Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Oscar edition!

by Michael Lewis

Procured from a certain ginormous online bookseller's lending program

Procured in December 2011

Finished on January 29, 2012

Format: eBook

Why I gave it a try: I really love Michael Lewis' narrative style. I inhaled Liars Poker, The Blind Side, and The Big Short, so when I saw this offered for free, I knew I had to give it a go. Plus, the movie was out last year and I always try to read the book before seeing the movie. 

Summary: All is not fair in love and baseball. Some teams have mucho money to spend on the best rated players, while some teams have just enough to get by to sign mid-grade players. Lewis follows Billy Beane and the Oakland A's for a season as they implement value stock principles to acquiring players.

Thoughts: I am not the target audience for this book. Well, now that Brad Pitt has starred in the movie version of this, perhaps I am. Either way, I don't watch baseball or even really like it that much. I played softball as a kid (I got to play shortstop because I was one of the only ones not afraid of the ball), but that's really the extent of my experience and investment in the sport.

All of my lack of context aside, I found this to be a fascinating read, wrought with politics and machinations worthy of Washington or Wall Street. This is Lewis' specialty - he takes the rogue, radical thinking underdog who wants to revolutionize their world by subverting the normal way of doing things. And then they revolutionize their world by subverting the normal way of doing things. It is an incredibly satisfying formula and feeds into the American love of cheering for the underdog (see this super interesting Radiolab podcast on this).

Not only it is it a satisfying formula, but Lewis truly has a gift of picking the right details to describe his characters. He will choose a mannerism or physical trait, and somehow, it tells you all you need to know about the person. Like Billy Beane's inability to watch the games live without throwing chairs against the wall. Or the fact that Scott Hatteberg can't help but chat up whoever is on base when he's playing at first base.

Oh, Scott Hatteberg. I literally teared up reading parts of his story. It's my weakness - plain old good guys who succeed by just doing what they're supposed to do. He got released from the Red Sox after he ruptured a nerve in his elbow and couldn't throw the ball anymore (kind of important for a catcher). Beane scooped him up because of one metric and one metric alone: his on base percentage. They were buying his ability to get on base and didn't really care that he wasn't going to be of much help on defense. As it happened, they were able to coach him into being a decent first baseman. But here we have Lewis at his finest: you are invested in Hatteberg's story on an emotional level and you are also buying into the information that he's getting across about why on base percentage is undervalued asset in the baseball player free market. Well played, sir.

I found that there were a couple of sections that dragged for me (like the part explaining the origins of the school of thought Beane championed), and I also did not think that Lewis successfully set up the premise of the book (I didn't realize we were following them through a single season until halfway through the book). That aside, this was a really enjoyable book that made baseball a page turning topic for this non-fan. I am to the point where I would probably read a book about mustard or IRS statistics if Michael Lewis wrote it. This did not disappoint. 


5 - It's really good; well written and pleasurable 

Have you seen the movie? How does it compare to the book? 

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