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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great reading for the thinking baseball fan, May 12, 2003
This review is from: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game (Hardcover)
Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" is a wonderful book that attempts to answer a strange paradox according to conventional baseball wisdom: How do the Oakland Athletics, one of the poorest teams in baseball, win so much and win so relentlessly? The answer is, of course, the system that General Manager Billy Beane built that challenged irrational baseball orthodoxy and made the most with the least in an inefficient system.
Beane himself was once touted by scouts who thought he had all the right attributes: speed, power, athleticism, and, yes, "the Good Face." When his major league career ended bitterly as an unambiguous failure, he turned his other talents to bringing rationality to an irrational baseball establishment. His new tools: statistical analysis, a willingness to discard conventional wisdom, an ability to think, and a demeanor designed to bait unsuspecting GMs into making foolish deals.
One of the best scenes from the book is Billy Beane in action during the 2002 trading deadline when he cobbled together a few good and undervalued players to add to the Oakland juggernaut. The funniest line in this section comes from Beane's dealings with the hapless Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team he fleeced before: "[W]hile Tampa Bay's management was willing to talk to Billy, they were too frightened to deal with him." A god among mere mortals indeed.
To me, the most engrossing part of "Moneyball" is the Oakland A's 2002 amateur draft which would lay the foundation of the team in the coming years. While other teams were quite content to gamble and to dream the very possible dream of mediocrity in selecting raw and untested high school players, the A's used their seven first round picks to draft a bunch of college no names the baseball establishment scorned. Why? They were either too short, too fat, too skinny, too slow, or even too ugly to become, in the minds of baseball scouts who supposedly knew better, future stars. Beane rightly dismissed this subjective and irrational hogwash by highlighting attributes the scouts should have paid attention to instead: on base percentage, slugging percentage, walks, strike out-to-walk ratios, and other quantifiable measures that correlate highly to future success.
A word on the recent controversy between White Sox GM Kenny Williams and Beane when the former accused the latter of talking too much to Lewis and making Williams look stupid in their lop-sided trades. In "Moneyball" there is not one section where Beane says anything directly disparaging about his fellow GMs, but the Oakland GM's record nonetheless speaks for itself: GMs like Williams are letting irrational and institutionalized baseball prejudices blind them and Beane took advantage accordingly.
In the end, baseball commissioner Bud Selig could continue to continue to chant his mantra that "small market teams can't compete" over and over until he secures taxpayers' dollars to build every stadium. Teams could continue to ignore the mounting evidence that college players are a good bet and instead blow their money and time chasing down high-risk high schoolers or over-valued mediocrity. In the meantime, the Oakland example will show (and continue to show) that how wrong--and yes, how needlessly stupid--they are.
Highly recommended.
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