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Beane Is Lone Ranger In Making Money From Ball

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game
Michael Lewis
W. W. Norton & Company (May 2003)

I never much liked baseball and, as a sportswriter, always felt horrible about this admission. Considering this is the sport I grew up watching, my contempt for the game has somewhat surprised me. But as I delve further into the sports journalism world, I begin to better comprehend why.

Baseball has something all sports have: statistics. Oftentimes statistics add validity to a team’s success. For baseball, it defines it. I have gone so far as to no longer view baseball as a team sport. I see no essence of working together to achieve success. Instead, what I see is many individually-successful pieces achieve maximum potential in order to have collective success as a unit.

In Michael Lewis’ book, Moneyball, his portrayal of Billy Beane and his work with the Oakland A’s was ingenious, mostly because this book was released eight years ago and most baseball teams not only don’t recognize Beane’s strategy as an effective way to run a team, but rebuff it still.

Beane’s methods are misunderstood and unconventional, but hardly original, which Lewis makes clear in the book. Beane is influenced by Bill James and his theories and simply puts them into action. What he does essentially is take the business of baseball out of the hands of the people that know the game best. This is why the Afterword is the best part of Lewis’ book.

Lewis’ analysis of the “Club” aspect of Major League Baseball is completely accurate. The owners, managers, front offices and even journalists are their own community, unwilling to accept difference or new ideas, which speaks to the larger popularity of baseball. It is a perfect example of why more teams don’t do what Beane did and even go so far as to publicly scorn him for his approach, because it is not what you do in the “Club.”

The Yankees do what the “Club” expects. They are always successful because they always have the best roster. Beane does what the Yankees do, but he does it cheaper.

Example: Arguably, the following were the best musicians at their instruments — best frontman: Mick Jagger; best guitarist: Jimi Hendrix; best drummer: John Bonham. Put those three together, and a pretty good album is guaranteed to come out. But the album will be good because those are the three best musicians of all time, and you are probably overpaying them to play together because of who they are.Beane takes younger, but still talented musicians with amazing potential and puts them together. They produce great music, but when one isn’t doing work that puts him on par with Hendrix or Bonham, he knows he can find another young talent who will.

Beane’s philosophy is well-documented in Moneyball and the explanation of how and why it works is laid out clearly. Though Beane never won a World Series, his tactics won him games, and won them cheaply.

The flaw in Beane’s practices was highlighted in the chapters on Chad Bradford. Beane has a systematic approach to his selection. The rubric is mostly the same: youth, potential, the right stats equals a successful piece of the puzzle. But what Beane finds in these players is pure athletic talent and not what Lewis calls “the human element.” Beane can look at a player’s stats and foresee his potential, but he cannot foresee how a player will perform under pressure or if the player suffers an injury.

Still the greatest lesson from Beane’s philosophy is his forethought and his economical prowess. He has the ability to see his players as pieces that can be moved, replaced and repositioned at will to produce the proper results. He is simultaneously the twin and the counter to what I always felt the Yankees did easily.

Lewis’ work in putting together Moneyball is terrific. The reader wears a knowing grimace in the office while Beane negotiates for players. The reader itches while Beane paces during games. Moneyball is a telling example of the economics of baseball and the success with which it can be done.

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