I don’t know if any of you watch baseball, but my favorite team (since 2000), the Oakland A’s, is suffering one of the worst collapses in baseball, if not professional sports history. If you don’t like baseball, please bear with me as I’m going to go through a stats to get to this historic stumble and eventually relate it to writing.
Before the All-Star break, General Manager Billy Beane’s Moneyball team not only had the league’s best record with 59 wins (a team record) and only 36 losses, but they were also blowing teams away with an astounding run 145 plus differential. That is runs scored minus runs given. For the first time in ages, the A’s had more than one player (six!) going to the All Star game, and of the players represented, Yoensis Cespedes won the Home Run Derby for the second year in a row. This team looked like they were ready to storm their way to the World Series leaving other club swirling in their wake. Billy Beane even brought on Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija by trading his 2012 and 2013 first round draft picks (read: the future). This strengthened an already solid pitching staff, and everything looked bright. Then on August 1, Billy Beane, thinking about the playoffs, made a shocking trade dealing All-Star outfielder Cespedes for All-Star pitcher Jon Lester. Between August 1 and September 20 the A’s have gone 18-29, losing the Western AL division to the Angels and trying to eke out enough wins to take the Wild Card race.
Fans and analysts have been trying to explain the reversal of fortune while Athletics haters have derogatorily called the team the Choakland Pathetics. Most analysts and all number crunchers still explain the trade with charts and numbers as a good thing, citing that Oakland was showing signs of slowing down and that Cespedes was wildly overrated. They point to the other batters such as Brandon Moss who had 23 homeruns before August 1 and didn’t hit another one until 39 games later as well as late inning pitching fiascos. But the success of Moneyball (finding talent in statistics that other teams don’t value), which has served Oakland well, takes out the human elements that make a team.
In this case, fans, including myself, can’t help but see the trade as the reason for the mighty slump. It’s something you can’t explain on paper. There are no statistics for leadership and the intense emotions that a player brings to a team. From the beginning of the season, the A’s were a tight knit team that ran off of enthusiasm as much as talent. They had been great at coming up with big wins in the ninth when they were down and just having fun. Even if Cespedes didn’t always hit game winning RBIs, he was in the line up every day, putting pressure on pitchers in the clean up role and providing defensive highlights. The team looked up to him. It wasn’t that Oakland just traded a batter for a pitcher, they traded away something deeper. Without being too melodramatic, I’d argue they traded the soul of the team (or at least the leader with the most heart and soul). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is hard to replace. For those who love statistics, you can stick them where the sun don’t shine. We’re talking about humans, not robots.
So how does this all relate to writing? Book industry has many trends, and many writers jump on the bandwagon of what’s hot. YA books are exploding, but make sure it is in a post-apocalyptic setting. Fifty shades of mommy porn is what makes money. Detective or procedural novels should only have characters thirty and above who have deep emotional scars from the death of their wife/brother/parents/partner. But if you follow what is on the best sellers list (i.e. reading statistics), instead of following your own instincts to tell the story inside of you, you’ll have a book that is an imitation if it sells or a manuscript that is no longer interesting if the trends have changed or market is flooded with it – think of all the zombie fiction and the vampires before it. If you have a strength, you should exploit it and not sell it short for something that sounds hot. It might just wreck a great season of writing!
Travis Richardson is fortunate enough to be nominated for both Anthony and Macavity awards for his short story “Incident on the 405” in MALFEASANCE OCCASIONAL: GIRL TROUBLE. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has published stories in several online zines as well as the anthologies SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER AND FINANCIAL CRIMES, THUGLIT ISSUE #13 and ALL DUE RESPECT ISSUE #1 and ISSUE #4. He edits the Sisters-In-Crime Los Angeles newsletter, reviews Chekhov short stories daily at www.chekhovshorts.com and sometimes shoots a short movie. His latest novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, concerns a disgraced baseball player who will do anything to keep his tainted home run record. Find out more at www.tsrichardson.com