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Rethinking America's Pastime: The Paul DePodesta Story

How a Harvard graduate turned a passion for baseball into a statistical revolution

“His role goes far beyond statistical analysis and really goes to the heart of our scouting and player development, which he oversees,” Alderson says. “That operation is as much about scouting and leadership as it is about analysis, so he brings a very broad range of talents to the job.”

Now with his fifth team, DePodesta says one of the perks of his career is that the constant travel it entails allow him to keep in touch with many of the Harvard classmates he left behind almost two decades ago. But among people who have not seen him in so long, the popular interest that accompanied “Moneyball” has led many to stereotype DePodesta as the “Google Boy” he is portrayed as, rather than the innovator those who know him best believe he has been.

I think the biggest change [since the book was published] has just been people’s preconception or preconceived notion of who I am and what I’m about as a person,” he says. “Being able to make a first impression on them, that’s largely no longer possible for me, and I think that’s probably been the biggest challenge.”

DePodesta faced a decision on whether he wanted those presumptions to be aggrandized on the big screen when “Moneyball” the movie was released in September. His character was played by Jonah Hill, but the Harvard alum chose to have his likeness not depicted in the movie—leaving Hill to play a Yale graduate named Peter Brand.

Like Plaschke, Hill told The Crimson in September that he saw reticence, rather than intelligence, as the dominant part of his multifaceted character’s personality.

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DEEP-O IMPACT

DEEP-O IMPACT

The Paul DePodesta Story

“You would never pick him out in a room of people,” Hill says. “He would just blend in with the wallpaper. I’ve played a lot of larger-than-life characters, and I think to play someone so small emotionally, and so quiet and reserved, was really exciting to me.”

Indeed, the man who had so greatly enjoyed studying others’ personalities in college psychology classes was being subject to the same treatment himself—only this time, the whole country would be the judges. And believing there to be misrepresentations in the script that once again made him appear a nerdy caricature, DePodesta wanted no part of the film.

I knew that with any movie, it’s not a documentary, so it’s not going to be 100 percent truthful,” DePodesta says. “I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to the truth, and if this was the way for the historic record either that I was going to remembered [or] my work was going to be remembered...I just wasn’t going to be comfortable with it if it wasn’t going to be completely truthful.”

GAMECHANGER

Despite DePodesta’s quiet disposition, there is no doubt his voice has been among the loudest in his field, and his work has had a major influence on his peers.

“He was very much a mentor to me, and I learned a lot from him about the decision-making process and how to think analytically and really just how to conduct yourself in a major league front office,” says Forst, who many now see as Beane’s heir apparent. “I’m grateful for the opportunities he gave me and everything I learned from working underneath him.”

According to Alderson, the analytics DePodesta has been so passionate about throughout his career plays a major role in every baseball front office today.

“The interest in sabermetrics has changed dramatically,” Alderson says. “Sabermetrics now has a tremendous influence on virtually all baseball decisions—not an exclusive influence, but a significant one. Part of that is a result of broader awareness of the relationship between that kind of analysis and performance evaluation; part of it was the exponential growth in the availability of data which drives much of the analysis today and makes it far more sophisticated than 30 years ago.”

“Paul was one of the many bright people who were at the forefront of pushing statistics,” Shapiro adds. “The amount of time and quality of the inputs that go into decision-making have dramatically changed.”

DePodesta, too, has seen a major transformation during his 15-year career in the Big Leagues.

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