Book Review: Moneyball The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

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Book Review: Moneyball - The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

by Jonathan Leshanski
December 12, 2003

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
by Michael Lewis
Published by W.W. Norton and Co.
p. 288

Michael Lewis has created a very interesting book that qualifies as a definite must read. During the playoffs you may have heard the announcers joking that Moneyball was headed straight to the discount racks after the A’s lost to Boston but all that comment proves is that they never read the book.

The book is a fascinating look inside the front office of the Oakland A’s and general manager Billy Beane himself. It’s not all true and there are several areas where an astute reader will recognize that the author himself was beguiled a bit by the mythos of Billy Beane as the shrewdest operator in the game. Perhaps that was intentional but if anything it does not detract from the book, rather it only makes it a more compelling read.

If you are only interested in the on field antics of players today or even of yesteryear you won’t care an iota for this book, but this is groundbreaking stuff. The book can almost be called applied philosophy though it does not attempt to measure good, evil, space or time - but instead considers how baseball players are viewed by fans, scouts, coaches, managers, and even the front office. More importantly however is that it’s the first book to detail how management is changing in its outlook and how baseball is once again evolving.

Baseball like every other business hates inefficiency and unlike other businesses that are forced to adapt or to perish because of competition, baseball has no competition in its own field. Thus baseball until recently never had to adapt. As the gap between the haves and have nots has grown smaller market teams have had to adapt and find new paradigms in order to survive.

One of the best of these innovators has been Billy Beane whose Oakland Athletics have remained competitive for the last 5 seasons despite having one of the smallest payrolls in the game. Beane did something that no other GM in the game had publicly done. He threw away all of the old conventional wisdom which had been key to the game for a century and looked for something new. Well, maybe he did not really have to look far - because Billy Beane, a failed major leaguer himself had something in mind. Beane had groundwork laid for him by a guy named Bill James and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) who evaluated talent statistically rather than by gut instinct.

Bill James and SABR had statistically proven that many of the things that baseball has accepted as truths for much of its history truths were actually misconceptions. However despite the fact they could prove conventional wisdom was flawed no one really paid any attention to James or SABR's work except other fans with similar interests. Organized baseball didn’t even give them a wink and a nod, but just ignored the statistics, the statisticians, and their work - that is until Billy Beane came along.

Beane was staring at the baseball version of “Survivor” and his team was one of the weakest players because of financial constraints. So Beane forced the A’s to adapt. He fired scouts and entrenched men with entrenched ideas and rebuilt the Oakland organization in his own image. Like any good businessman what he did was to eliminate the inefficiencies that he felt were flawed - even if they were established baseball practice.

That’s the story which is told here, about how a man reshaped not just a team, but an organization, and how that organization has lead the way for a number of other teams. This book opened a lot of eyes as to some of the fallacies of the way the game is run. A number of teams have redesigned themselves using Beane’s protégés or in the image of the A’s. That includes small market teams and even big market behemoths like the Boston Red Sox.

This little book has changed the game, and opened a new era in baseball. No assumption is safe any longer and baseball is rapidly evaluating different ideas and trying new things. It may be one of the reasons that the playoffs the last few years have been as exciting as they have been.

For the second time in a year I have found a book that qualifies as a must read - at least for those who can look beyond the field.

Give this one 3.5 balls as a groundbreaking book which has ushered in a new era in baseball which could be the most exciting one yet.




Our Rating System is based on a four ball system as follows:
One Ball: Average. It has something to say but is nothing special.
Two Balls: Something men usually have - also means its a cut above average, and worth reading/owning.
Three balls: Stands out from its peers and is highly recommended.
Four Balls: More than just what two men have when hanging out together, it means it is an exceptional book that truly earns a walk - straight to the local book store to get a copy.

 

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