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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game Paperback – 8 January 2010
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Moneyball is a quest for the secret of success in baseball. Following the low-budget Oakland Athletics, their larger-than-life general manger, Billy Beane, and the strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts, Michael Lewis has written not only "the single most influential baseball book ever" (Rob Neyer, Slate) but also what "may be the best book ever written on business" (Weekly Standard).
"I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it—before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball, the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?"
With these words Michael Lewis launches us into the funniest, smartest, and most contrarian book since, well, since Liar's Poker. Moneyball is a quest for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, something that money apparently can't buy: the secret of success in baseball. The logical places to look would be the front offices of major league teams, and the dugouts, perhaps even in the minds of the players themselves. Lewis mines all these possibilities—his intimate and original portraits of big league ballplayers are alone worth the price of admission—but the real jackpot is a cache of numbers—numbers!—collected over the years by a strange brotherhood of amateur baseball enthusiasts: software engineers, statisticians, Wall Street analysts, lawyers and physics professors.
What these geek numbers show—no, prove—is that the traditional yardsticks of success for players and teams are fatally flawed. Even the box score misleads us by ignoring the crucial importance of the humble base-on-balls. This information has been around for years, and nobody inside Major League Baseball paid it any mind. And then came Billy Beane, General Manager of the Oakland Athletics.
Billy paid attention to those numbers—with the second lowest payroll in baseball at his disposal he had to—and this book records his astonishing experiment in finding and fielding a team that nobody else wanted. Moneyball is a roller coaster ride: before the 2002 season opens, Oakland must relinquish its three most prominent (and expensive) players, is written off by just about everyone, and then comes roaring back to challenge the American League record for consecutive wins.
In a narrative full of fabulous characters and brilliant excursions into the unexpected, Michael Lewis shows us how and why the new baseball knowledge works. He also sets up a sly and hilarious morality tale: Big Money, like Goliath, is always supposed to win...how can we not cheer for David?
Moneyball is the best business book Lewis has written. It may be the best business book anyone has written.--Mark Gerson "Weekly Standard"
A journalistic tour de force.--Richard J. Tofel "Wall Street Journal"
By playing Boswell to Beane's Samuel Johnson, Lewis has given us one of the most enjoyable baseball books in years.--Lawrence S. Ritter "New York Times Book Review"
Ebullient, invigorating...Provides plenty of action, both numerical and athletic, on the field and in the draft-day war room.--Lev Grossman "Time"
I understood about one in four words of Moneyball, and it's still the best and most engrossing sports book I've read in years. If you know anything about baseball, you will enjoy it four times as much as I did, which means that you might explode.--Nick Hornby "The Believer"
It's a sports story that's actually a business story that's also a story about preconceptions. Plus, Michael Lewis's writing is so clear, readable, and highly entertaining.--Charles Yu "Literary Hub"
Lewis has hit another one out of the park...You need know absolutely nothing about baseball to appreciate the wit, snap, economy and incisiveness of [Lewis's] thoughts about it.--Janet Maslin "New York Times"
Michael Lewis's beautiful obsession with the idea of value has once again yielded gold...Moneyball explains baseball's startling new insight; that for all our dreams of blasts to the bleachers, the sport's hidden glory lies in not getting out.--Garry Trudeau
The best book of the year, [Moneyball] already feels like the most influential book on sports ever written. If you're a baseball fan, Moneyball is a must.-- "People"
About the Author
- Publisher : *Norton agency titles; 1st edition (8 January 2010)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0393324818
- ISBN-13 : 978-0393324815
- Dimensions : 13.97 x 2.29 x 21.08 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 32,943 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Top reviews from Australia
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What I particularly liked about it was that it went into the mathematics and the science of how Billy Beane and the A's front office gradually solved the problem of how to build the most efficient possible baseball team; developing the ideas of Bill James and a cult of baseball statisticians.
Top reviews from other countries
I'd never heard of Billy Beane, but he sounds like a very interesting guy, a smart guy and a great leader. I particularly like the story of someone who is willing to challenge the conventional wisdom, and he very much did that. The other thing that is really interesting is that he, himself, was given a shot at the big leagues based on the "hokum" of what a ball player should look like, and in defiance of what his stats were saying when he was signed as a player. Despite the pain which it maybe caused him, he purposefully turned his back on picking stars based on the "hokum" approach and went looking for players who did not "look like" him, i.e. weren't natural born athletes, didn't look good in uniform, didn't get the scouts excited, etc, etc. It's a rare quality to go looking for people who don't look like you.
The main thing to love though is the story about how "baseball insider wisdom" (on everything from picking players in the draft to the strategy of winning games to negotiating trades with other teams) was challenged by those outside baseball, but no one from within baseball, except for Beane and the Oakland As, was ever willing to put it to the test. Beane took this body of knowledge, further developed it, and then implemented it, and to great effect. His team, despite its small budget, was very successful over a long enough period of time to prove the point. It's almost impossible to imagine all the pro teams in any other sport, worldwide, ignoring so much data on how things could be done better, and for so long.
Now, I'm going to watch the movie.
On one level this is a book about Baseball and a maverick who subverted the consensus view on how the game should be played and understood but on a deeper level this is a case study of an idea. It is behavioural economics as applied to sport.
The book demonstrates how Billy Beane used the insights of a Baseball statistician named Bill James (a cipher for Nobel winning behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman, author of 'Thinking, Fast and Slow'?) and the practical mathematical genius of Paul Podesta (a Harvard graduate with no Baseball experience) to outsmart his competitors.
'Reason, even science, was what Billy Beane was intent on bringing to Baseball...... Paul wanted to look at stats because the stats offered offered him new ways of understanding.....That was James's most general point: the naked eye was an inadequate tool for learning what you needed to know to evaluate baseball players and baseball games.'
On one level level this is an old-fashioned David vs Goliath story but on a deeper level it is a book about two competing views of human nature. The view being triumphed in this book is that of 'behavioural economics.' In short, that human beings are inherently irrational. Trusting one's gut, or intuition, is inherently flawed and is subject to systematic biases/limitations/flaws/illusions which can only be rooted out by a sophisticated analysis of relevant statistical data.
The author Michael Lewis is really an economics writer and what he has managed to do is something that many writers (including Daniel Kahneman, whose writings in my opinion tend to be turgid in the extreme) seem unable to do, and that is:- make seemingly complex ideas come alive by embedding them in real-life situations with real people. Moneyball is a great sports book but it is also popular social science writing at its finest too.
I would suggest trying to pick up the edition with the "new afterword" which discusses the response to the book from the "baseball industry" which treated as arrogant bragadocio from writer Billy Beane, totally missing that it wasn't actually written by Mr Beane and was hardly boastful or arrogant. The baseball industry - the writers, scouts, managers etc - continues to perpetuate their myths even as other smaller teams (and some of the bigger teams) adopt the A's modus operandi with similar successful results.
In Moneyball, Michael Lewis suggests a simple explanation: the game's finances had gone stratospheric, leaving the As unable to compete for the superstars. At the same time, he explains how they remained seriously competitive without going bankrupt: they disregarded the gut instincts of scouts immersed in subjective assessment of players, adopting instead an analysis of statistics weighted in favour of certain key elements.
At first, the book looks at how and why the analysis worked, but it evolves into the story of a single season when it was the essential rationale that governed the way Oakland identified and signed players. So it becomes a human story, focussing on the unlikely heroes out on the diamond and on the General Manager who believes implicitly in the information emerging from the computer of his Number Two. The General Manager is Billy Beane, a former player who should have been a star but never quite made it, and is now a quixotic leader who prefers to be somewhere else when his team is playing. It will be a hard-hearted reader who fails to empathise with Beane as the season unfolds. Never mind the mathematics, the book is worth reading if only to sit beside him while he trades away his best players in order to sign unrated others.
Lewis doesn't claim that the As found a one-size-fits-all infallible blueprint; unarguably, several million dollars into the annual bank balance of a Barry Bonds, an A-Rod or a Jeter make for an interesting alternative. Moneyball, really, is simply a one-off example of brilliant sports writing by an author whose true beat is big business. In this edition, Lewis unfortunately, cannot resist an appendix to deal with a faction in baseball that decries his efforts. He should have let the book speak for itself. It is certainly good enough.
Oakland A are a small, unsexy US baseball team who consistently got to near the top of the baseball leagues on a fraction of the money and budget of the leading high profile teams like the Boston White Sox or the New York Yankies. When you think of intellectuals influencing the course of human affairs, you think of physics, or political theory or economics. You do not think of baseball because you don't think of baseball as having an intellectual underpinning. But everything does have an intellectual underpinning and when an original thinker applies his mind startling results can be achieved.
Billy James, a Kansas University educated pork and bean factory worker was fascinated by baseball and studied it assiduously. He published his first leaflet : 1977 Baseball abstract: Featuring 18 Categories of Statistical Information That You Just Can't Find Anywhere Else. Doesn't sound a best seller does it?
But his thesis was that people in charge of professional baseball believed they could judge players performance simply by watching it. In this conventional wisdom on which millions of dollars was lavished, they were deeply mistaken. It was only by measurement and statistics that you could distinguish the good hitter from the average hitter - it is simply not visible.
James theory was not original - many others had measured players' performance. But he lived in a time of radical advances in computer technology enabling him to analyse vast amounts of data. And he lived in a time when baseball players salaries boomed - dramatically raising the value of his information. He developed computer models that correlated the number of runs a team would score against key statistics he identified but which were not particularly valued by the professional scouts and baseball professionals based on historical analysis. His models proved accurate in prediction future performance. However the baseball professionals failed to see the point. Until Billy Beane came along.
Billy Beane became General manager of Oakland A in 1997 and he had read all of Billy James Abstracts and had taken to heart not just the knowledge, but more importantly, had adopted the attitude of rational thinking and testing the evidence empirically. Billy Beane was not a statistician but he employed one - Paul DePoesta who applied the computer power and models developed by Wall Street Traders to baseball.
Billy Beane and Paul Depodesta developed Billy James approach to rate all the unknown, as well as famous players, in the game. Then they withstood the ridicule of their contemporaries by seeking the unknown or the quirky players, but ones that have a proven track record in some key criteria by which Billy and Paul rated them. They bought players at a fraction of the cost of the high profile teams and became winners. They achieved consistent success on the baseball pitch reaching the playoffs season after season from 2000 to 2004, when this book was written. And success at a fraction of the cost of the high spending teams. Once the value of their discoveries was recognised they had no hesitation in selling the stars they had created and bringing in more unknown players.
But it was not just in buying unknown players with special talents that Oakland excelled. It was also in identifying what each individual could contribute to the team and coaching them intensively in that trait and accepting their deficiencies in other traits. This is not just a story about dry statistical analysis - it is full of colour of the individual and quirky characters that Billy Beane turned from outcasts to key players in his teams.
Billy Beane's approach generated an enormous amount of antipathy among conventional baseball professionals, but Billy was not intimidated. .
This book is a lesson in life and in business - do not try and change people, nobody is talented in everything but if you build on people's strengths you can overcome their weaknesses in a team; don't follow the herd, think for yourself, look at the evidence, measure the outcomes; take some of Billy Beane's courage.
P.S. I love the names in the US - where else do you get Pauldepodesta working with Billy Beane.