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Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game online

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to assemble the tape the announcers will need to explain this
curiosity. Pitching out of the stretch, he does not rear up and back,
like other relief pitchers. He jackknifes at the waist, like a jitter-
bug dancer lurching for his partner. His throwing hand swoops out
toward the plate and down toward the earth. Less than an inch off
the ground, way out where the dirt meets the infield grass, he rolls
the ball off his fingertips. When subjected to slow-motion replay,
as this motion often is, it looks less like pitching than feeding


pigeons or shooting craps. The announcers often call him a
sidearm pitcher, hut that hasn't been true of him for nearly four
years. He's now, in baseball Ungo, a "submarmer," which is base-
ball's way of making a guy who throws underhand sound manly.

The truth is that there is no good word to describe Chad Brad-
ford's pitching motion; "underhand" doesn't capture the full flavor
of It. This year, for the first time in his career, Chad Bradford's
knuckles have scraped the dirt as he throws. Once during warm-
ups his hand bounced so violently off the ground that the baseball
ricocheted over the startled head of Toronto Blue Jays' outfielder
Vernon Wells, minding his own business in the on-deck circle.
ESPN had replayed that one, over and over. Chad's new fear is that
he'll do it again, in a game, and that the television cameras will
catch him at it, and everyone will be paying him attention all over

The odd thing about Chad Bradford is that he wants so badly to
be normal. Normal is what he's not. It's not just that he throws
funny. His idiosyncratic streak runs straight down to the bottom
of his character. Back in high school he had this shiny white rock
he sneaked out with him to the mound. He'd noticed it one day
when he was pitching. He was pitching especially well that day
and the rock didn't look like any rock he'd ever seen on the
mound. He attributed some part of his success to the presence of
the shiny white rock. When he was done pitching, he picked up
the rock and carried it home with him. For the next three years he
never ventured to the pitcher's mound without his rock. He'd
sneak it out with him in his pocket and put it on the mound, lust
so, and in such a way that no one ever noticed.

By the time he reached the big leagues, he'd weaned himself of
his lucky rock but not of the frame of mind that created it. He had
the tenacious sanity of the slightly mad. A big league pitcher who
wishes to avoid attention, Chad Bradford has learned to disguise
his superstitions as routines. Tlicie arc things he always does —
like throwing exactly the same number of pitches in the bullpen,


in exactly the same order; or like telling his wife to leave the sta-
dium the moment he enters a game. There are things he never
does — like touch the rosin bag.

His twin desires — to succeed, and to remain unnoticed — grow
less compatible by the day. Chad Bradford's 2002 statistics imply,
to the A's front office, that he is not just the best pitcher in their
bullpen but one of the most effective relief pitchers in all of base-
ball. The Oakland A's pay Chad Bradford $237,000 a year, but his
performance justifies many multiples of that. At one point the
Oakland A's front office says that if Bradford simply continues
doing what he's done he'll one day be looking at a multi-year deal
at $3 million plus per. The wonder isn't merely that they have him
so cheaply, but that they have him at all. The wonder is that, until
they snapped him up for next to nothing, nobody in the big
leagues paid any attention at all to Chad Bradford.

In this respect, if no other, Chad Bradford resembled a lot of the
Oakland A's pitchers. The A's had the best staff in the American
League and yet of all their pitchers only Mark Mulder, one of the
team's three brilliant starters, had failed to inspire serious doubts
at some point in his career in the baseball scouting mind. The
team's second ace, Tim Hudson, was a short right-handed pitcher
who couldn't get himself drafted at all in 1996, after his junior
year in college, and then not until the sixth round of the 1997
draft. The team's third ace, Barry Zito, had been spat upon by both
the Texas Rangers, who took him in the third round of the 1998
draft but declined to pay him the $50,000 required to sign him,
and the San Diego Padres, for whom Zito privately auditioned and
badly wanted to play. The Padres told Zito that he didn't throw
hard enough to make it in the big leagues. The Oakland A's dis-
agreed and selected him with the ninth pick of the 1999 draft.
Three years later a top executive for those same San Diego Padres
would say that the reason the Oakland A's win so many games
with so little money is that "Billy got lucky with those pitchers."

And he did. But if an explanation is where the mind comes to


rest, the mind that stopped at "lucky" when it sought to exphiin
the Oakhmd A's recent pitching success bordered on narcoleptic.
His reduced circumstances had forced Billy Beane to embrace a
different mental model of the Big League Pitcher. In Billy Beane's
mind, pitchers were nothing like high-performance sports cars, or
thoroughbred racehorses, or any other metaphor that implied a
cool, inbuilt superiority. They were more like writers. Like writ-
ers, pitchers initiated action, and set the tone for their games.
They had all sorts of ways of achieving their effects and they
needed to be judged by those effects, rather than by their outward
appearance, or their technique. To place a premium on velocity for
its own sake was like placing a premium on a big vocabulary for
its own sake. To say all pitchers should pitch like Nolan Ryan was
as absurd as insisting that all writers should write like John
Updike. Good pitchers were pitchers who got outs; how they did
it was beside the point.

Pitchers were like writers in another way, too: their output was
harder than it should have been to predict. A twenty-two-year-old
phenom with superior command wakes up one morning in such a
precarious mental state that he's hurling pitches over the catcher's
head. Great prospects flame out, sleepers become stars. A thirty-
year-old mediocrity develops a new pitch and becomes, overnight,
an ace. There are pitchers whose major league statistics are much
better than their minor league ones. How did that happen!' It was
an odd business, this getting of outs. Obviously a physical act, it
was also, in part, an act of the imagination. In the minor leagues
Tim Hudson develops a new pitch, a devastating change-up, that
makes him look like a different pitcher from the one the A's
drafted in the sixth round. Between junior and real college, Barry
Zito refines the delivery of his curveball to the point where it is
indistinguishable, as it leaves bis h.ind, trom Ins otherwise unin-
teresting fastball. The adjustments thcU lead to pitching success
are menial as nuieh .is they are physical acts.

Of all the odd out-getters on the Oakland A's pitching staff,


Chad Bradford is the least orthodox. He has made it to the big
leagues less on the strength of his arm than on the quality of his
imagination. No one sees that now; because no one really knows
who he is, or cares. When you know just a bit about him, you can
see what powerful tricks a pitcher's imagination can play. But to
do that you had to go back a ways, to before Chad Bradford became
the man now making a spectacle of himself before 55,528 fans in
Oakland's Coliseum.


'HAD BRADFORD grew up the youngest child of a lower-middle-
class family in a small town called Byram, Mississippi, outside of
the larger one called Jackson. "Country" is how he describes him-
self. Not long before Chad's second birthday his father suffered a
stroke that nearly killed him, and left him paralyzed. The doctors
had told his father that he'd never walk again. His father insisted
that just wasn't true. He looked up from his bed, stone-faced, and
announced his intention to raise his three boys and earn a living.
Through an act of will, which he also thought of as an act of God,
he did just that. By Chad's seventh birthday his father was able not
only to walk but, in a fashion, to play catch with his son. He
would never again be able to lift his arm over his shoulder, so he
couldn't throw properly. But he could get a glove up to stop a ball.
And after he caught the ball from Chad, he would toss it back to
him underhanded. The strange throwing motion stuck in the lit-
tle boy's mind.

Playing catch with his father was one of the things that made
Chad happiest. His father didn't have any particular ambition for
him, except that he should be happy, remain a Christian, and that
his happiness and his Christianity should occur within the con-
fines of Mississippi. The Bradfords didn't know any professional
baseball players; they didn't know anyone who knew any profes-
sional baseball players. But twice Chad was asked by his school-
teachers to write autobiographical essays, and both times he took


professional baseball as his theme. Ai tbe ai;e of eight he wrote:
What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.

If I were a A grown up

I would be a baseball player

And I would play for the Dodgers.

I hope to play for the Cardinals tocx

I hope to play for the Oriole too

And tor all tbe teams I would

Play shotestop.

"Shotestop" being the phonetic spelling, in Byram, Mississippi.
Five years later, when Chad was thirteen, his teacher asked him
and the other students to write the stories of their lives, as they
looked back on them from their imagined old age. With the per-
spective of hindsight Chad Bradford could see that he had married
right out of school, had two children, a son and a daughter, and
become not a big league shortstop but a big league pitcher. He
imagined no other future for himself and so it was lucky that no
other future awaited him. Right after his high school graduation,
at the age of eighteen, he married his girlfriend, lenny Lack, who
soon bore bim a son, then a daughter. Between the two births, at
the age of twenty-three, Chad Bradford made his debut m the
maior leagues with the Chicago White Sox. The power of an imag-
ination can arise trom what it refuses to foresee.

Between the eighth grade and the big leagues there was only one
hitch: Chad wasn't any good. His ambition was a fantasy. lust
about every baseball player who makes it to the big leagues was
all-everythmg in high school; just about every big league pitcher
dominated high school hitters. As a fifteen-year-old high school
sophomore Chad Bradford was lucky iust to make the team. He
didn't play any sport other th.m baseball and didn't exhibit any
particular athletic ability. Central Hinds Academy in Byram, Mis-
sissippi, had graduated hundreds of baseball players more promis-


ing than Chad Bradford and none of them had ever played profes-
sionally. Anyone Chad told he planned to become a professional
baseball pitcher looked at him with the same gawking awe as his
presence on a big league mound would later elicit. As a conse-
quence he stopped telling people.

One of the people he didn't tell was his high school baseball
coach, Bill "Moose" Perry. Chad, like everyone he knew, was
raised Baptist. Moose wasn't just his coach but also his minister.
This curious blending of roles meant, in practice, that when
Moose needed to slap sense into one of his players, he felt sure he
did it with the hand of God. Moose looked at Chad Bradford, aged
fifteen, and saw a player who needed slapping. To Moose, Chad
Bradford was just a silly, lazy boy, who had come out for the base-
ball team not because he had any aptitude for, or interest in, the
game but because he wanted to hang around with his friends who
did. "The one thing Chad was, he was a good student," said
Moose, years later, looking for something nice to say. "And the
way it was at that school, if they showed any ability in anything,
you wanted to encourage them. But Chad's promise was basically
that he wanted to be there. That was it. It's horrible to say, but it's

Chad told Moose that he wanted to pitch, but Moose couldn't
see how. "He might have been the type of guy who would pitch
games that were meaningless," said Moose, "but I wouldn't have
let him pitch any game that mattered. His curveball didn't do any-
thing but spin. He didn't throw hard. His fastball, it was like set-
ting it up there on a hittin' tee."

Moose had other jobs, aside from coaching and preaching to
high school baseball players. One of them was chapel leader for
the New York Mets' Double-A team in Jackson, Mississippi. In
that capacity, a few years earlier, he'd led Billy Beane in worship.
(Billy, a lapsed Catholic, says he went to hedge his bets.) The sea-
son before Chad Bradford's sophomore year. Moose preached to a
sidearm pitcher from a visiting team. After the service Moose


asked the pitcher how he got his effects, and the pitcher gave him
a tutorial. One winter afternoon, hefore the season started, when
the Central Hinds Academy baseball field was underwater and the
team couldn't practice properly. Moose took Chad aside on the
football field and asked him to try out this stuff the minor leaguer
had shown him. Chad dropped his arm down just above a straight
sidearm, from twelve to two o'clock, and, sure enough, his fastball
moved. He still couldn't throw anything hut a fastball, but now it
tailed in on right-handed hitters and away from lefties. Chad could
always throw the ball over the plate; now, thanks to his minister
and coach, he could throw the ball over the plate in a way that hit-
ters didn't enjoy.

All of a sudden Moose had a pitcher he could use, at least in
theory. In practice Chad was still, as Moose put it, "silly." To
make him less so, to toughen him up. Moose insisted that Chad
cuss each time he threw a pitch. Anyone who wandered by Cen-
tral Hinds Academy's baseball field of an evening m the early
1990s would see a gangly, peach-fuzzed young man sidearming
pitches at his preacher, with each pitch booming out: "Shit!"

Throwing sidearm didn't come naturally to Chad. He'd leave
practice every night and go home to the family's warm little brick
house and play catch with his father, who remained unable to lift
his partially paralyzed right arm over his shoulder and so still
pitched the ball back to him underhand. His father remembers
when Chad came home with his new sidearm delivery— and new
movement on his ball, "I couldn't catch it!" he says. "It was
whoosh. Whoosh. He like to have killed me. Right then I said,
'Uh-oh, no more pitch and catch.'"

Chad turned his attention to the side of the house. The gap
between the two holly bushes in front was about the width of
home plate. He'd practice sidearming the ball against the brick
without hitting the bushes. He broke a few windows. His father
announced he would build Chad a pitcher's mound. ("My dad can
build anything.") His father hooked a piece of chain-link fence to


a four-by-four post, tacked a carpet on top, and drew a strike zone
on the carpet. He walked off sixty feet six inches, and, out of the
Mississippi mud, sculpted a pitcher's mound. Every day after prac-
tice Chad threw off that mound. Years later, when he was in the
minor leagues, he would come home to Byram, Mississippi, in the
off-season, and throw off the mound his father had built for him.

The motion still wasn't comfortable but the more he worked at
it the better he felt, and when he saw the misery his new trick
caused he decided not to worry about his own personal discom-
fort. "I'd see the hitters kind of backing out against me and I
thought: 'Hey, this is going to work.'" Still, he was never an all-
star,- no one imagined that he would amount to anything more
than a good high school pitcher. Upon graduation, Chad was the
only one who thought he might still play baseball. "I wasn't
recruited by any Division I schools," he'd confess, and then laugh.
"I wasn't recruited by any Division II schools either." He went
over and talked to the coach at Hinds Community College, a few
miles down the road. The coach there said he thought he might be
able to use another pitcher, so there he went, pausing only long
enough for Moose to perform his wedding ceremony.

At every level of baseball, including Little League, Chad Brad-
ford might reasonably have decided that his baseball career was
more trouble than it was worth. He couldn't explain it, he just
loved playing the game. "I wish I could answer the question of
where that love for the game comes from," he said, "but I don't
know." He pitched well in junior college but never so well that
anyone thought he had a future in the game. Or, rather, no one but
Warren Hughes, a scout for the Chicago White Sox. Hughes was
an odd duck, an Australian who had pitched for the Australian
National team before landing a baseball scholarship at the Uni-
versity of South Alabama. When Hughes first saw Chad pitch,
he'd only just started scouting for the White Sox, and he hadn't yet
been dissuaded from scouting players who didn't fit professional
baseball's various molds. "You didn't see many guys who threw


from that an^lc who it looked natural to," said Hughes. "It just
kind ot uitrigued me that from that arm slot he had such great
command." It was a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Hughes's
home m Mobile, Alabama, to Hinds Community College, but
Hughes made it often.

At first, Chad didn't even know he was being scouted. He was
shocked when, at the end of the 1994 season, he received a West-
ern Union telegram from the Chicago White Sox, telling him that
the team had drafted him in the thirty-fourth round. They didn't
plan to offer him a contract, the telegram said, but they controlled
his rights for the next year. They planned to keep an eye on him.
The next year Warren Hughes, who never actually said much to
Chad, kept turning up at Chad's games. "Pitchers that throw like
that you have to see several times to appreciate," Hughes explained.
"The more I'd see Chad, the more I'd appreciate him."

Hughes told Chad that the White Sox didn't have the money to
sign him in 199S, and that he should continue with his education.
That year Chad went completely undraftcd — no other big league
team had even noticed him — and set off for the University of
Southern Mississippi. There he continued to pitch, to a big league
scouting audience of one. The American South was crawling with
baseball scouts but none of them had the slightest interest in
Chad Bradford. No other White Sox scout came to see Chad — just
this quirky Australian. The following year, 1996, Warren Hughes
carted up to Chicago videotapes he'd made of Chad pitching, with
a view to persuading the White Sox to draft Chad. But before he
bothered, he called Chad to make sure he was willing to sign.

"Chad," he said. "How many other scouts have come to talk to


"Well, Chad," he said. "It looks like I'm it. Looks like I'm your

He told Chad that if he would agree in advance to sign, the
White Sox would again take him in a lower round but this time


offer him $12,500 to sign. Even then Chad sensed that the White
Sox didn't take him seriously — that to them he was just a guy to
fill out a minor league roster. The only evidence he had of their
interest was this lone Australian fellow who for some reason kept
turning up in rural Mississippi. He couldn't decide what to do: fin-
ish college or become a White Sox minor league pitcher. He did
what he now always did when he couldn't decide what to do. He
called Moose, and asked him what he should do.

"Chad," Moose asked, more minister than coach. "How bad
you want to play pro baseball?"

"It's all I ever dreamed of."

"Then you're a fool not to take their money."

He spent his first full season in the minor leagues in high A
ball. It didn't go well. In small-time college baseball his 86-mph
fastball seemed respectable enough. Out here it looked faintly
ridiculous. He had a wife and a son and couldn't help but wonder
if he'd made a mistake not finishing school. They'd run through
the signing bonus. He was making a thousand dollars a month in
the minor leagues. In the off-season he drove a forklift and swept
out trailers. "I'm looking at my numbers in the off-season," he
said, "and I'm thinking: should I be doing this?" When he turned
up in spring training for the 1998 season, the White Sox asked him
the same question. The pitching coaches informed him that he'd
been officially classified a "fringe prospect." "They said, 'If you
have a good season, you can stay around. If not, you're on your
way out.'"

His goal at the start of the 1998 season was simply to keep his
job. Late that spring several people noticed that he seemed to be
approaching that job differently. He'd changed his delivery, so that
he came at the hitter from a lower angle. In college he had drifted,
unthinkingly, from two o'clock to three o'clock, from a three-
quarters delivery to straight sidearm. That's where he was at the
end of his dismal first season in the minor leagues. Now, for the
first time in his career, he found his point of release well below his


waist. But until he watched tape of himself Chad had no idea that
he'd changed anythuig at all. He never did: his development into
a pitcher who looked like he helonged m a slow-pitch softball
game was unconscious. Feeling himself falling, he had reached
back blindly for something to grab hold of; the curious motion was
the first stable object he found. "Moose took me from twelve to
two," he said. "Rut I honestly don't know how I went down lower
from there. I have no idea what happened. I can't explain it." All
he knew was that when he threw it from lower down, his ball had
a new movement to it that flummoxed hitters during minor
league spring training, and continued to flummox them m
Double-A ball.

In late June, the Chicago White Sox promoted Chad from
Double-A to its Triple-A team in Calgary. When he arrived, he
found out why: his new home field was high in the foothills of the
Canadian Rockies, wind blowing out. The place was famously
hellish on pitching careers: the guy he'd come to replace had sim-
ply quit and skipped town. The first game after Chad arrived, his
team's starter gave up six runs in the first two thirds of an inning.
The first reliever came on and gave up another seven runs without
getting an out. What should have been ordinary fly balls rocketed
through the thin mountain air every which way out of the park.
Still in the top of the first inning, and his team already down 13-0,
the Calgary manager pointed to Chad. "When I see I'm next," said
Chad, "I'm thinking, 'what the hell am I doing here;'" He went
into the game and found the answer waiting for him. When he left
the game two hours later, it was the top of the eighth and the score
was 14-12. He'd gone six and a third innings and given up a single
run. The pitcher who replaced him promptly gave up five more
runs and the tinal score was 19-12.

An obscure, soft-tossing Double-A pitcher, who had never gone
more than a couple of innings in a minor league game, had thrown
six and a third merciless innings in maybe the toughest ballpark
in Triple-A. As astonishing as the performance had been, the


really curious thing was how he'd done it: by dropping down even
further. As usual, Chad didn't realize what had happened until
afterward. Maybe it was the thinness of the air, maybe the pres-
sure, but some invisible force, or some distant memory, had willed
his arm earthward. For the first time in his life he was attacking
hitters underhanded. He only knew one other guy who threw like

When asked how he explained his miraculous success, all Chad
could say is that "the Good Lord had a plan for me." The Good
Lord's plan, it would seem, was to illustrate to baseball players the
teachings of Charles Darwin. Each time Chad Bradford was thrust
into a new and more challenging environment he adapted, uncon-
sciously, albeit not as the White Sox, or he, hoped he would adapt.
When he'd been scouted by Warren Hughes, Chad's fastball came
in at around 86 mph. Hughes had sold Chad to his White Sox
bosses as a guy who would grow stronger, and one day pitch

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Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 19 of 24)