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The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First Hardcover – March 8, 2011
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The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First
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I spent six years working for a professional sports franchise. There were good parts and bad parts about it, and one of the good parts was the chance to see a sports team from up close.
And in this case, I learned that there were reasons why this particular sports team was mediocre. The organization as a whole had something of a commitment to mediocrity at the time. There was lip service to winning it all, of course, but generally the entire organization didn't put winning at the top of its priorities. And the results showed it.
Jonah Keri never worked for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays or Rays, but he did the next-best thing. He interviewed all sorts of people with connections to the franchise, past and present. That includes the decade that the franchise spent wandering in the proverbial desert, and the time after that when they finally reached the oasis of postseason play.
The resulting book, "The Extra 2%," is a terrific look at what the world of major league baseball was like in 2011.
The then-Devil Rays did just about everything wrong in those early years. It started with the original owner, Vince Naimoli, who knew all about stripping businesses and selling them off at a profit but who knew nothing about the unique aspects of the baseball business. The team went from an emphasis on experience to youth to experience, depending on the whims of the moment. Sometimes the spending was merely wasteful, sometimes the checkbook was firmly closed.
Keri has great fun in talking with some of the veterans of those times. Even the team's first general manager reviews his mistakes and miscalculations with good humor and candor. Everyone will love the story about how a lone scout thought a prospect was worth a flier as a draft choice. When his opinion went unnoticed, he left ... and the player soon started a Hall of Fame career. (No spoilers here.)
Finally, and mercifully, former Wall Street workers Stuart Sternberg and Matthew Silverman took control of the team in 2005. They accumulated smart people wherever they could find them, seemingly from a variety of walks of life. All of their work didn't produce results immediately, but the team eventually had a magical last-to-first season in 2008 that put the team in the World Series.
The baseball business sure has changed in the last 20 years. Every team has a statistical department filled with people who probably could make huge money elsewhere if they weren't so busy having fun. Throw in the matter of regional sports networks, international scouting, stadium issues, and so on, and it's a complicated world. Sternberg and Silverman were looking for that extra two percent that would give them the edge over the competition, and they found it eventually.
This could have been really dry material, but Keri works in real-life, first-person stories into the narrative. About the only part that drags a bit is a chapter that explains what the new ownership group did in financial circles -- but it's really necessary to the story.
Keri is one of the smart people who used to work for Baseball Prospectus -- not that there aren't some bright folks there now. He's done a number of stories for a variety of publications about baseball and business. Keri knows his stuff, but he's also gone through a variety of sources -- from 175 interviews to checking out blogs and bloggers -- to find information.
This was one of the best baseball books of its year. "The Extra 2%" is a superb case study about the baseball business.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
In The Extra 2%, Jonah Keri sets out to detail how exactly the Tampa Bay Rays were able to compete in the most difficult...Read more