I’m prone to reading phases, veering off on thematic streaks. Do other people do this? For example, in the past year I read through the Edward Tufte corpus pretty much back-to-back (reviewed Beautiful Evidence and Envisioning Information), all but one of Steven Johnson’s (reviewed The Ghost Map, Everything Bad Is Good for You), the Scott McCloud comics trilogy (Understanding Comics, Making Comics, Reinventing Comics), etc. I’ve also had a religion/science kick and a language/grammar phase within the past year.
So after wrapping up Michael Lewis‘ The Blind Side, this weekend I finished his earlier book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. The question at hand: “What is the most efficient way to spend money on baseball players?”
The central character is the hands-on Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane. His story—that of the gifted athlete adored by scouts who crumbles in the majors—sours him on old-school baseball scouting and management. Beane discards baseball’s long heritage of subjectivity and gut instinct (e.g. “the good face“), and tries the objective, stat-crunching approach.
Winding in and out of this story, Lewis explores the work of baseball writer Bill James, the roots of the Society for American Baseball Research, and touches on sabermetrics. If anything, I wish there were more numbers in this book. I would have loved to dig in to some tables and really follow the statistical arguments. But at its heart, Lewis’ book is not a peer-reviewed research article, but a story. A pretty good one.
And as a tangential bonus, Lewis gives an little off-hand bit of writing wisdom:
“If you write well enough about a single subject, even a subject seemingly as trivial as baseball statistics, you needn’t write about anything else.”