The First Guy Through the Wall Always Gets Bloody

“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there, but the first guy through the wall — it always gets bloody. Always. It’s the threat of not just the way of doing business, but in their minds, it’s threatening the game. But really what it’s threatening is their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins —  have their hands on the switch — they go batty … crazy.”  — Boston Red Sox owner John Henry in Moneyball.

The Oscar-nominated movie Moneyball (2011), starring Brad Pitt, tells the (mostly true) story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics, coached by Billy Beane. Based on the book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, the film opens the year before, when the A’s were eliminated from the postseason by the New York Yankees, who had vastly outspent the A’s in salary. Conventional wisdom held that a small market team like the A’s really couldn’t hope to compete with free-spending teams like the Yankees. Beane, not satisfied with the conventional wisdom, adopted an approach called sabermetrics, based on a new paradigm for judging the value of players — the application of statistical analysis in order to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players. Veteran coaches and scouts strenuously objected. How could Beane possibly trust the fate of the team to Beane’s assistant, a computer geek with an economics degree from Yale? In the movie, Beane frequently clashes with his veteran staff and the team’s manager, who know better and who warn him that his plan will not succeed. At several points in the movie the veterans seem to go out of their way to sabotage Beane’s plans as they stubbornly cling to their proven, time-tested (albeit unsuccessful) methods.

Perhaps you can see the parallels to today’s Republican Party. Many believe the party is at a critical crossroads. A handful of Republican Billy Beanes are pushing a new approach to politics — more confrontational, less collegial, more responsive to the grassroots — that defies conventional wisdom. Party veterans, perhaps understandably, object to the new paradigm. As the Red Sox owner said, “It’s threatening their livelihoods. It’s threatening their jobs. It’s threatening the way that they do things.” Those who have spent their careers accumulating power (and for many, great wealth), don’t see a lot of upside to relinquishing their power to young upstarts who don’t possess their wisdom, don’t respect their time-tested (albeit unsuccessful) methods, and don’t respect the way things have always been done in the Grand Old Party.

Sen. Ted Cruz’s 21-hour speech in the Senate last week must have sent a chill up the spines of the GOP establishment. Armed with Twitter accounts and burgeoning email lists, Cruz, his fellow senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, and a handful of others have the power to command the grassroots at a moment’s notice. They can shut down the phones in the Capitol by launching a single tweet, and they held the attention of untold numbers of Americans on C-SPAN for an entire news cycle. Never before have Republicans been able to command such attention.

Instead of respect and admiration, the attacks came quickly from the Republican establishment. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) complained,

“We’re in the minority, we have to find a way of standing up for our principles without immolating ourselves in front of everybody, in a way when we don’t have the votes to do it.”

Sen. John McCain took to CBS This Morning to attack Cruz, saying that Cruz’s plan to defund Obamacare was “impossible” and that Republicans should stop their infighting. “This exercise will not achieve the goal that we seek,” McCain said, alluding to the Cruz-led defunding effort. “I do question whether the outcome is going to be what he is promising people, which is impossible as long as Democrats control two out of the three bodies of government.”

Republican strategist Karl Rove told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that Republican leaders were upset that Ted Cruz didn’t obtain their approval for his plans:

“Well, this strategy of defunding Obamacare was an ad hoc strategy laid out without consulting with his fellow senators and at every step of the way, it’s been sort of cobbled together on the fly.”

Chris Wallace told viewers of Fox News Sunday last week that “top Republicans” sent him “opposition research” on Ted Cruz when they learned he would be Wallace’s guest.

Cruz responded — indirectly — in his 21-hour Senate speech last week, saying that the Senate was not working for the people.

“Why is Washington broken?” Cruz asked.

“Because you have 100 people, a significant number of whom on a daily basis, tell their boss, tell their constituents: I am too busy for you. It is apparently very important to be invited to all the right cocktail parties in town. . . . I do not go to a whole lot of cocktail parties in town. But there are members of this body for whom that is very important.”

“It’s is a little bit akin to the World Wrestling Federation, wrestling matches where it is all rigged,” Cruz added.

“There are some members of this body, if we could have 100 show votes, saying here is what we are for, but mind you, none of them are actually going to change the law, none of them are going to make one iota of difference to the American people because they will never become law. . . . That curiously would make a significant number of senators happy.”

Cruz is getting the kind of treatment with which great pioneers are all too familiar. Consider Bill James (played by Jonah Hill in Moneyball), the man credited with inventing sabermetrics. James grew up loving the game of baseball and obsessed with statistics. The more he studied the numbers, the more he began to question the “conventional wisdom” in baseball. In his essay “The Ballad of Bill James,” Joe Posnanski writes that a turning point for James came when he discovered that the oft-quoted statement that pitcher Nolan Ryan outdrew other pitchers in attendance was false: “Well, if people could get something that simple wrong, they could get just about anything wrong. . . . [and] the more hours he spent with the evidence — the more he came to believe that so much of what people said automatically about baseball was silly, misleading, incomplete.”

James thought that if he put the time into researching the numbers, baseball people would appreciate the information and perhaps even use it. Instead, “He found himself on the front line of a fight he had no intention of starting.”

Which is often the case for trailblazers. “The first guy through the wall — it always gets bloody.”

In fact, James was served up a vicious irony when his peculiar and gifted approach to the game caused opponents to question his love for it:

“They really did gripe about how [James] never played the game. They really did say that baseball is a game of the gut and a game of the heart, and you can’t offer anything of any use about baseball with formulas or science. They really did say that he did not love baseball, not the way baseball was meant to be loved, and that he was only hurting the game.”

This is pretty much what the GOP establishment is saying about party trailblazers Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, and others who have bucked party leaders — that they’re hurting the party.

Eventually, baseball listened — beginning with agents whose players weren’t getting a fair deal because of the flawed way teams determined player value. Billy Bean’s Oakland A’s made it to the World Series in 2002, and two years later, John Henry’s Boston Red Sox used sabermetrics to break the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” and win the World Series.

Eventually, the Republican Party will listen, too.

And the sooner the better, because how Beane described the A’s before sabermetrics applies to the state of the GOP under the Old Guard: “There’s rich teams and there’s poor teams and there’s fifty feet of crap and then there’s us … we’ve got to think differently.”

Just like James and Beane, the grassroots sees that the game is “rigged,” and that we’ve got to think and play the game differently. Conservatives have “taken it in the teeth” and are bloody from some recent battles. But there is reason to hope that we are on the cusp of a new political paradigm — one where the game isn’t rigged against the American people.


Featured-Columnist1Paula Bolyard describes herself as a Christian first, conservative second, and Republican third. She is a member of the Wayne County Executive Committee and is owner and moderator of the Ohio Homeschool Yahoo! Group. She is a contributor at PJ Media Lifestyle, PJ Media, and RedState.


All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.


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