Moneyball

ESPN's Howard Bryant catches up with Billy Beane and recounts the backlash from Moneyball critics
The revolution, in a way, has consumed the revolutionary. He cannot escape.
Robert Birnbaum interviews Michael Lewis about his book The Blind Side
The author of Moneyball, he has some interesting things to say about the NCAA and how to compensate college athletes.
Larry Bowa thought Moneyball was written by Bill James
He believes James should not comment about baseball because he "never wore a uniform". Weird how people hate most the books they've never read, much less know who actually wrote them (in this case it was actually Michael Lewis).

An Inherent Idiocy in Baseball Commentary

Michael Lewis, author of Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game: “The news just can't be intelligent about baseball because news by definition is small samples. Because it's daily, right? The most typical opinion in sports is the opinion about something that just happened. If you listen to them, they are always rationalizing the most recent events. If someone hits a home run, it becomes a reflection of that person's whole career. And they make these vast generalizations about the home run. If someone walks in the game winning run, it's a reflection of that player's character. So it's always taking some event that just happened and trying to make it signify more than it does. There's an inherent idiocy in baseball commentary. It's particularly idiotic in baseball commentary because you do have this pool of data that's available from which you can actually make some pretty intelligent statements which is just being ignored in that moment because you want to explain that moment.”

Other subjects Lewis discusses in the interview are Joe Morgan, now an announcer for ESPN, who evidently proudly claims to not have read Lewis' book; steroids in baseball; major leaguers' relationships with writers, even if the major leaguers have known the writer on a personal level for years; big trades and analyzing risk; making generalizations about events that just happened; what happens when something that was undervalued is no longer so; the inherent uncertainty of injuries; and finally, briefly about his new book, Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life.

I found this interview in a PubSub feed for 'moneyball', which you can view either in a browser or in an RSS aggregator. Since pretty much everybody who mentions Michael Lewis will also mentions in the same breath "author of Moneyball" (see above), it's been pretty easy to keep track of the author of one of my favourite non-fiction books of all time.

Jim Callis compares L.A. Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta and scouting director Logan White
Callis says the Dodgers out-drafted the Oakland A's, despite what Moneyball says.

Lewis Thinks [x] About [y], So There!

Mark D Lew has a lengthy review of Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. He criticizes Lewis for not focussing on popular pitchers like Barry Zito and Tim Hudson. That would have been the expected route, and Lewis decided to follow a different one. Instead, according to Lewis' acknowledgements, interviews with those two pitchers were instrumental to the background stories that informed the book. Lewis does an excellent job summarizing both the book and its larger context (in terms of baseball, but not of baseball).

He calls the lack of an index a minor error. I think not having an index is a major error, mainly because after reading it, I wanted to use the book as a reference. (I bought the book for my dad as a birthday present but made him promise to give to me to read after he did.) "See?" I would say. "Lewis thinks [x] about [y], so there!" But I can't do that without an index. Dave Pollard has also called not including an index in recent non-fiction an annoying trend.

Overheard: "What Was the Last Book You Read?"

Another overheard conversation on the bus. This was more of a monologue, a girl in her very early twenties talking about a guy she met at a party. She related to her girlfriends how she and and the guy had "crashed at Cassandra's place", and that the couch was shaped in such a way as to discourage cuddling—any couch that is designed in such a way to discourage cuddling is a crime against nature—ƒand that they had talked for hours and when they woke up, talked for 4 hours in the morning. The remarkable part, for me, is not that they had such a long conversation: I've had such long conversations, some that lasted well in to the morning. One lasted up until 5 AM. I felt kind of bad for one of my friends who was part of that conversation, because he really wanted to get alone with one of the girls also in the conversation group. It was all good though: at a party later, they got to second-base-or-so.

No, the remarkable part was that this was the first time that I heard a recap and evaluation from the girl's side of the story. She talked about how he was not especially good-looking, but that from their long conversation she found out much about him that she had in common, and even discovered that he was studying journalism and was into sports and that maybe he would become a sports columnist because that was "more accessible". (The best political columnists start out as sports columnists, a wit once wrote. Watching sports you have to suspend belief for 2 1/2 hours at a time and then write about it. Watching politics, you have to suspend belief full-time.) She said that because of that conversation, she figured out that she could find out whether a guy was more than just good-looking—that is, that there is a brain behind the body—if she asked him what book he was reading. She figured if he had an answer—any answer—other than "nothing", she could better determine whether he was a smart guy or not was not. Their conversation moved on to other guys they knew, including a "hot British guy" who could evidently could also speak French and Spanish. "Yeah," I wanted to ask them, but what book had he just read?"

A few months ago, I showed up to a party wearing a t-shirt and jeans and whatever else I was wearing that day. It was a spur-of-the-moment invitation, and I had planned to do nothing that night but sit in front of a cathode ray tube chatting with people I will never meet in the flesh. I decided it would be an opportunity to see a few friends I hadn't seen in a while. After politely declining alcoholic drinks, and impolitely accepting cookies in the shape of the female reproductive organs, I sat down and proceeded to mind my own business when a relatively cute Asian girl started, for reasons known only to her, talking to me. She saw my T-shirt and I explained it, and then she asked what I did for a living, to which I said that I was an independent contractor doing tech support for an Internet hosting company, a little bit of script programming, setting up websites and some other impressive-sounding tech-related phrase. She then asked, as if she were genuinely interested, what book I had last read. I lied and said Moneyball by Michael Lewis, because it was far more interesting than the book I had really last read, and proceeded to explain what the book was about. The question caught me a little off-guard—not so off-guard that I couldn't deftly think of an interesting lie, mind you—;for the very simple reason that no remotely attractive member of either sex has asked me at a party what book I last read, especially not in the drunken state he or she was in. Those who have skipped ahead here or those who have actually read up to this point may be wondering if I got her phone number. I can be confident and funny when I'm tired, but not confidence only goes so far when a girl's sober significant other is sitting next to her. If I had business cards at that point, or if I had been working for the employer that currently has yet to provide me with them, I would have handed it to her. Since both conditionals on which that last sentence is based is false, it naturally follows that the ritual conversation-concluding exchange of business cards did not occur.

Inner cinema now takes over as I consider the possibilities: what if I had a business card that night to give out? What if Mr. I Should Probably Be Taking My Girlfriend Home Now wasn't sitting next to her when I was not only not giving a fuck but sounding relatively coherent and intelligent in the presence a good-looking, about-my-age and single-for-all-I-know woman? Although surely there is more than one reason a woman would want to know what book the person sitting next to her has just read, overhearing that conversation on the bus fills in a spot on that list, which is, to see whether the individual in question might be thinking about things other than how to get in their pants.

And Pouncing On It

Tyler Bleszinski on the point Moneyball was trying to make (yet which many people still miss): “Yes, OBP is important, but Billy valued it as a benchmark for acquiring players because it was something the market undervalued. That is no longer the case anymore. The Red Sox, Blue Jays, Dodgers, Padres and a whole host of other teams now use OBP as an important measure. The key is trying to figure out what the market undervalues and pouncing on it. If a team with a $120 million payroll is scooping up everything that Billy values, then the premise of Moneyball is now null and void. I'm sure Billy has moved on. And the changes in the team have reflected as such, for those that have been paying attention.”

A Pretty Insulated Culture

Michael Lewis on how his book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game, was received: “The big thing was not baseball's response. It was the response outside of baseball, which was so loud that baseball couldn't ignore it. An awful lot of people who are friends with owners read the book. That was the channel back into baseball. The Wall Street investment banker friend of owner X calling him and saying, 'your team is completely mismanaged.' Baseball is a pretty insulated culture. But it's still porous. If it was perfectly insulated, they would have ignored it.”

He talks about what it was like hanging out with Billy Beane and why Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Eric Chavez were excluded from the bulk of the book. Only Zito was undervalued, but besides, everybody else was writing about them, so why should he?

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