen, stepped into the batter's box, and stared down the
first-base line. Don Mattingly was staring back.

Hatty took the first pitch, as he nearly always did, to get com-
fortable. Ball one. The second pitch was ball two. Cone had his
best stuff that day. Hatteberg knew on the third pitch he'd see
something in the strike zone, and he did. "I just about came out of
my shoes," he said. Foul ball. Cone just missed with the next
pitch and the count went to 3-1. A hitter's count. Hatteberg
thought: If I get a hit, I get the hall. They always gave you the ball
after your first big league hit. Then he had another thought: I'm
one hall away from meeting Don Mattingly. It was Scott Hatte-


berg's first appearance in a big league batter's box and he was look-
ing to draw a walk.

David Cone wasn't going to let hini h.ivc it. Cone's next pitch
was less a pitch than an invitation, an inside fastball in what Hat-
teberg called his "happy zone," and he ripped it down the right
field line. It banged off the right field wall a few inches below the
top and bounded back crazily into the field of play. The Yankees
right fielder, Paul O'Neill, saw it for what it was, a clean double,
and gave up on it. Under a full head of steam Hatteberg rounded
first, picked up O'Neill jogging for the ball, and . . . Don Mattingly.
Mattingly stood directly m his line of vision. A twenty-five-year-
old making his major league debut might be forgiven for hearing a
soundtrack in his head: My first big league hit! My first big league
hit! Hatteberg heard another voice. It said: Where am 1 goingl
Halfway toward second base he pulled up, and trotted back to his
childhood. "Hey Don, how you doin''" he said.

The television announcers. Bob Costas and Bob Uecker, were,
at that moment, expressing their bewilderment at what they'd
just seen — this rookie who has decided he prefers a single to a dou-
ble. They agreed that rookies all had a thing or two to learn before
they truly belonged in the big leagues. Mattingly just looked at
him strangely and said, "Hey, rookie, anyone show you where sec-
ond base is?" The next few moments, before he was driven around
the bases to score the only Red Sox run of the game, etched them-
selves into Hatteberg's memory in Van Eyckian detail. Mattingly
standing behind him. Mattingly creeping in behind him, pretend-
ing to care if he ran. Mattingly razzing him. Hey. rookie, you're
about as fast as me. Hey. rookie, you ought to get those brakes
checked. A few weeks later Mattingly retired. Hatteberg never
saw him again.

Even in new, stressful situations, the qualitv at the center of
Scott Hatteberg — his compulsion to make himself at home in
the game, to slow the game down, to make it come to him, to


make it his game — was apparent. He was one of those people
whose personality was inextricable from. his performance. No:
whose personality was necessary for his performance. The funny
thing is that pro baseball took one look at that personality and
decided it needed to be beaten out of him.

By late 1996 he was in the big leagues for good. Once he arrived,
however, he faced another challenge: the idiocy of the Boston Red
Sox. His cultivated approach to hitting — his thoughtfulness, his
patience, his need for his decisions to be informed rather than
reckless — was regarded by the Boston Red Sox as a deficiency. The
Red Sox encouraged their players' mystical streaks. They brought
into the clubhouse a parade of shrinks and motivational speakers
to teach the players to harness their aggression. Be men! There
was one in particular Hatteberg remembers who told the team
that every man had a gland in his chest, called the thymus gland.
"You were supposed to bang your chest before you hit," recalls
Hatteberg, "to release all this untapped energy and aggression."
(One former Red Sox player. Bill Selby, still does it.) Hatty sensed
he might be in for trouble when he saw how the Red Sox manage-
ment treated Wade Boggs. He'd spent a lot of time with Boggs in
the batting cage during spring training, trying to learn whatever he
could from the master. Boggs, a perennial All-Star, famously never
swung at the first pitch — or any pitch after that he didn't love.
Boggs was as efficient a machine as there ever was for acquiring
information about opposing pitchers. By the time Wade Boggs was
done with his first at bat, his team had seen everything the oppos-
ing pitcher had.

Boggs's refusal to exhibit the necessary aggression led to his
ostracism by the Red Sox. "They would get on him for taking a
walk when there was a guy on second," recalled Hatteberg. "They
called him selfish for that."

If Wade Boggs wasn't allowed his patience, Hatteberg figured, he
certainly wouldn't be, either. When Hatteberg let a pitch go by for


a Strike — because it was a strike he couldn't do much with — Red
Sox managers would holler at him trom the dugout. Coaches
would try to tell him that he was hurting the team if he wasn't
more inclined to swing with men on base, or in 2-0 counts. The
hitting coach, former Rex Sox slugger Jmi Rice, rode Hatty long
and hard. Rice called him out in the clubhouse, in front of his
teammates, and ridiculed him for having a batting average in the
.270s when he hit .500 when he swung at the first pitch. "Jim Rice
hit like a genetic freak and he wanted everyone else to hit the way
he did," Hatteberg said. "He didn't understand that the reason I
hit .500 when I swung at the first pitch was that 1 only swung at
first pitches that were too good not to swing at." Hatty had a gift
for tailoring the game tt) talents. It was completely ignored. The
effect of Jim Rice on Scott Hatteberg was to convince him that
"this is why poor hitters make the best hitting coaches. They
don't try to make you like them, because they sucked."

Each time Scott Hatteberg came to bat for the Boston Red Sox
he had, in effect, to take an intellectual stand against his own
organization in order to do what was right for the team. Hitting,
for him, was a considered act. He didn't know how to hit without
thinking about it, and so he kept right on thinking about it. In ret-
rospect, this was a striking act of self-determination,- at the time
it just seemed like an unpleasant experience. Not once in his ten
years with the Red Sox did anyone in Boston suggest there was
anything of value in his approach to hitting — in working the
count, narrowing the strike zone, drawing walks, getting on base,
in not making outs. "Never," he said. "No coach ever said any-
thing. It was more, get up there and slug. Their philosophy was
)ust to buy the best hitters money can buy, and set them loose."
The Red Sox couldn't have cared less if he had waged some fierce
battle at the plate. If he had, say, fought off the pitcher for eight
straight pitches ant! lined out hard to center field. All that mat-
tered was that he had made an out. At the same time, they praised
him when he didn't deserve it. "I'd have games when I'd have two


hits and I didn't take a good swing the whole game," he said, "and
it was Uke 'Great game, Hatty.'"

Pro ball never made the slightest attempt to encourage what he
did best: take precise measurements of the strike zone and fit his
talents to it. The Boston Red Sox were obsessed with outcomes;
he with process. That's what kept him sane. He didn't think of it
quite this way, but what he'd been trying to do all along was tame
a chaotic experience with reason. To an astonishing degree, he had

To the Oakland A's front office, Hatteberg was a deeply satisfy-
ing scientific discovery. The things he did so peculiarly well at the
plate were the things only science — or, at any rate, closer than
normal scrutiny — could turn up. He was, in his approach to hit-
ting, Billy Beane's opposite, but he was also Billy Beane's cre-
ation. The moment he arrived in Oakland, the friction in his
hitting life vanished. In Oakland, he experienced something like
the reverse of his Boston experience. "Here I go for 3 with two
lineouts and a walk and the general manager comes by my locker
and says, 'Hey, great at bats.' For the first time in my career I've
had people tell me, 'I love your approach.' I knew how I
approached hitting but 1 never thought that it was anything any-
one cared to think about." All these things he did just because
that's how he had to do them if he was to succeed were, in Oak-
land, encouraged. The Oakland A's had put into words something
he had only felt. "When you go to the plate," Hatty said, "it's
about the only thing you do that is an individual thing or seems
like an individual thing. When you go to the plate, it's about the
only thing you do alone in baseball. Here they have turned it into
a team thing."

That was a byproduct of the Oakland experiment. They were
trying to subordinate the interest of the individual hitter to those
of the team. Some hitters responded better than others to this
approach. Hatteberg's response: "This is the most fun I've had
since Triple-A."


iJEFORE AND AFTER gamcs Hattcbcrg would go to the video room
to study opposing pitchers and himself. On one of these nights the
A's were playmg the Seattle Mariners. The left-hander Jamie
Moyer was scheduled to pitch for Seattle. Moyer had been a
hugely successful big league pitcher, in spite of lacking conven-
tional stuff. When he first came up, with the Chicago Cubs, Moyer
threw as hard as the next guy. But he'd been hurt, and forced to
adapt. Now, a few months before his fortieth birthday, he survived
on his mastery of the strike zone and his knowledge of opposing
hitters. He was the pitching equivalent of Scott Hatteberg. Had
they taken a different approach to the game, neither would have
lasted long in the big leagues.

Hatteberg hadn't had much chance to see Moyer, and so the
tape was even more important to him than usual. "Don't think
I've done too well against this guy," he said as he slammed the
videotape into the machine. "Feiny, what am I lifetime against

Feiny doesn't look up from his seat at the center of the video
room. "0 for 9," says Feiny.

"I'm for 9," says Hatteberg, cheerily, and smacks the table in
tront of him. "That's not too promising, is it?"

Feiny doesn't say anything. He's busy cutting tape of the Texas
Rangers, the A's next opponent. On his screen Alex Rodriguez
waits for a pitch. "He's cheating," says Hatty. Feiny looks up; he's
being drawn in by Hatteberg's desire for conversation. "Look at
that," says Hatty. We all look up at the freeze-frame of A-Rod on
Feiny's screen. Sure enough, just before the pitch comes to the
plate, A-Rod, moving nothing but his eyeballs, glances back to see
where the catcher behind him is set up.

"I used to hate it when 1 caught when guys did that," says
Hatty. "I'd go, 'Dude, you're gonna get hit.'"

"Anyone else but A-Rod," agrees Feiny, "and he gets drilled."


Hatty turns back to the Jamie Moyer tapes. Moyer had beaten

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Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 15 of 24)