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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair GameMoneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've had my eye on this book for a little while, then I saw the movie and pushed it to the top of my reading list. This is a very cool book. Make no mistake, it's a baseball book, but it's also a business book. The book chronicles the real-life story of the Oakland Athletics' quest to field a winning team despite their tiny payroll. Impressively, the A's were highly successful because, under the management of Billy Beane, they were successful in purchasing players who were dramatically undervalued in the baseball market. This was largely possible because Beane quit paying as much attention to the traditional baseball offensive stats (notably, batting average) and started paying attention to on-base percentage. The tactics that the A's pioneered changed the way baseball is played, as more teams have started to adopt similar strategies.

I mentioned this is also a business book. It is, because it examines the business of baseball. It demonstrates what every business wants to do: be successful (however you define success) with the lowest possible cost. The main point the book makes about how to achieve that is to discover what the market undervalues and exploit it. It's a simple business principle, but one that is worth going back and being reminded of. Surprisingly, in baseball, as the A's were generating great success by using this method, they were laughed at and dismissed. It really did take a little while for the rest of baseball to catch on to what was happening, and in those few years, the A's were able to take advantage of their visionary strategy.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the book, as true in "real life" as it is in baseball:
"Managers tend to pick a strategy that is least likely to fail rather than pick a strategy that is most efficient," said Palmer. "The pain of looking bad is worse than the gain of making the best move."
One thing in particular that I enjoyed about this book is how the plot narrative was structured throughout the story. The book was more a case study than a plot-driven book, but there are several plot-like threads that run throughout: Beane struggling with his personal demons, the A's working to build a successful team, and the rise of the importance of different baseball statistics. The author skillfully wove all these themes together in a way that kept me engaged, providing a narrative framework that kept the reading from becoming dry.

If you love baseball, you need to read this book. If you don't love baseball, go see the movie instead.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
kittles
Apr. 5th, 2012 12:38 am (UTC)
That's a very interesting review and now I want to check out the book as well.
drmellow
Apr. 5th, 2012 01:51 am (UTC)
I was really surprised when I saw the movie how accessible it was to non-baseball nerds. The movie does a great job of portraying itself as a both a mult-facated relationship story with a baseball background and a baseball story with a people-relationships background. I was surprised by this because I had heard that the book was such a, well, "inside baseball" kind of thing, written mostly for baseball geeks, full of statistics, and about a very unsexy team.

Turns out, the book wasn't like that at all. There's plenty of great "inside baseball" stuff in it, but not so much so that it's a boring book of statistics and philosophical nerdy rants. Instead it forms a bit of a profile of Billy Beane (manager of the A's), which provides for an interesting character study. But it really focuses on the business of creating a successful team with no budget, when everyone thinks you're crazy, and you're going against an entire industry's storehouse of "conventional wisdom." Yeah, it's about baseball, but it's also about so much more.

I borrowed my copy from the Kindle Lender's Library, but I won't be surprised if I go back to it at some point and purchase a copy of my very own. If it makes it to the top of your reading list, let me know how you like it.
kittles
Apr. 5th, 2012 02:19 am (UTC)
I will! It definitely sounds interesting.
meep
Apr. 7th, 2012 01:38 pm (UTC)
Heck, I'm not into sports at all and found the book highly interesting.

It didn't hurt that Billy Beane came to speak at an actuarial meeting and brought graphs w/ him. Great speaker.
drmellow
Apr. 9th, 2012 03:02 pm (UTC)
Nice! I would love to see him speak sometime, with graphs.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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