Moneyball by Michael Lewis
“In what amounted to a systematic scientific investigation of their sport, the Oakland front office had reexamined everything from the market price of foot speed to the inherent difference between the average major league player and the superior Triple-A one.”
Michael Lewis is perhaps the most prolific writer of non-fiction in the world. He is a modern great when it comes to non-fiction, just as the likes of Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Joan Didion were in their time. He has informed, entertained and thrilled his readers, and has done so since his very first book, the epic book on trading, “Liar’s Poker”.
Every new book by Michael Lewis is an event to be celebrated. He, along with Malcolm Gladwell, is the most bankable non-fiction writer around. Moneyball sees Lewis at his very best, as he mixes baseball with business and uses a personal human interest angle to move his story along.
You may have seen the popular film by the same name starring Brad Pitt as baseball coach Billy Beane. If so, you will know what to expect. Moneyball is the story of the statistically inclined Billy Beane, the head coach of the Oakland Athletics baseball team, who transforms their fortunes using his unique methods.
Unlike other traditional baseball coaches, Beane trusted numbers, not intuition, which marked him out as different from the rest. He takes Oakland Athletics from being one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball to being the best, using his numbers, stats and superior organization skills.
Beane was given a tough card to handle. His team had no superstars, and was full of journeymen ball players. He got extraordinary results out of them by thinking out of the box, using an alternative way to look at a baseball player’s performance. Rather than batting average, Beane used on-base percentage and slugging percentage to measure performance. He realized that batters who had good plate discipline or did not simply swing at bad pitches, got the best results. He hired cheap young players and slightly over-the-hill veterans who had just a couple of years left.
Beane also used several contrarian ideas such as not drafting high school pitchers, looking at actual numbers and output, not at speed and body type and so on. His approach was mocked in the beginning, but as he got results, met with grudging appreciation by the baseball fraternity. Today, every baseball head coach in Major League Baseball uses Beane’s methods.
Moneyball is a fascinating sports book that works well as a business book as well. You learn things essential to running a successful business in this book such as recognizing talent, retaining talent, negotiating, and budgeting. From Moneyball one also learns why it is important to swim against the wave at times, and buck convention, to achieve greatness and success. The importance of creativity and originality is stressed upon.
Michael Lewis has written a book that inspires, educates and entertains. Even as someone who doesn’t really watch much of baseball, I loved the book, and you will too, whether you are a baseball fan or not. And yes, the book is even better than the movie!