Monday, October 29, 2012

Living in Truth, on and off the Field

Thomas Mann, Vaclav Havel and other artists have agonized over the connection between art and life. Havel, the Czech dissident-turned-president, argued for the goal of living in truth.

To live in truth, one’s inner and outer worlds must be integrated. When that happens, Havel suggested, a life could become a work of art.

How, if at all, does this reasoning apply to athletes? For big-time athletes, like high-profiles, are often in the public eye, moving in worlds that can seem so different from ordinary reality.

In Moneyball, the versatile journalist Michael Lewis tells the story of Billy Beane, a peculiar case study of bringing art and life together in the sports word. Annointed by baseball scouts as a future superstar while still a teenager, Beane never fulfilled that promise on the field.

As a general manager, however, Billy Beane has been instrumental in reinventing the tradition-bound game of baseball. As Lewis shows in Moneyball, Beane has led the Oakland A’s to surprising success by his willingness to use statistical analysis to guide player acquisitions.

Lewis recounts how, in the early 1980s, Beane was overshadowed in the New York Mets minor league system by two other players, Darryl Strawberry and Lenny Dykstra. Strawberry and Beane were drafted the same year, both in the first round, and billed as future superstars. Dykstra and Beane were roommates and friends.

Dykstra, in particular, was a challenge for Beane, for Dykstra seemed to have a head for the game that maximized his minimal talent. For Beane, it was the opposite, as he continued to get minimal results from what seemed to be maximum talent.

Off the field, however, in the game of life, the tables have turned. Strawberry and Dykstra have each done prison time. Strawberry’s issue was drugs. Dykstra’s issues were many, including drugs, sex offenses, and financial crimes.

Earlier this year, when Dykstra was sentencing to three years in prison for grand theft auto, the Village Voice said it was the culmination of what was essentially a 20-year crime spree.

Meanwhile, Beane played played by Brad Pitt in a movie version of Moneyball and got his A's back in the playoffs again, despite the usual financial challenges.

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