Book Review: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game: Michael M. Lewis

Posted on December 28, 2010

Often times it is suggested that with an increase of knowledge, you lose some of your innocent appreciation of the form you studied. With classical music, you always hear about how ‘it’s impossible to listen without over-thinking it.’ After learning something about beer one ‘can’t drink cheap beer any-more.’ As someone who, until a year and a half ago, had probably only watched less than 5 full games of baseball, this book changed everything in a good way.

For the record, I know a great deal about beer and classical music and I still love Red Dog and still attend concerts.

If you are like me, and lived under a rock for the past half a decade, the premise of ‘Moneyball’ is that baseball, like stocks, businesses or airplane traffic, was objectively analysed by a washed up pitcher and some Harvard nerdsĀ  to create the 2002 Oakland Athletics, who did really, really well.

The 2002 A’s were notable not only because they got to the playoffs, not only because they had the lowest payroll in MLB but because the moves that the management, Billy Beane and Paul DePodesta mainly, made were counter-intuitive when viewed in the context of the prevailing status-quo. Instead of cashing out on big names and drafting guys because they ‘look like baseball players’, they find cheap players that do as good or better jobs than the pricey ones and draft college players who show the best chance of doing well using statistics that weren’t RBI’s, stolen bases and on-base percentage.

If I have one criticism of Moneyball, it is that Lewis falls into the many traps of sports writing. Instead of letting the narrative of players tell the story, the writer must find new ways to write superlatives, frequently using analogies, similes and comparisons to gods. It comes with with the territory, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Other than that, this book was pretty great. It’s the classic story of the underdog. A team that literally beats the odds and exposes failings of a institution that was rife with inefficiency. For someone who is obsessed with efficiency, and loves the application of economics to arenas outside of Wall Street, this book was exhilarating. It is also about bringing baseball into the modern era. This story could not have taken place without the internet or, at the very least, computers.

I’ll still watch baseball. I’ll still cringe when the Nationals, who say that they use sabrematics, the system of baseball analysis that is the subject of this book, pay ridiculous amounts of money for ageing players. If anything, this book has turned me into a baseball fan and I am, without a doubt, going to be doing much more reading about the economics of ‘America’s Sport’.


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