he wrote this book because he was amazed how A's performed so well with so little money
Chapter 1 the curse of talent
Introduce the traditional methods in choosing player and tell Bill Beane's less-than-successful career as a player.
Chapter 2 how to find a ballplayer
20 years later, Beane became the GM of A's. He had Paul as his assistant, who was a Harvard graduate. They tried the new method and disagree with the scouts.
Chapter 3 the enlightenment
This chapter begins with Beane’s career with the Mets. He has just been signed along with another high school phenom, Darryl Strawberry, and Roger Jongewaard thinks that Beane is more ready for pro ball than Strawberry. The Mets send Strawberry to their rookie league but advance Beane to play with their college players. They think that Beane is better equipped to deal with the pressures and frustrations of the majors. Unfortunately, Lewis explains, Beane “didn’t know how to think of himself if he couldn’t think of himself as a success.”
Beane returns home after the season and enrolls at the University of California at San Diego, though he would not graduate. By the following year, he would be playing alongside Strawberry, who would go on to be named the most valuable player in the Texas League. During this time, Beane lives with Lenny Dykstra, who did not have Beane’s tools, but was mentally built for baseball because “he was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from everyone success.” It was from Lenny, Beane would later explain, that he began to learn what a baseball player was. Over the following years, Beane would continue grinding his way up through the minor leagues, propelled by his private fears and other peoples’ dreams. The difference between who he was, and who other people thought he should be, grew day by day.
On the field, Billy was able to make spectacular plays, but he continued to struggle at bat. Mentally, Beane would unravel if he struck out.
In 1985, Lenny joined Strawberry in the Big Leagues. In 1986, Beane was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he starts in left field. Though he gets five hits in his first game, he goes hitless the following two nights and is taken out of the starting lineup. For the next three years, Beane would play “up and down between Triple-A and the big leagues, with the Twins, the Detroit Tigers, and, finally, the Oakland A’s.” Before long, the consensus is that Beane was failing because of mental reasons, not physical ones. Harvey Dorfman, who wrote The Mental Game of Baseball, would become Beane’s “baseball shrink.” Though Dorfman suggests that baseball will “yield itself” to Beane’s character, Beane argues that “sports psychologists are a crutch.” Ultimately, in Beane’s view, his character did not match with baseball mentality and he hangs up his spikes.
However, he does not leave baseball. By 1990, Beane was married and his high school girlfriend was seven months pregnant. Lewis explains that Beane had “blossomed into the physical specimen the scouts had dreamed he would become. And yet, somehow, the game had shrunk him.” Instead of going to spring training, Beane walks into the front office and asks to be an advance scout, a job that entailed traveling ahead of the big league team and analyzing future opponents. Beane’s request comes as a surprise since none of the front office staff had played big league baseball and all wished they had. Oddly, Beane chose to retire when he was supposed to be entering his prime. Lewis notes that he “had reason to feel some distaste for baseball’s mystical nature. He would soon be handed a weapon to destroy it.”
Sandy Alderson was the general manager of the A’s at this time. Though he did not have a background in baseball, he soon “concluded that everything from on-field strategies to player evaluation was better conducted by scientific investigation.” In 1991, when the A’s were owned by Walter A. Haas, Oakland had the highest payroll in baseball. However, when Haas died, his successors were not prepared to treat a baseball team like a form of philanthropy, as Haas did. Alderson had to start thinking about the most efficient way to use his funds, and he decided to spend money on hitting. Drawing on his background in the marines, Alderson organized his farm teams as “boot camps.” His players were told to adopt three maxims when they were at bat: act like a leadoff man and try to get on base; every batter should possess the power to hit home runs; and hitting was less a “physical skill than a mental skill.” Lewis concludes that “by 1995, Alderson had created a new baseball corporate culture around a single baseball statistic: on-base percentage.” Alderson even had Eric Walker write a pamphlet summarizing these principles. However, the on-base percentage culture was dominant only in their minor league teams. The big league team was controlled by manager Tony La Russa, who Alderson characterizes as a "middle manager." However, when La Russa leaves the team for a job in St. Louis, Alderson hires Art Howe to implement his ideas.
Shortly after Beane joins the front office, he and his wife divorce. Despite this, he quickly impresses Alderson. He is able to shed his prejudices about how to play the game and adopts Alderson’s system. When asked where he learned to value on-base percentage, Alderson credits Bill James's approach to baseball as an inspiration. Lewis concludes that these new theories "led to a green field as far away from professional baseball as you could get and still be inside the park."
Chapter 4 field of ignorance
Lewis tells the story of Bill James and his methodology of baseball statistics.
Chapter 5 the jeremy brown blue plate special
The fifth chapter, “The Jeremy Brown Blue Plate Special,” returns to Billy Beane’s story in his role as the general manager of the Athletics. The 2002 draft is about to begin and Beane has a list of 20 players that he covets. His top priority is Nick Swisher, a hitter. Though Beane has never seen him play, he has heard a great deal. More importantly, he has seen the statistics on Paul DePodesta’s computer. Beane does not sleep for two nights before the draft because he is so excited. However, on the day of the draft, Beane is worried that he will not be able to sign his top picks.
The major league general managers all know each other and before the draft begins, they call each other in the hopes of finding out who others are drafting. Beane has seven first round picks, but he does not get to pick first. When Beane learns that the Mets may end up drafting Swisher—not because they think he is the most talented player but because their top choices will be taken by others—Beane is furious. Although years have passed since he would break bats after striking out, Beane’s fury is still enough to silence a room full of athletes. But Swisher remains on the board as the Brewers and the Rays, who both pick ahead of Beane, end up drafting high school pitchers. This pleases Beane to no end since high school pitchers are a notoriously unreliable investment.
Though Beane’s objective criteria for drafting players gives him an advantage over other players, he still has far less money than they do to sign players. Teams are not allowed to meet and negotiate with players, but Lewis points out that every team does it. The Athletics negotiate with players ahead of the draft with special enthusiasm. One scout, Rich Sparks, tells Steve Stanley, a center fielder from Notre Dame expecting to be drafted, that the A’s intend to draft him in the second round. They will offer only $200,000, but they intend for him to play in the majors. Meanwhile, Billy Owens, another scout, has begun to work a similar strategy on Jeremy Brown, a catcher. They will offer him only $350,000, and they will require him to lose weight. Beane knows when they draft him, agents will call and tell him that they can get him more money, and this obviously will not work to the Athletics’ advantage. However, if Brown stays true to their verbal agreement (which he does), it would be a great deal for Beane.
Although Beane is trying to be objective, Lewis notes that many of Beane’s goals seem personal. His obsession with Nick Swisher, for example, recalls Lenny Dykstra because “Swisher is the same character as the one that had revealed Billy’s shortcomings to himself—made it clear to him that he was never going to be the success everyone said he was born to be.” His decision to draft Brant Colamarino seems to have as much to do with his unorthodox body type as it does his on-base percentage. Lewis suggests that Beane
had gone looking for, and found, his antithesis. Young men who failed the first test of looking good in a uniform. Young men who couldn’t play anything but baseball. Young men who had gone to college.
It makes Beane “a human arsenal built, inadvertently, by professional baseball to attack its customs and rituals.”
Ultimately, the draft goes better than Beane could have hoped for. He drafts Swisher and then his top pitchers. In total, he manages to draft 13 of his 20 desired picks: four pitchers and nine hitters. “Don’t think this is normal,” Beane tells DePodesta
Chapter 6 the science of winning an unfair game
In the sixth chapter, “The Science of Winning An Unfair Game,” Lewis explains how Beane uses market inefficiencies to compete with richer teams. The problem is that the Athletics have $40 million to spend on twenty-five players and the Yankees have $126 million. Beane argues that it would be wrong to try to do what the Yankees are doing because latter has three times the money to spend. So while the Yankees can afford to buy major league stars that are in their prime, the A’s cannot. Beane is forced to find young players and veterans that are undervalued by the market.
In 1999, Major League Baseball studied whether the poorer teams were hurting the competitiveness of the league. The Commissioner’s "Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics" concluded, as Lewis puts it, that poor teams didn’t stand a chance, that their hopelessness was bad for baseball, and that a way must be found to minimize the distinction between rich and poor teams.
One member of the panel, columnist George Will, pointed out that the ratio of the payrolls of the seven richest and seven poorest teams in baseball was 4:1. The ratio in professional basketball was 1.75:1. The ratio in professional football was 1.5:1. Paul Volcker, the economist, raises two questions against these findings. First, why do the rich keep paying higher prices to buy teams? Second, why do the Oakland Athletics win so many games? When Beane speaks to the panel, he argues that the Athletics’ success is likely to wane because of the inequalities in the league. Further, their inability to afford stars will keep fans away. However, Beane is merely trying to sway the panel to give him a further advantage. Beane knows that as long as a team is winning, fans will come. And, thanks to the scientific method that he and Paul DePodesta were applying to baseball players in order to find market inefficiencies, the A's would continue to win.
In 2002, the A’s end up losing their three biggest stars: Jason Isringhausen, Johnny Damon, and Jason Giambi. Most teams at this point would begin a “rebuilding” process, but Beane intends to continue winning. In some ways, he feels, losing these players is not as bad as it seems. Isringhausen is a closing pitcher, and a closing pitcher’s value is determined by his “saves.” However, Beane and DePodesta have studied this statistic and found that the closer rarely “saves” the game. Consequently, Beane makes a habit of buying pitchers with a fast arm and inflating their number of saves. Then he sells the overvalued pitcher and uses whatever assets he gains to invest in the team. Johnny Damon leaves a hole in both defense (center field) and offense (leadoff hitter). The question posed by Damon’s departure is: what is the “relative importance of on-base and slugging percentage?” Ultimately, Damon’s likely replacement, Terrence Long, will not field as well as Damon, but he is a good hitter. DePodesta calculates that Damon’s departure will cost the team about 15 runs, or one run every fifteen games: not cataclysmic.
Jason Giambi, unfortunately, will be harder to replace. Giambi may have been a weak first-baseman, but he was a “machine for creating runs.” As DePodesta explains:
the variance between the best and worst fielders on the outcome of a game is a lot smaller than the variance between the best hitters and the worst hitters.
Chapter 7 giambi's hole
In the seventh chapter, “Giambi’s Hole,” Michael Lewis recalls one of the times he visited the Oakland Athletics clubhouse. He explains that the clubhouse is “famously the cheapest and least charming real estate in professional baseball and the video room was the meanest corner of it.” From this video room, Lewis will watch the Athletics play the New York Yankees, who have recently signed Jason Giambi, Oakland’s best hitter in the previous season.
To fill the void left behind by Giambi, Beane and DePodesta have decided to “recreate the aggregate.” Though they cannot afford to replace Giambi, they can replace his on-base percentage. It will not be easy, since Giambi’s on-base percentage is second only to Barry Bonds’. Beane looks at the players he has lost and tries to bring in new players that will, collectively, provide that on-base percentage. Beane decides to sign David Justice, Scott Hatteberg, and Jeremy Giambi (Jason’s little brother). Each of these players is undervalued because the Major League executives view them as “defective.” Justice, for example, is old. Hatteberg used to be a catcher, but can no longer throw. Giambi’s on-base percentage is good, but his defense is alarmingly weak. Nevertheless, DePodesta believes that these players will get on base enough to make up for their weaknesses and for Giambi's departure.
Lewis explains that many players are surprised by the way that Beane runs the Athletics. Unlike other general managers, Beane is not distant. Some players complain that Beane will not let them steal bases or that he wants them to take walks whenever possible. But many attribute the Athletics’ success to their innovative general manager. Beane is unusual, and he doesn't hesitate to chase players down to lecture them on their performance. Even the manager, Art Howe, is told what to do, including telling him to stand rather than sit in the dugout so that he will look more inspiring to his players. Beane is not allowed in the dugout, and he never watches games because his anger will make him too “subjective.” Instead, Beane works out in the weight room or drives around Oakland listening to tapes on European history.
The game against New York starts out badly for the Athletics. Lewis finds himself rooting for the A’s, whom he likens to David fighting Goliath. Though he gets angry when the Yankees take the lead, he notices that DePodesta watches the game in a different way. Paul explains that Lewis is watching the game like a fan because he is focusing on "outcomes." Paul is more concerned with "processes." However, when the umpire calls a strike that should have been a ball, Paul erupts in frustration. He quickly reminds himself that the Athletics are trying to win 95 games, which means that they have to lose 67 times. Unfortunately, the Yankees end up winning this game.
Chapter 8 scotte hatteberg, pickin' machine
The eighth chapter, “Scott Hatteberg, Pickin’ Machine,” explains how Scott Hatteberg, a catcher, came to thrive playing first base for the Athletics. Hatteberg had played catcher for the Boston Red Sox. However, when he lost his throwing ability due to a ruptured nerve in his throwing arm, the Red Sox dropped him. The Colorado Rockies signed him briefly, but ultimately gave him up to free agency. The minute (literally) after his contract with the Rockies expired, Paul DePodesta calls his agent to offer him a chance to play with the Oakland Athletics. It is only after Scott signs with the A’s that he learns that Beane intends for him to play first base. Beane promises not to suggest that he will be replacing Jason Giambi. Hatteberg is intimidated, but he asks his wife to hit ground balls to him.
At first, Hatteberg struggles at first base. Ron "Wash" Washington, the infield coach, has been sent some tough assignments while working for Billy Beane, a general manager that does not value fielding. However, Hatteberg is an especially weak first baseman. His footwork is awful and he does not react to the ball. Nevertheless, Wash begins to work on his new first baseman, praising him to boost his confidence and calling him a “pickin’ machine.” Surprisingly, Hatteberg’s athleticism and growing confidence allow him to improve to the point that people start commenting that he is an above-average first baseman. Hatteberg soon discovers the advantages of playing first and one of them is that he gets to chat with players. He even suggests that there is an etiquette to striking up a conversation with the opposing team, but after a conversation starts, he will not hesitate to ask which of the A’s pitchers is toughest to hit.
Lewis suggests that Hatteberg’s ability is tied to his personality. This is especially true of the way that Hatteberg approaches hitting. Hatteberg studies pitchers very closely and he keeps track of the pitches that they throw him. The Red Sox criticized him for doing this, but in Oakland, he is praised for his careful approach. Hatteberg almost never swings at the first pitch, and he always studies pitchers until he has figured out the best pitch they will give him. Every hitter in the Majors has a hole in the strike zone that he cannot hit, and usually DePodesta can find it with little effort. However, Paul cannot find Hatteberg’s hole. In this way, Lewis points out, Hatteberg is the opposite of Beane. While Beane devotes so much effort that he thought himself out of the Majors, Hatteberg is competitive because of his careful thought.
Chapter 9 the trading desk
The ninth chapter, “The Trading Desk,” begins with the Oakland Athletics playing the first of three games against the Cleveland Indians. Art Howe, who manages the A’s, has put Mike Magnante (Mags) on the mound to end the game. Art has done this because Mags is a left-handed pitcher. Art has also done this in spite of Beane’s specific instructions to pitch Chad Bradford, whom he has described to Art as the “closer before the ninth inning.” Mags gives up five runs. Meanwhile, the Indians’ left-handed reliever, Ricardo Rincon, earns a save.
It is late July, and the trade deadline is approaching. There is a whiteboard wall in Beane’s office, and on it are the names of the several hundred players that the A’s control. On a second whiteboard are 1,200 players from other major league teams that Beane would like to acquire. As the trade deadline approaches, the value of players will fluctuate throughout the league. Lewis explains that Beane’s task is to
persuade other teams to buy his guys for more than they were worth, and sell their guys for less than they were worth. He’d done this so effectively the past few years that he was finding other teams less eager to do business with him.
The Indians are still willing to take his calls, which is fortunate since Ricardo Rincon is one of the pitchers Beane would like to acquire.
The Indians are having a losing season and are looking to sell off the pieces of their team. However, the San Francisco Giants have also expressed an interest in Rincon, and they are willing to offer more than Beane can afford. To improve his position, Beane offers the Giants a player he has just sent down to the minor leagues, Mike Venafro, to reduce their need for a left-handed reliever. Beane will no longer have to pay Venafro, which will allow him to raise roughly half of what he needs in order to pay Rincon’s salary. However, he also offers Venafro to the Mets, thinking that he might be able to get more money out of them.
Beane approaches trades with certain rules in mind:
1. The first rule is: “No matter how successful you are, change is always good.” Lewis points out that the Athletics’ roster already looks very different than it did at the start of the season. Jeremy Giambi, who was a good leadoff hitter, has been traded because he does not take the game seriously enough for Beane, a subjective judgment.
2. The second rule is: “The day you say you have to do something, you’re screwed.” This rule is useful for Beane, particularly because he knows how to take advantage of other teams once they decide that they “have to do something.”
3. Beane’s third rule is: “Know exactly what every player in baseball is worth to you. You can put a dollar figure on it.”
4. The fourth rule is: “Know exactly who you want and go after him.” Beane does not want Cliff Floyd, but he tells the manager of the Expos that he does. Beane does this because he knows that the Red Sox want Floyd. Beane wants Kevin Youkilis, who is playing in the minors for the Red Sox organization. Beane expresses interest in Floyd in order to insert himself into the deal.
5. The final rule is: “Every deal you do will be publicly scrutinized by subjective opinion....Ignore the newspapers.” Lewis points out that Beane is not very good at following the fifth rule, but that does not stop him from making trades in accordance with the other rules.
In fact, Beane is constantly searching for trades, or “trawling.” He calls other general managers and often discovers that they are willing to part with unexpected players. “Dangling Carlos Pena as chum,” Beane discovers that the Detroit Tigers are willing to part with Jeff Weaver, a young, expensive pitcher. Beane cannot afford Weaver, but he knows that the Yankees want him. Beane wants Ted Lilly, a young, undervalued pitcher playing for the Yankees. Even better, he manages to get the Tigers to pay him $600,000, and the Yankees toss in a couple of their “hottest prospects.” He sets another “hook” with Cory Lidle, and he ends up acquiring Ray Durham, an All-Star second baseman, from the White Sox. He gets the White Sox to give up the cash to pay Durham’s salary in exchange for Jon Adkins, a Triple-A pitcher with a 95-mile-per-hour fastball. Beane calls it an “A trade.”
Beane ends up acquiring Rincon, just hours before the Athletics play the second game of the series against the Indians. Rincon cannot quite figure out what has happened to him, and Beane actually finds the new Athletics pitcher walking out of the Coliseum while the general manager is on his way to the gym to work out. He guides Rincon back to the A’s locker room. Beane asks Art Howe to tell Magnante that he has been let go.
Chapter 10 anatomy of an undervalued pitcher
When the tenth chapter, “Anatomy of an Undervalued Pitcher,” begins, the Oakland A’s are on a phenomenal winning streak, largely thanks to the addition of Ricardo Rincon and Ray Durham. They are now at the top of the very competitive American League West. On September 4, 2002, the A’s are playing to beat the American League record for consecutive wins. They just have to beat the Kansas City Royals. At the top of the seventh inning, the A’s are winning 11—5, but just as suddenly, Tim Hudson gets into trouble. Howe looks at his bullpen and remembers Beane’s command to turn to Chad Bradford.
Lewis notes that many major league pitchers are eccentric. Turk Wendell, for example, brushes his teeth between innings. Bradford approaches the mound calmly. However, no one would look at Bradford’s delivery and call it “normal.” Lewis explains that Bradford:
jackknifes at the waist, like a jitterbug dancer lurching for his partner. His throwing hand swoops out towards the plate and down toward the earth. Less than an inch off the ground, way out where the dirt meets the infield grass, he rolls the ball off his fingertips. When subjected to slow-motion replay, as this motion often is, it looks less like pitching than feeding pigeons or shooting craps.
He is not a sidearm pitcher, though he is sometimes called one. He is actually a “submariner,” which Lewis suggests is a word that attempts to make throwing underhand “sound manly.” It is Bradford’s unusual delivery that allows him to eventually play for the A’s.
From a young age, Bradford dreamed of being a pitcher, but few ever expected his dream to become a reality. His father, who suffered a stroke when Bradford was still a young man, would defy doctor's predictions that he would never walk again and go on to play catch with his son. When Bradford's father threw, he threw underhanded. In high school, Bradford’s coach suggested that he move his delivery from 12 o’clock to 2 o’clock, which improved Bradford’s speed. He made it to the minor leagues, playing for a White Sox farm team. However, the team never took him seriously, and Bradford eventually found himself pitching in a Calgary ballpark where the thin mountain air was perfect for hitters. Amazingly, Bradford was successful. Though he was called up to the majors to play, the White Sox soon sent him back down to Triple-A, where he would remain, hoping that some other team would notice his impressive statistics and call him up to the majors again.
Voros McCracken, a Chicago lawyer and fantasy baseball fanatic, begins to study the impact pitchers have on the game. He discovers that pitchers cannot influence whether a ball falls for a hit once it is in play. This allows him to produce a metric that reveals a pitcher’s worth, and he soon realizes that Chad Bradford is one of the best pitchers in the minor leagues. He writes an essay, which he posts to the website baseballprospectus.com. Bill James takes notice of the article, but it is only when Paul DePodesta notices the piece that Bradford’s dream of playing in the majors becomes a reality.
By now, Beane has to be careful when he expresses interest in a player. He calls the White Sox and suggests that he is looking for “a guy who could be twelfth or thirteenth pitcher on the staff.” They can get back to him. When the White Sox mention Bradford’s name, Beane simply replies, “He’ll do.”
Chapter 11 the human element
The eleventh chapter, “The Human Element,” finds the A’s streaking for their twentieth consecutive win. The Kansas City Royals are a weak team and would usually draw a small crowd, but tonight is a media sensation. Though Beane would rather go for a drive, he is talked into a media junket before the game. The A’s take an 11—0 lead early. Art Howe calls Chad Bradshaw in to close the game. However, Bradshaw is in the middle of a psychological slump. For the first time, he is the only one that doubts his talent, as opposed to the only one that believes in it. And he cannot get over it. Howe takes him out of the game before the inning is over, but by then the Royals have scored five runs.
Lewis finds himself watching the game on television with Billy Beane in Art Howe’s office. With his team ahead eleven runs, Beane allows himself to watch the game. Lewis explains that Beane, baseball's scientist, normally views watching the game as act that will make him subjective. All he needs are the cold, hard statistics. He watches his third baseman, Eric Chavez, bat and points out that his numbers suggest he will go on to play as well as Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, and Alex Rodriquez. As the Athletics continue to give up their 11—0 lead, Beane begins to lose his objective stance. No longer the objective, serene scientist, Beane moves from irritation to anger to rage. Eventually, he leaves the office to pace around the clubhouse. As the Royals continue to score, Lewis begins to hear Beane throwing things around the clubhouse in his frustration. The game is tied at 11.
On the field, Howe calls upon Scott Hatteberg to pinch hit. Hatteberg is not expecting to play. He has had too much coffee and is carrying a bat he has never used before. Nevertheless, he enters the batter’s box determined not to swing at the first pitch. He is looking for a high pitch that he can hit for a double. Instead of a double, he hits it out of the park. He looks to the dugout as he rounds the bases and “by the time he touches home plate, he’s less man than boy.” The Athletics have just won twenty consecutive games, breaking the American League record. Within five minutes, Beane returns to Art Howe's office and was able to look him "in the eye and say that it was just another win."
Chapter 12 the speed of the idea
The twelfth chapter, “The Speed of the Idea,” finds the Oakland Athletics in the first round of the playoffs against the Minnesota Twins. Although Beane has defied all expectations and led his low-payroll team into the playoffs, no one is prepared to acknowledge his accomplishments. Instead, the media criticizes his approach, arguing that the playoffs are different. In the playoffs, teams need to be aggressive. They need to “manufacture” runs rather than just avoid outs. In other words, they need to steal bases and make sacrifice bunts. Beane does his best to convince his coaches of the theory behind the A’s stats-based strategy.
However, the A’s end up losing to the Twins in five games. Beane tells Lewis that his theory "doesn’t work in the playoffs.” Paul goes on to explain that the sample size of a playoff series is too small for accurate measurement, but that actually the A’s produced on average more runs during the playoff series than they did during an average regular season game. Really, they lost because their pitcher played poorly, which could not have been foreseen. The playoffs are a “crapshoot,” and a cold, hard judgment of Beane's philosophy. Still, there are other teams that have begun to take note of Beane’s approach. The Toronto Blue Jays’ new owner refuses to just spend money on a team and goes searching for a new general manager. Every GM that he interviews says that he will compete with the Yankees if he is given a similar payroll. Beane and DePodesta both refuse the owner's offer, but the A's third-in-command, J.P. Ricciardi, accepts Toronto's offer.
When the new owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry, begins to “overhaul his franchise in the image of the Oakland A’s,” he hires Bill James as a consultant. He also offers Billy Beane $12.5 million to come in as general manager, which would make him the highest paid general manager ever. Beane agrees and begins thinking of all the moves that he can make. However, Beane finds that he cannot sign the contract and he turns the job down. He explains to the press that “I made one decision based on money in my life—when I signed with the Mets rather than go to Stanford—and I promised I’d never do it again.” Nevertheless, Henry’s offer validates Beane’s strategy, and it puts a dollar price on his ability as general manager. In other words, it shows that “for a brief moment, he was right and the world was wrong.”
Epilogue the badger
Story of Jeremy
Like the cheesiest of summer teen movies, Michael Lewis's Moneyball tells a story of how the geeks and the freaks outsmarted the jocks. But rather than being set in a high school or summer camp, Lewis's 2003 piece of classic reportage treads rather less well-explored ground: behind the scenes in major league baseball.
Baseball need defer to no sport in its claim to be the quintessential summer game. (Yes, yes, cricket. But while most of my childhood was indeed spent under an endlessly cloudless Swansea sky watching Glamorgan being pummelled by all-comers, there are equally vivid memories of freezing February nights listening on the radio as England were pummelled in all corners of the southern hemisphere.)
By contrast, baseball is a purely April-to-September affair, with October ball only for those heroes who make the play-offs. It's played on sunny days and balmy nights and the fact that I read Moneyball during a baking July on Long Island, with the reassuring burble of baseball radio commentaries mingling with the hum of cicadas and whoops of frat boys, surely added to its allure. But that said, relatively little of Moneyball actually takes place outdoors on America's fields of dreams. More often the focus is on airless and strip-lit offices, deep beneath the grandstands, where a new breed of nerdy and statistically savvy baseball executives attempted to overturn a century and more of received wisdom as to how the game should be played.
Lewis made his name as a writer about finance – or more accurately a writer about the personalities working in finance – with his 1989 debut Liar's Poker recounting his time as a bond salesman at Salomon Brothers. Last year his The Big Short provided the most entertaining and comprehensible explanation of the 2008 banking crisis. In a sense Moneyball is in this line, in that Lewis was first attracted to the story when he noticed that the unfashionable Oakland A's, despite operating on about a third of the budget of the New York Yankees and other big clubs, consistently outperformed much richer teams. What were Oakland doing to buck the market?
Historically, baseball coaches had valued athleticism. They still do. They would be mad not to. But did they overvalue it? From the bedsit and campus computers of maths students who played fantasy baseball – a game in which real on-field events are translated into points – came the heretical realisation that some players, while not as traditionally elegant or as fast or as strong as the standard model, were nevertheless highly effective in some important aspect of the game. Such was the weight of accumulated industry wisdom, and the size of the resultant blind spot that had built up over the years in the eyes of coaches and scouts, these players were significantly undervalued. The Oakland A's – led by their, inevitably, charismatic and maverick manager Billy Beane – were the first team to recruit stats experts to their scouting staff and so exploit this inefficiency in the market and demonstrate the subtitle of Lewis's book: "The Art of Winning an Unfair Game". Just how Oakland succeeded is a fascinating story: part thriller, part-family saga, brilliantly told. You do not need to know or care about baseball – though I defy you not to be smitten after reading the book – because like all good sports books, it is not really about sport, or even in this case about applied statistics. It is about people. Specifically the oddball group of irregulars Beane gathered together who emerge as Hogarthian eccentrics: the hitter so fat "if you put him in corduroys, he'd start a fire"; the pitcher whose action was so distorted that he regularly grazed his knuckles in the dirt as he threw. Nick Hornby said he understood only one word in four of the baseball talk, yet still called it "the best and most engrossing sports book I have reads in years". Since the publication of Moneyball the Oakland personnel, and their ideas, have spread out across the league and their methods assimilated into mainstream thinking. The market corrected itself and the A's are again struggling against the weight of financial imbalance. But just as Billy Beane and his cohorts proved that all baseball stars having to play the same way "is as absurd as insisting that all writers should write like John Updike", Moneyball shows that a book about misshapen athletes and introvert statisticians needn't necessarily be excluded from the sand and suntan oil treatment. And, yes, it has just been made into movie slated for release this autumn starring Brad Pitt and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. I'm telling you now that it won't be as good as the book.