Sunday, May 15, 2005


Technorati tag:The Warrior Monk's dreams have come true. I have begun willingly speaking about baseball with him.

It's all because I've started reading Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It's a book about how a bunch of baseball outsiders, egghead number crunchers, upended the traditional view of how you play great ball by drafting a bunch of tiny fatsos and other misfits that other teams had stupidly misassessed. So in some ways, it's an ideal entree for me, a consummate baseball outsider.

The book is larded with delightful tidbits that, while not strictly necessary from a baseball perspective, keep non-ballheads such as myself amused. The initial attitude of baseball professionals toward hiring computer geeks to give them data to help them create strategy is explained:
But they [hired a geek] less with honest curiosity than in the spirit of a beleaguered visitor to Morocco hiring a tour guide; pay off one so that the seventy-five others will stop trying to trade you their camels for your wife. Which one you pay off is largely irrelevant.
The central idea of the book, that misvaluation of baseball plays by traditional baseball professionals could be exploited by teams that did a better job of valuation, is illustrated via a sort of case-study of a real-life team that did exactly that: the Oakland A's.

Their general manager is a colorful figure. A baseball insider (the Great White Hope of the baseball professionals in his youth) with an anger management problem:
One time he destroyed the dugout toilet; another time ... he went after a fan in the stands, and proved, to everyone's satisfaction, that fans, no matter what challenges they hollered from the safety of their seats, were better off not getting into fistfights with ballplayers.
A few piddly criticisms:
  • Would it have hurt to include a glossary of baseball terms (for example, what's a "hit & run"?) The Warrior Monk supposes that Michael Lewis expected the book to be read only by those who had a least a little knowledge of the game but even so, I repeat, would it have hurt to include a glossary? I have no idea what a "box score" is and I kept timidly thinking stuff was jargon even when it wasn't (what's a "dead player?" I asked. It turns out to be someone who once played baseball who has since ... well, died).
  • A book that goes on and on about the foolishness of baseball professionals who think they can judge ballplayers by their looks ("we're not selling jeans here" says the book's wily contrarian hero) and exalts the cleverness of discerning the value of tubby draft rejects ought to have some pictures for us baseball novices. Although there are plenty of examples of both ends of the spectrum named, I haven't the faintest idea what any of them look like.
UPDATE: LearnedFoot of KAR has helpfully posted a baseball "glosary" for me.


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