Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Moneyball, Michael Lewis

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game


Michael Lewis

Category: Nonfiction: Sports; Baseball

Synopsis: Lewis looks at the economic side of winning baseball games, courtesy of General Manager Billy Beane’s Oakland A’s.

Date finished: 20 May 2014

Rating: ****

I admit it. I romanticize baseball. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, peanuts and crackerjack, seventh inning stretch, sliding into home—this is what I think of when I think of baseball. I know next to nothing about the game, the nomenclature, or who the current big names are. I understand just enough to follow along, and I’m fine with that.

But there’s another side to baseball (and all professional sports)—the money side. Until a few years ago, it was widely understood that money won baseball games. Money bought the best players, and the best players brought the team to the World Series. It was as simple and economically sordid as that. That is, until the Oakland Athletics, one of the monetary underdogs, decided to put another theory onto the field. What if, they thought, winning in baseball isn’t about sluggers or runners or fielders? What if winning came down to how many times a team gets on base? What if you remove all the superfluous base stealing and bunting and just get on base? What if you signed only the players who could consistently make base hits, no matter their other skills, no matter how much they weighed, no matter how badly they fielded, no matter how much the scouts squawked? What then?

What then? Then, you put together an Oakland A’s team that wins more consecutive games in a season than any other team in baseball history. And they do it at a third the price of teams like the New York Yankees.

If you’ve seen the movie starring Brad Pitt, you know the story. The movie (which I watched when it came out and again after finishing the book) adds drama to make the whole experience a touch more human. My husband hated the drama, I thought it was essential. The book got dry, dry, dry at times. There is a chapter detailing the early days of the shift in baseball statistical analysis (the 1970s, I believe), that just about did me in. What I enjoyed most was the stories about the players, all with “defects,” most swinging between the minors and the majors, who found themselves playing a whole new game in Oakland.

The whole idea is fascinating, that more than athleticism or even money, baseball could be reduced to base hits. Pure and simple. So pure and simple that everyone else ignored it. In fact, they are still ignoring it. Other than the A’s and the Red Sox (who went on to win the World Series, ah-hem), no other teams have embraced the formula.

So, while the book shook my romantic notions of baseball, it made the game something I could understand and appreciate in another way. I love learning how things work. I love systematic things. I love quirky stories. And I love to see things boiled down to their simplest parts. And although rough reading at times, that’s exactly what I got with Moneyball.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, to baseball enthusiasts and the non-sporting alike. (Though the latter may want to have a baseball dictionary available for quick reference.)

You might also enjoy:
The movie by the same name.


  1. Unrelated, but I can't wait to see what you thought of Sous Chef, I still need to write my review for that one. :)

    1. I'm unsure what to write about Sous Chef. I enjoyed it, but there's something that bothered me about it, too. I haven't quite put my finger on it yet, though. Can't wait for your review.

  2. I told my boss I loved this movie and the next day he loaned me the book. It has been a year now and I haven't made it past the first couple of pages. I needed a little motivation.

    1. I have to say I enjoyed the movie more than the book. The book's intent wasn't to personalize the story, necessarily, and I like narrative nonfiction, esp. when a book deals with such weighty subjects (economics, statistics, business, etc.). The moneyball idea fascinated me, but the execution in the book did not. Of course, if you have a better understanding of baseball and business than I do (and most folks do), the book will not be as difficult for you as it was for me.