Episode 170: Guy who makes the craft services who feeds Aaron Sorkin

The Overthinkers tackle Moneyball.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Joshua McNeil, and Timothy Swann to overthink Moneyball, statistics, useful and less useful narratives, and the crisis of masculinity in the modern world.


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21 Comments on “Episode 170: Guy who makes the craft services who feeds Aaron Sorkin”

  1. Leigh #

    FYI: The A&M in Texas A&M originally stood for ‘agriculture and mechanical’. However, because of its mandate as a military academy, it became colloquially referred to as ‘agriculture and military’. Now, it’s a regular state school. Usually, when a college is rebranded as part of the state univeducationersity system, it takes on a new name – for example, Colorado A&M is now known as Colorado State University. Texas A&M, however, kept its name, because it is obsessed with traditionalism. But officially, the letters no longer mean anything.

    The name of the mining school in Golden, CO is: Colorado School of Mines. Mines for short.

    Really enjoyed your overthink of Moneyball. It really threw into perspective what I like so much about this podcast. It’s not that you guys are presenting all these new perspectives on the material that hadn’t occurred to me. It’s more like the vague cloud of thoughts that I had about the movie coalesced into the words coming out of your mouths. In short, you had all the same thoughts I had, but you articulated them so much better. And it’s comforting as hell to have your thoughts cogently articulated right before your eyes/ears. (I guess that’s why Fox News/scare propaganda works so well.)

    One idea that I really liked was the idea of a “technocrat as a new mode of masculine dominance”. It’s sorta the opposite of the mad scientist trope. I would put earlier movies like Hackers and Sneakers in the same category, as well as books like Douglas Coupland’s “Microserfs” and Po Bronson’s “The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest” (which was made into a terrible movie).

    Matt, at one point, you mentioned Aaron Sorkin as being a writer with an “agenda”. What exactly did you mean by that? Personally, I’m a fan of all of his work, including Studio 60, a show that seems to be universally reviled.

    Thanks for another great week.


    • JosephFM #

      That’s an interesting point – we have a Florida A&M as well, in Tallahassee, that still stands for Agricultural & Mechanical, but I think that was originally in part to distinguish it from the “white” schools – it was the black college when the university system was segregated. Florida State, incidentally, was the white women’s college.

      Also, I cannot let the whole “technocrat as mode of masculine dominance” quote go by without pointing to the epitome of that trope, by which I of course mean Barack Obama. (Also, my understanding was that they meant that positing that model of masculinity WAS Sorkin’s agenda, as it’s something of a through-line in his fairly diverse body of work.)


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      Can you remind me the context? When we podcast we are in an ecstatic state and generally don’t remember much of what we said when we come down.


      • Leigh #

        At the beginning of the Moneyball discussion. As soon as Fenzel mentions “Aaron Sorkin” was the writer of Moneyball, you say “he has an agenda as a storyteller, doesn’t he?” And Fenzel responds by mentioning Sports Night, which I didn’t think answered the question, but it was never brought up again.


  2. JosephFM #

    The discussion toward the end of the podcast about the comparative economics of sports in the US vs the UK really got me thinking on a couple of points. One is that, while professional sports in general are probably (and fairly ironically) the most socialist institution in American life, baseball is probably the least so of all the pro sports.

    You can indeed have teams like the Yankees and Red Sox that far outspend the other teams in order to win – which, as the movie points out, isn’t always the smartest strategy, but nonetheless is an option if you have the bankroll. In contrast, the NFL and NBA have salary caps, which limit the total labor expenditures of any given team. This is supposed to have a balancing effect, even though it doesn’t always work that way.

    As I’m sure I’ve mentioned, I’m from south Florida, which for years has been basically a pro sports wasteland – with one big exception, and one which highlights the point about how the free agency system gives disproportionate influence to top-tier stars, even when you do have a salary cap. I’m of course talking about the Miami Heat and LeBron James, who managed to push the Heat passed the Lakers as the most hated team in the NBA. (And now of course, their season, like the NFL’s before it, is at risk due to labor dispute.)


    • Leigh #

      The NFL also does profit sharing, where the large-market teams make cash investments in the small-market teams. The idea is the same as the salary cap – evening out the teams makes the games more competitive/exciting, which draws more viewers and more sponsors.


      • Erigion #

        The NFL profit sharing doesn’t really come from the large-market teams giving their profits to smaller-market teams. It comes from the lucrative TV deals that the league has with NBC, Fox, CBS, and ESPN. That TV deal money is split, evenly I would assume, between all 32 teams. I also believe there is an uneven split between the gate money between the two teams playing that day with the home team getting the larger share but compared to the TV money, the gate revenue is almost nothing.

        The NBA salary cap is a soft cap, meaning if a team wants to, it can go over the limit set each season and pay a luxury tax on the amount it went over. This benefits the large-market teams like LA, New York, and Chicago who don’t mind going over the cap because their markets can support it. Small-market teams won’t go over because they don’t have the money to do it because the NBA is a much more gate driven league than the NFL. Actually, every league is much more gate driven than the NFL since no other league has the massive TV contracts the NFL has.

        So, European Football and MLB are capitalism, the other two major US sports (NFL and NBA) are socialist, and NASCAR is a monarchy since the entire thing is owned by the France family.


        • Leigh #

          I thought the NFL also had straight up cash exchanges? Dallas could probably give away tickets and still make money, but Cleveland could really use the handout.

          I’m reminded of a line from the Jet Li movie Romeo Must Die (in which rival gangs get involved in a turf war while making land acquisitions to build a new stadium): “You don’t mess with the NFL. It’s their America.”


          • Erigion #

            There might be sharing when it comes to merchandise sales but it wouldn’t matter. The billions of dollars that get split up would dwarf the few million teams would get from merchandise sales.

            This is actually the difficulty in getting revenue sharing in the NBA since that league doesn’t get over $10 billion from tv deals. The large-market teams would be giving away they use to stay on top which they obviously don’t want to do.

        • Timothy J Swann #

          I really think there should be international soccer salary caps per player set by FIFA. It’s got to be quite obscene. As for per team, there are caps in Rugby Union, my sport of choice, but there are no limits on gifts/non-monetary payment, so if a rich team wants to attract a player they can give them a car and its cost does not count towards the cap.


  3. cat #

    More singing and the return of Wrather’s accents. Very pleased with this week’s episode.


      • Xyloart #

        p-please don’t hurt us we come in peace; h-hook em horns


  4. Wade #

    Tim, I’m going to have to take issue with your point about the movie Monsters. It seemed almost hypocritical of critics to praise Monsters for its outstanding special effects (given the budget), only to turn around and pan Skyline, which was made under almost exactly the same pretenses and succeeded in much the same way. The fact of the matter was that Monsters was not a particularly well-written film, and was really only meant to serve as a tech demo for Gareth Edwards’ CGI prowess. He wasn’t exactly saying anything with his Monsters, but people didn’t seem to mind since the monsters themselves looked so good for such a small budget.

    Skyline at least made the attempt to use CGI aliens as a sort of commentary on the state of CGI in movies. The Brothers Strause blew their entire $15 million budget on special effects, paid their actors peanuts and filmed the whole movie in their apartment to accomplish this. The characters are poorly drawn caricatures and completely incidental to the story, but once they’re imbued with a little computerized blue/green, become oddly compelling (particularly with that ending). The aliens themselves are, to put it metaphorically, brainless robotic shrouds grasping for humanity, and the humans are somehow the reverse.

    In the context of this week’s discussion, I suppose you could argue that both films are doing basically the same thing, but one did it for a fraction of the cost of the other (and the other did it for comparatively less than most big studio sci-fi films). Strictly looking at the data, that’s what you’ll see. But when examined closely, one film loses sight of its narrative at the expense of its production while the other brazenly throws it away in order to make some kind of grander statement about the state of sci-fi cinema at large.

    I guess what I’m really saying is that Skyline is severely underrated and people should check it out.


    • Timothy J Swann #

      I can’t comment on the quality or not of Skyline, but I think I liked Monsters more than you, and considered that they were not dwelt on. They were a fact of life, a cause of ongoing embargo and war, but they weren’t as significant as the difficulties of travel, of the huge wall, of risk and danger in Mexico. Monsters had a beautiful atmospheric feel, but when I say atmospheric I don’t mean it to mean plotless – there was a journey, a desperate tragic journey.


  5. Xyloart #

    I never understood why the government was involved in sports negotiations; I’m assuming the whole treating players like cattle issue was what started it?

    Also as a person who loves tracking stupid things on spreadsheets while simultaneously hating most statistical analysis I very much appreciated the insights in this week’s podcast.


  6. Tom #

    I have to admit, I was expecting a “measured out my life with coffee spoons” comment in response to the first question.

    And Tim, don’t feel bad. While not consistently topping the league like the Yankees, the Mets are often in the top 10 in payroll, and occasionally second behind their neighbors in the Bronx. They were sixth in 2002 (the Moneyball season), but rebounded to second the next year.


    It just goes to show that there’s no amount of money you can’t squander if you try hard enough.


    • Timothy J Swann #

      Oh, I’ll only feel bad if any of the American listeners can name a County Cricket side without looking it up!


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      “I have to admit, I was expecting a “measured out my life with coffee spoons” comment in response to the first question.”

      If you want a window into my brain – this actually crossed my mind, but by the time I thought of it, I was already thinking about Rent. The lyrics to Seasons of Love at one point go

      “In midnights and cups of coffee..
      In inches, in miles of laughter and strife.
      In 525,600 minutes. How do you measure a year in the life?”

      So, I made the connection between the cups of coffee line in Seasons of Love and the “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons” line from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which you mentioned. And the time was running short to when I was going to have to actually choose what the joke was going to be out of all the stuff racing through my mind.

      So, I tried to decide between one and the other, and then I tried to think if there was a third thing that jumped to mind that I could use to make it a joke about coffee.

      But in the end none of the jokes were satisfying, so I went back to the Rent song, jumped ahead a line, and made the joke about how people rhyme “strife” with “life” all the time.

      Thinking about Prufrock was definitely part of the not-so-free association that got me there, so you were right to expect it would be mentioned. It was in the group mind at the time.

      Also, semi-related bonus, old verse transliterated into modern English:

      “I grow old, I grow old,
      I shall peg my jeans.”


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