Having had an opinion on “Moneyball” the movie, I checked out “Moneyball” the book by Michael Lewis. I was not surprised that the movie took a lot of liberty with the particulars of the story. The movie also doesn’t reveal that Michael Lewis was actually there in the scenes depicting general manager Billy Beane as he shapes the Oakland Athletics’ 2002 season. Apparently he was hanging out with Beane all year gathering material for the book. How he picked such an interesting year to shadow the team is a mystery.
Lewis makes scouting meetings and trade deadline phone calls seem really exciting. The book has some quirks: awkward metaphors, imprecise language, and an overestimation of the literary value of baseball writer Bill James. Lewis refers to the Oakland Athletics as poor because of their anemic player payroll when they were really just cheap. Like the movie, the book seems to ignore that the 2002 Oakland Athletics had a really good team, and were not really built around the handful of undervalued role players Billy Beane had scavenged from other teams.
For all the differences in opinion over its management practices, professional baseball delivers pretty clear results. You either win or you lose, succeed or fail. Lewis barely mentions Oakland’s first round playoff loss to the equally low-budget Minnesota Twins, dismissing the postseason as statistically insignificant, as if it winning in the postseason wasn’t the entire point of the season. Scientific management by the Oakland Athletics has yielded diminishing returns as the team’s performance has steadily declined since 2002. Their top amateur draft choices in 2002, which get a lot of attention in the book as examples of Beane’s objective approach prevailing over conventional wisdom, have had ordinary results in the intervening years.
But “Moneyball” ends with the 2002 season and doesn’t track the long term effects of Beane’s scientific management beyond that year or that team, though his methods have been adopted in greater or lesser measures by most others. In 2011 most baseball owners, managers, players, fans, and observers have still not been completely converted. Lewis notes the symptoms of baseball’s conservatism but misses the cause: that as a nationally-protected cultural monopoly, Major League Baseball operates in a insulated environment without external competition and will be very, very slow to change.