Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

 Baseball is not a topic that interests me greatly. I don't play it, nor do I watch it on the Tube, and aside from the superstar celebrities of the sport that one can't help hearing about...on Jeopardy...I couldn't give you the name of a pro ball player if my life depended on it. However, Michael Lewis has a talent for making otherwise uninteresting or impenetrable topics come alive, as he has in several other works I've read, and they (the ubiquitous ones) made this book into a movie a while back, so I figured, "How bad could it be?"

After years of professional scouts determining who would be drafted to play professional ball, out of the hordes of high school and college players available, Oakland As manager Billy Beane finally decided to apply science and statistics to the process, and consistently produced a winning team on one of the lowest budgets in the league.

The way in which Lewis makes his writing more interesting than you'd think the subject would bear is in finding the backstories. He tells us about the baseball fanatics who first began to look at the statistics generated by major league ball and decide that something was missing, and that people who owned and managed teams were making decisions based on faulty assumptions, such as Bill James.

A quote from him I could relate to:
"I learned to write because I am one of those people who somehow cannot manage the common communications of smiles and gestures, but must use words to get across things that other people would never need to say."

Another fan who wrote about the hidden art of baseball was Pete Palmer:
"Managers tend to pick a strategy that is least likely to fail rather than pick a strategy that is most efficient. The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move."

One of my OMG moments was when I read the following:

"Of course, no one in pro sports ever admits to quitting. But it was perfectly possible to abandon all hope of winning and at the same time show up every day for work to collect a paycheck. Professional sports had a word for this: "rebuilding." That's what half a dozen big league teams did more or less all the time."

Holy frijoles! My Broncos are in a "rebuilding" year.

As always, with a Lewis book, I learned something.

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