on April 11, 2011
A hard one! There certainly are not a lot books out on the Rays, and any intelligent baseball book is well worth a read. However, as well-intentioned as this work is, and the fact that if you are a baseball fan you are bound to read it, I cannot give it a great review. Here are a few points:
First, there really is NOT much there. It seems like it would have been a better magazine article. There is heavy repetition that is not really needed.
There are no interesting secrets, no revelations, not even a real idea of how the team works.
Tropicana Field is heavily featured; the general discussion of stadium building is interesting but how many times can the author complain about the Trop? Really, I think a reader would "get it" early in the book.
The history of the team is interesting - perhaps a history of the Rays would be a better work.
Inevitably, this will be compared to Moneyball. Face it, the author's premise/thesis is designed to appeal to fans of that work. However, this work is nowhere nearly as involved, or as interesting as Moneyball.
You do not get a lot of player info; more of this would bring the story to life. Yes, there are some anecdotes, particularly re: Garza and Longoria but not enough to really get an idea of the management mindset.
Overall, I do not regret buying this, and do not want to dissuade you, but it could have really been something great. I feel that a great book could be written about this team, but this is not it. In the meantime, this will have to do.
on April 3, 2011
Solid sort of book, but not something I would go out of the way to recommend to a friend who has interest in baseball. I felt like I've read this before and Billy Beane was way more entertaining a character. Plus, I'm interested in the Rays, and I felt like I came away with very little understanding of the new regime. I guess just playing close to the vest is part of the Wall St strategy, but it didn't leave me too satisfied as a reader. Got to know plenty about the Naimoli-Lamar fiasco, but that was a pretty public mess, and the rehash here mainly left me with pity for Chuck Lamar. The writing is okay. Some humorous jabs and quips seep in through parenthetical asides. It's very similar to Baseball Between the Numbers (the BP compilation put out a couple years back that Keri edited, and is a little more interesting than this book) in that the author asks some interesting, offbeat questions but the intellectual energy behind the question doesn't flow through the writing. All that said though, as a baseball fan, I'm glad we're seeing more books like this one these days with good, solid analysis, especially of teams that have been overlooked for too long, just like the Rays.
on September 22, 2011
No doubt, this book will be compared with Moneyball, as it is the study of how an organization against massive odds applied a unique management style and ultimately became successful (much more successful than Beane's A's, by the way). While I certainly can't speak for Keri, I read this less as a look at a revolutionary concept like Moneyball and more as the history of how a bunch of dudes from Wall Street with no real baseball background to speak of took an organization that was among the worst run in sports and turned it into a perennial winner. It is a fascinating look into just how terribly the Rays were run before the new regime took over and some of the things that they changed once they did. It also explains some of the reasons why the Rays have such problems drawing crowds (spoiler alert: it's not because no one likes the team). Maybe Keri intended this to be like Moneyball, but I read it almost as a history of their organization. And in that respect, I think, it is a very interesting read.
If there is one real nitpick I can come up with about the book, it is that you don't hear much from Stu Sternberg, Andrew Friedman, or Jonathan Silverman. However, seeing as how Billy Beane has finished in the AL West cellar the last few years, maybe the Rays brain trust simply didn't want to reveal too much. After sabermetrics was introduced to the wider baseball community, Billy Beane lost his competitive advantage; it is understandable that the Rays were wary of revealing too much. Also, I would have LOVED if Keri had gotten access to Vince Naimoli; he seems like a fascinating (read: insane) man.
Overall, this is not a perfect book; it can get a bit repetitive at times and there is not quite as much access to the protagonists of the book as I probably would have liked. However, I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about just how the Rays have been run throughout their history and why they are now successful in the brutal AL East. There are a couple of great anecdotes as well, including one about Albert Pujols and one about a vodka-shooting penis; these alone are worth the price of admission.
on November 1, 2011
Jonah Keri has really crafted a masterpiece in 'The Extra Two Percent'. I'm not a Rays fan(I root for the ever disappointing Brewers), but I found the book absolutely riveting.
It tells the in-depth, behind-the-scenes story of how the lowly Tampa Bay Rays went from being the laughing stock of Major League Baseball to the best run, most forward thinking franchise in the game today. He tells the history of the expansion Devil Rays going through poor ownership, poor management to, almost overnight, turning into a well-oiled machine through a complete change in the franchise's culture: new ownership, new manager, focusing on the newest metrics, and completely revamping their minor league system and drafting style.
Keri's writing style is easy to read, very informative, and occasionally funny. He's an engaging writer who, from this point forward, I will make a point to read whatever he puts out.
Whether you are a Rays fan or not, you will enjoy this book. Even if you don't particularly enjoy baseball, I still think you would enjoy this book. Fantastic, fascinating read.
on May 26, 2011
When an unexpected hit television show breaks out, a slew of wannabes follow as desperate programmers try to grab a slice of the magic for themselves. When "Friends" scored, the airwaves were suddenly crowded with sleek, wisecracking twentysomething housemates; "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" spawned waves of idiotic prime-time imitations; and so on.
So it must have been in publishing in the wake of "Moneyball," Michael Lewis' hit book about baseball, sabermetrics, and the Oakland A's. You can imagine the call going out for more baseball-economics books, stat. "The Extra 2%" is to "Moneyball" as "Deal or No Deal" is to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"; same ground, similar concept, not quite the same magnetism or staying power.
Keri tells a fairly conventional business story about a poorly managed, money-losing, customer-alienating organization turned around by smart, pro-customer, detail-oriented Wall Street management. Stuck by chance in baseball's most competitive division, the Boston- and Yankee-dominated AL East, the Rays got into the hunt by sweating the small stuff, absorbing fan feedback, strengthening their master brand (dropping the "Devil"), and being open to new ideas. Such a narrative is pretty much what Ford Motor Company, IBM, and the old Continental Airlines have gone through. Here it is again, wearing an athletic supporter.
Considering the national fan base and deep pockets of the Red Sox and Yanks, it's a great David-versus-Goliath story Keri has to tell... but ultimately a familiar one. Almost any successful business makes it by coming out one or two percent ahead on a long list of counts. Keri swings for the fences, trying for a grand-slam business narrative. What we have here is a solid single to left. "Moneyball" it is not.
on May 18, 2011
This book is really a collection of essays that meander through the period beginning with Stuart Sternberg's purchase of a minority share of the Devil Rays and continuing through the 2010 season. It lacks a solid structure that really ties the whole thing together, but the stories themselves can be entertaining. Some are good, and some are lacking.
The Wall Street backgrounds of Sternberg and Friedman, and some window into how that plays into the current management of the team, are covered. It would be good if this was explored in more detail. The Extra 2% is naturally compared to Moneyball. But in Moneyball, Michael Lewis tells anecdotes from the A's history and always relates them back to something about Billy Beane's approach. The Extra 2% doesn't really do that - the stories are told for the sake of including them.
-The area scout who really wanted the Rays to draft Albert Pujols (spoiler alert: they didn't)
-The antics of Vince Naimoli and his failures to rally the community or follow a coherent plan
-The history of Joe Maddon, the Rays' quirky manager who spent a career earning this gig
-The long journey that Naimoli took to get the team established in Tampa, and all the fits and starts along the way
-Tropicana Field is a dump, we get it. If we didn't, it would be apparent by the 5th time that it comes up
-The inconsistent editing and tone. Some parts are almost documentary-like, well-written, structured, and professional. Others feature swearing and colloquial language - not quotes either, just a change in writing style.
-The lack of overarching story leads to changes in scope. At times, Keri is focusing on the results of individual games.
Overall, this was an enjoyable book. I feel like I did learn a lot about the Rays' history and a little about their approach. But the best parts of the book were not the analytical parts, so I worry that the audience attracted to the book won't be the audience that enjoyes the book.
The timing of my reading of this new book could not have been more fortuitous; it followed immediately after my reading of "First Break All the Rules." Marcus Buckingham's book bears the subtitle: "What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently.." In their great business book, Buckinghom lays out a clear picture of what it takes to be a great manager - and an outstanding leader. "The Extra 2%" by Jonah Keri serves as an excellent case study of how the owners of the Tampa Bay Major League franchise accomplished a stunning turnaround in just a few short years. The team that had been the perennial cellar-dweller in the American League East division shocked the baseball universe and went to the World Series. This book takes the reader behind the scenes to glimpse the changes that were wrought by the team of former Wall Street executives who took over the running of the franchise.
In re-naming and re-branding the team - from the former Tampa Bay Devil Rays to simply the Tampa Bay Rays - the new owners not only banished the devil from the premises of Tropicana Field, they also shined the bright beam of enlightened management. Vincent J.Naimoli, the original owner of the expansion franchise, had run the team and its stadium into the ground, along the way turning public opinion against him and his team by his penny-pinching and high-handed ways.
In 2004, Stuart Sternberg acquired a 48% share in the team, and eventually bought controlling interest in the team and began to assemble a coterie of executives, front office, back office and on field personnel who shared his conviction that the principles that had allowed him to achieve success on Wall Street could be applied to the world of baseball. Inspired by the "Money Ball" mentality that had brought success to the Boston Red Sox under John Henry, Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein, the Rays' new team of leaders began to make consistent decisions that would eventually bring their Rays to the 2008 post-season.
Sternberg brought with him to Tampa Bay Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman. They wisely chose as the field Manager a baseball veteran in Joe Maddon. Maddon had worked his way up the ladder of MLB, filling almost every possible scouting and coaching role in the minor leagues and major leagues. His keen eye for talent, positive approach to molding ball players and his enthusiasm for using the new analytical tools provided through sabrematrics made him the perfect person to translate into on-field tactics the philosophy of the triumvirate in the front office.
Maddon embodies all of the traits described in Buckingham's book, creating an environment that challenges and empowers his players to do their best in the roles to which they have been assigned.
I have seen with my own eyes many of the dramatic changes that this franchise has experienced. My sister lives in the Tampa area, so she and I have attended many games at Tropicana Field. When I first started watching the Red Sox as they visited Tampa Bay, I noted that most of the fans were wearing Red Sox garb rather than that of the home team. I once did an actual count at a Red Sox vs. Tampa game. 95% of the fans wearing baseball clothing were sporting Red Sox apparel - only 5% showed the Devil Ray logo. By 2009, the balance had shifted so that it was closer to a 50-50% balance when the Red Sox now come to town in South Florida.
As a citizen of Red Sox Nation, I welcome the new rivalry with a Rays team that can challenge and often beat Boston's more established and better funded team. This book gives me a new appreciation for what it took to engineer such a dramatic transformation.
on May 25, 2011
I really enjoyed The Extra 2%. It's not often you find someone as knowledgeable about both business and baseball, who can actually write as well as Mr. Keri can. He's got a very informed, snappy and colloquial style I connected with.
Moneyball keeps coming up in discussions about the Extra 2% and if it was a book about the Rays I'd understand why--Mr. Keri tells a different story, about a different team, in a different way and I judge it on its own merits. I found the book to be an intelligent, humorous and engaging weave of history, anecdotes, stats and business insights. If you're even a casual baseball or business reader, you'll find this little gem to be a revealing and entertaining look at an extraordinary team, doing extraordinary things both on and off the field.
on October 12, 2015
The Extra 2% is a charming book that touches on many aspects of business while being disguised as a true underdog story in the baseball world. The author, Jonah Keri, brilliantly uses a fun, light-hearted humor that allows for an interesting read while seamlessly switching back and forth between business and baseball. It would be difficult to read this book and not have a new appreciation for the Tampa Bay Rays and what the organization had to overcome to escape the mockery that came with trolling the bottom of the American League East division for so long.
The heart of this book is built around the detailed development of the main “players” in this story which included the owners, executives, coaches and players and how putting the right people in the right places can dramatically change the overall culture of the organization and its surrounding community. It is apparent that it does not take an experienced sports mind to revive a baseball organization but someone who has the mindset that “Fortune Favors the Bold.”
Jonah does an exceptional job of painting a clear picture of the failures that occurred within the organization and the steps new management underwent to take the Rays from “worst to first” on and off the field. There are many lessons throughout the book that any business person, sports-related or not, should consider implementing in his or her organization. It is evident that some of those lessons are demonstrated through the Ray’s understanding of the importance of patience, sticking to their long-term vision, and trusting the process no matter what. These lessons became the foundation for many decisions and were effective more often than not despite much criticism.
The Extra 2% teaches you how vital it is to properly use your competitive advantage and no one did that better than the Rays’ ownership. The idea behind finding the “extra 2%” (that little, but essential, edge on the competition) will always exist, in baseball as in business. By the time you finish this book you will find yourself wishing that the “new look” Rays had won the 2008 World Series so that they could have pulled off the (almost) impossible Cinderella Story.
on December 16, 2014
This is a decent effort about a decent team, but will really only be interesting to Rays fans and now Dodfer dans, now that the Rays former GM is running the Dodger Front Office. This is no Moneyball. It's not a revolutionary look at a different way to play the game. Many of the successes of the new team leadership detailed in the book are really defined by in contrast to the Rays original owner, Vince Namoli, and can be summed up with three words: "Don't be stupid." A major league owner who nickels and dimes fans is going to be hated; one who does that with an expansion team will lose; one who signs washed up veterans and loses games will be mocked. All of this we have seen before and most callers to talk radio shows could basically do half the job, or more. The Rays faced special problems, including the presence of the Yankees (both in their division, and literally their market), but some of those were neither the fault of the old owner, nor have they been fixed by the new owners. Indeed, the book while acknowledging some success by the old regime, ignores the fact that bad luck and choices that most good baseball people would make caused a good deal of the problems. By the same token, it seems to overly credit the new regime with moves, including draft picks, that the old regime made. It. Also gives great insight into Joe Maddon, a crucial part of the Rays success. But it ignores that Maddon's methods weren't Wall Street--they were simply basic principles of coaching and teaching. If other coaches run pointless drills during sprung training while Maddon's practices teach players how to play better, this is not a 2% solution--it's just a failure of most major league managers, where college and minor league instructors succeed. In the end, the only central thesis that holds is that Namoli was a bad owner.
Interestingly, this book may give insight to the Rays regime as they spread into the rest of baseball. And combined with recent moves, it will cause worries. Friedman applies Wall Street strategies, as the title implies, in order to succeed in a tough situation. How does that apply to the rest of baseball? Not well. Player arbitrage and the like don't really work for a fan base. Moneyball was about finding value where others did not. It's premise was how could Billy Beane replace three high-priced talents that left the As for free agency, and then gets into explaining the fundamental difference in approach that the As used, which has largely revolutionized how front offices have looked at the game. But, even while it was a literary starting point, it revealed a truth--even Billy Beane would have re-signed Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon if he'd had the resources. And successful acolytes of his with vast resources--like Theo Epstein in Boston--have done just that. Indeed, the book mentions that the Yankees Brian Cashman and his baseball operations department are just as talented as Friedman and his team, and points out that after missing the playoffs and losing the division to the Rays in 2008, they took a very defective strategy and went out and bought the best talent available, steamrolling to another world championship the next year. The book does not give any hint that Friedman would operate effectively in such a scenario, and when compared to his early moves with the Dodgers, including a pointless salary dump of their best hitter, it suggests that he does not get it. In the end, it may really be an example of modernWall Street--hedge trade, arbitrage, but don't worry about real long-term value. The problem with that is that this was the Wall Street thinking when Steinberg, Sterner, and Friedman left the street for baseball, but just before that Wall Street thinking nearly destroyed the entire economy.
A note on the writing itself. Like I said, the central argument of the book is overstated--the old regime not nearly so bad, and the new regime not nearly as good. But the writing also leaves something to be desired. Too many digressions within the writing--as if the writer had a good tidbit of information that he really wanted to tell you about, but not really on point. The style was sometimes awkward, making it necessary to re-read sentences or paragraphs. Maybe this was just being too clever. But the examples in the argument had problems. The same players and circumstances would be referenced multiple times, but sometimes for inconsistent reasons. Carlos Pena went from being smartly cast off, to being a lucky re-sign to plug a hole, to a star hitter at the core of the team, to being not a great player but a really good clubhouse presence. All of these were viewed as positive moves, but in the end, it is either evidence for inconsistent points about the new regime. Talented rookies were viewed as key players in re-establishing the Rays brand in Tampa and creating long-term connections with the community, but their trades two years later are labeled brilliant moves of baseball arbitrage.