Moneyball by Michael Lewis
I grew up in Omaha, NE. While Nebraska is more strongly associated with football, it has baseball ties as well. It’s home of the College World Series and the city has a pretty strong softball culture. Yet, as with all sports, I had no exposure to baseball while growing up. Sport wasn’t valued in my family and was avoided as much as possible. I’ve come to see the error of that attitude, but I still don’t have the patience for baseball. So, what’s the deal with reading Moneyball?
I first came across Michael Lewis’s Moneyball while looking through a list of books that friends had read or wanted to read via a Facebook application. This was before I had heard of Lewis’s The Blind Side. The intersection between economics and sports sounded intriguing to me despite my general lack of interest in baseball as a sport. On a dramatic level, I do like baseball stories. Cut out 4/5th of the playing and baseball becomes more about the sport and less about waiting for the sport.
The book proposes the question: how does a baseball team with a very small budget (the Oakland As) compete against teams that can afford stars? To avoid sounding dumb, I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of Lewis’s findings. The most interesting aspect of the narrative to me is the uphill battle with common wisdom that was waged by Billy Beane and the proponents of sabermetrics. Baseball insiders with their traditional wisdom valued all the things that “rich” teams could afford. No one had thought to question traditional wisdom. Do those valued things win games? Bill James and other sabermeticians were asking those questions, seemingly into the wind, until Beane was forced by lack of money to put the system to the test. The lesson here is that common wisdom needs to be tested when it can be.
I enjoyed the book. Lewis has a knack for finding personalities and stories while presenting information in an understandable manner. He is, in fact, good enough at this that his non-fiction, non-overly-dramatic books are made into movies. I am amused this morning to find the trailer for the movie version of Moneyball has been released. (Funny thing: I still don’t remember if I’ve seen the movie version of The Blind Side. I think I may have, but I am maybe just imagining it.)