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The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sport. Updated Edition (Stanford Business Books) Paperback – September 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"Wages is provocative, stimulating, and challenging." —Dick Friedman,—Sports Illustrated

"The Wages of Wins brilliantly and provocatively argues that our eyes betray us when we watch professional athletes. To see the truth about how good a point guard or a quarterback really is, we need the help of algorithms." —Malcolm Gladwell,author of Blink and The Tipping Point

"When I read the book, I was impressed by the amount of effort that went into compiling the reams of data that underlie the work. . . . The fundamental case the authors make is that the statistical analysis shows that the conventional wisdom about sports is dead wrong—that the data, as they put it, 'offers many surprises.'" —Joe Nocera,
New York Times

"Sports fans with an analytical bent shouldn't skip this book. And come to think of it, perhaps sports executives should be reading it as well."—The Free Lance-Star

“This book presents complex economic analysis in a breezy manner that the casual sports fan and econophobe will appreciate and enjoy. I plan to assign it to students and recommend it to friends.”—Michael Leeds, Temple University, and author of The Economics of Sports

From the Inside Flap

Arguing about sports is as old as the games people play. Over the years sports debates have become muddled by many myths that do not match the numbers generated by those playing the games. In The Wages of Wins, the authors use layman's language and easy to follow examples based on their own academic research to debunk many of the most commonly held beliefs about sports.
In this updated version of their book, these authors explain why Allen Iverson leaving Philadelphia made the 76ers a better team, why the Yankees find it so hard to repeat their success from the late 1990s, and why even great quarterbacks like Brett Favre are consistently inconsistent. The book names names, and makes it abundantly clear that much of the decision making of coaches and general managers does not hold up to an analysis of the numbers. Whether you are a fantasy league fanatic or a casual weekend fan, much of what you believe about sports will change after reading this book.


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Product Details

  • Series: Stanford Business Books
  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford Business Books; 1 edition (September 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804758441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804758444
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 153 people found the following review helpful By D. Blum on July 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I really looked forward to this book after reading the review in The New Yorker. The reviewer's critical skills, evidently, do not extend to evaluating the merits of a logical argument.

There are so many logical problems with the analysis in this book, it is difficult to know where to begin.

I will limit myself to just a handful, among countless possibilities.

1) The authors find a correlation between the stability of a basketball team's roster and its winning percentage, and conclude that roster stability is a factor in producing wins! Classic problem of mistaking effect for cause. Clearly, winning teams are disinclined to make major roster changes, and losing teams are eager to. I was so amazed at this I reread it to see if I missed where they pointed this out. They didn't.

2) The authors show a correlation between more assists and winning percentage and conclude that assists help produce wins. Again, very silly. A team with a higher shooting percentage and fewer turnovers will of course get more wins and produce more assists. But the assists are not producing the wins - the shooting percentage is. Were these factors discounted? Not according to the text.

3) Most problematic, the authors define a way of measuring the value of players to a team, and then "prove" their method by summing these values, per player, across each team, and show that they do indeed predict the number of wins each team will get. What they fail to realize is that their method of apportioning value to a player necessarily sums back to team totals such as points per possession that we know correlate to wins per team. But this in no way proves that the apportioning is wrong.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Estimated Prophet on August 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I had high hopes for this book but my expectations were not met. The authors are clearly eager to bear the Freakonomics mantle (they say as much in several places), but unfortunately they do not exhibit anything resembling the flair of Levitt and Dubner. Their cute comparison of quarterbacks and mutual funds just sounds like a cheap imitation of the comparison between teachers and sumo wrestlers (which, honestly, wasn't all that clever anyway). Much of the other writing also seems to imitate the conversational style of Bill James, but without as much wit. Overall the writing comes off as alternately condescending and self-congratulatory, and sometimes both.

Style aside, the book contains a number of substantive weaknesses. For example, the chapter on the effects of labor shortages on fan attendance shows clear signs of bias. The authors favorably cite plenty of evidence that supports their hypothesis; and when confronted with evidence to the contrary, they suddenly decide to pick it apart and explain it away. Sorry guys, it doesn't work that way. This clear example of "disconfirmation bias" causes the chapter to lose all credibility. It wouldn't hold up in a peer-reviwed journal.

Further, although the authors claim to be "taking measure of the many myths in modern sport" (the subtitle of the book), they actually devote a lot of effort to knocking down strawmen. Is there anyone alive who really thinks that "the best players in basketball score the most" or that "quarterbacks should be credited with wins and losses"? No one with more than a passing knowledge of sports actually believe these things, but the authors act awfully smug after debunking these nonexistent "myths.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By D. Stuart on May 29, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Berry and his co-authors take a really fresh approach here to the world of sport, and look at the big dollars that get spent - or mispent - by teams that want to win at all costs. The mistake that team owners are making, according to the authors, is that they are looking at the wrong statistics of success. When you buy a player, what are the vital stats that really matter?

The book is at once disheartening (money buys one hell of a lot of the points we see on the various league tables) but then also entirely heartening: individual sportspeople, and b-teams still rock the game and lift their performance way above the odds.

The difference is that many managers and coaches (and us fans for that matter focus on the wrong numbers. We count the goals that a player scores, but discount the fumbles, the turnovers and the other dynamics of team play. A star goal shooter may actually be bad for the team's chance of winning.

Sports these days is dominated by statistics. You listen to a commentary and you hear the win/lose ratios, the all-time earnings figures, the goals, the assists and what have you. Well here the authors put another set of very relevant numbers on the table - and show how they reached these conclusions. Their arguments are pretty convincing and as a result I think we'll be talking about this book for some time to come - and pondering the nature of sports today and whether Player X really is greater than Player Y. What a fresh piece of writing! Buy it - I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I did.
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