Since it’s HOPE Week, I’m going to plug my piece from last year, so here it is.
Reading a popular book is always a tricky thing. For example, I’d heard of the Hunger Games trilogy before this summer. Then, I signed up for a summer class and was assigned the first one for that class. After that, I snapped up those books and read all three in about six days worth of reading. I vaguely knew the plot to the first one (or at least the premise) and enjoyed the hell out of those three books. I’d recommend them to anyone. Then, there are popular books that I absolutely love and have read dozens of times: In Cold Blood, The Great Gatsby, Slaughterhouse Five, etc. I know exactly what is going to happen; I know exactly what everyone is going to say, yet I’ll still read the book because it’s that good.
When I finally bought Moneyball about a week and a half ago, I pretty much knew what was going to happen: Billy Beane, with the help of Paul DePodesta, J.P. Riccardi, et. al. did a bunch of stuff that a bunch of other teams weren’t doing and it helped the economically-disadvantaged A’s win a whole hell of a lot more games than they should have. They did this by taking advantage of the fact that most teams didn’t give a rat’s ass about on-base percentage and other advanced metrics. They did this by drafting different than other teams did, and all that stuff. Despite knowing all that, and despite knowing the relative superiority of an advanced-metrics based approach, I still found the book incredibly compelling.
Michael Lewis isn’t an incredibly flashy writer, but he does a great job of telling a story and made me genuinely interested in two people I never really cared about before, particularly Scott Hatteberg and Chad Bradford. I learned more about those two from reading this book then I even thought there was to know. Both have colorful back stories that lead to the dream of playing Major League Baseball.
The book starts with the semi-torturous tale of Billy Beane’s professional baseball career, how it went awry, and how it informed his job as an innovative general manager, and I think I found that to be the most interesting part of Beane’s personal story. I knew he had played pro ball briefly with little success, but I had no idea he was as highly touted a prospect as he was, so that was a nice little nugget of discovery.
Lewis’s tone in the book has a hint of “how could other teams not be doing this?” to it, but it is never heavy handed nor does it speak down to those who don’t–except at the end. My edition of the book featured a new afterword that Lewis wrote after the book came up. He discusses the culture of Major League Baseball and how exclusionary it can be. Though I’ve heard it all before, it was amazing to hear some of the backlash to Moneyball from people inside baseball. But even though they deserved it, Lewis does belittle the writers quite a bit.
If you like baseball and you like a good story, pick up a copy of Moneyball; it took me a long time to finally read it, but it was well worth the wait.
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