Caroline's Reviews > Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Moneyball by Michael Lewis
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Apr 30, 08

Recommended for: Baseball fans of any level; Joe Morgan
Read in April, 2008

A couple cons:

The writing’s a little heavy-handed in places, which might just be a hazard of writing about baseball. Ex: “The batter’s box was a cage designed to crush his spirit.”

Plus, as a poet, I always feel guilty reading books like this when I could/should be reading Proust or Shakespeare…

But:

Overall, I really enjoyed Moneyball, and I’m glad I read it. Even though it’s focused on the emergence of new baseball-thinking, Moneyball seems much more comprehensive, and much more narrative than I expected. Essentially, Lewis tells the story of a new way of thinking about baseball. Bill James, this smartypants non-athletic geek, challenges the traditional way of thinking about baseball, subverting “the foolishness of many conventional baseball strategies.” With the most pitiful bank account in the AL West, Oakland A’s listen to James, apply his theories, and improve exponentially.

“Conventional baseball strategies” includes such nonsense as: discouraging plate discipline, encouraging recklessness, and pooh-poohing walks ( I’m still shocked to know that drawing walks used to be, and sometimes still is, considered a failed at-bat). Anyway, James, The A’s, and now the Red Sox, operate—thrive—by challenging conventional thinking and looking for ways to locate and manipulate inefficiencies in the baseball market. They rely on stuff like logic and math to evaluate performance, rather than the good-ole’ traditional scouting system (drafting/evaluation based on non-quantifiable qualities like hunches, scout observation, the player’s “presence”). Although there’s still some problems about what this actually means and how to implement or manipulate stats, it’s clear to me that math and logic beats out chutzpah.

Things about Moneyball I particularly enjoyed, and think you will too:

--Anytime Lewis discusses the language of baseball. (BTW, for an awesome book about baseball language and signs, read Dickson’s The Hidden Language of Baseball).

--Issues of the value of and tensions between emotional and intellectual intelligence, or lack thereof, in baseball—Lewis tell of scouts ranking a player with “personal problems,” such as psychological issues and jail records on the same plane as a player who’s “too smart”(!). Then he writes: “Physical gifts required to play pro ball were…less extraordinary than the mental ones. Only a psychological freak could approach a 100mph fastball aimed not all that far from his head without total confidence.” (I like thinking about this when I watch games now.)

--Even though Billy Beane’s sort of the *star* of the story, I found Bill James’s, Chad Bradford’s and Scott Hatteberg’s stories especially, surprisingly, endearing.

--Challenges to unchecked tradition, which basically run through the whole book. This includes questioning insider baseball journalists, talking heads, Bud Selig, Joe Morgan & co. What can I say?—-Selig & Morgan might not actually care about Lewis’s jabs at them...but reading them does kinda fill me with glee.
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