Book review: Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by Michael Lewis

originally posted elsewhere: October 25, 2010

tl;dr: Dramatic account of how the Oakland A's applied science to baseball...

Nonfiction author Michael Lewis has written on a variety of subjects, and chose what may at first glance appear to be a rather mundane one for Moneyball: an in-depth study of the Oakland A's front office in the early 2000s (especially the year 2002). What makes this subject so compelling, as chronicled by Lewis, is that it is simultaneously a riches-to-rags-to-riches American success story about a complex individual (A's general manager Billy Beane) and a story of enlightenment as Beane and his staff of mavericks apply the teachings of revolutionary outsiders and effectively bring the scientific method into the world of baseball.

The A's success on the field in the late 1990s and early 2000s, competing against teams with payrolls as much as four times their size, motivated Lewis to try to learn how they were achieving this success. What he found is an amazing story, with Billy Beane as the central figure. Beane, highly touted as a baseball prospect, failed miserably as a major league player. By rejecting the system, the teachings and the men who molded him as a player, he achieved great success as the A's general manager. To gain a competitive edge, Beane turned instead to radical thinkers outside the inbred baseball system. Those outsiders preached what is today the fairly well-known baseball methodology of sabermetrics, which applies science, math and statistics to explain what happens on a baseball field and to determine the best strategy for in-game and personnel management. Since the A's were the first team to put sabermetrics into practice, it initially brought them much success.

A book cover with the title and author's name, featuring a monochrome closeup rear-view picture of a baseball player holding a baseball in his right hand while his arm is extended down his right leg

Michael Lewis is a skilled nonfiction author with a flair for finding the drama in real life situations and bringing it to life. He provides the write level of detail, without going overboard. His prose is well-paced, and as a result Moneyball is a pleasure to read. It is interesting to read Moneyball in the year 2010 - it stands the test of time. Not every minor league prospect described in the book has gone onto greatness, but it does foreshadow many subsequent events, such as the Boston Red Sox finally breaking the Curse of the Bambino by applying sabermetrics.

This book is a must read for any baseball fan, serious or casual. Readers with no interest in baseball, who are only willing to read one baseball book a decade, would do well to choose Moneyball. And anyone unwilling to read any book about baseball can wait for the forthcoming Hollywood movie starring Brad Pitt.