I am a huge baseball fan. I played for several years and have spent countless days and nights watching baseball games. My favorite team is the New York Mets and while they have had quite a few rough years, you can still find me watching and following the team.
Over the years, I’ve started to really enjoy the business side of the sport. The trades, the contracts, the minor league system are all things that fascinate me these days.
One book in particular moved me forward on this current track – Moneyball by Michael Lewis. This book was published in 2004 so its not a new book by any means, but if you are a fan of baseball you need to read this book.
Moneyball focuses primarily on Billy Beane, the General Manager of the Oakland Athletics. Billy Beane and his team are tasked with putting a winning team on the field with a small budget. In baseball (as in other sports) the owners of the team will often set a budget for the year. The front office (this is the general term for the General Manager and his team) then must work within that budget to sign the right players to help the team win.
Some teams, like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, have a seemingly unlimited budget at times and can pretty much sign whoever they want. The Oakland A’s do not have that luxury. So, Mr. Beane faces some very tough decisions. Should he sign the high priced veteran or go with the younger guy who’s much cheaper to sign? Should he trade his best players for younger players who cost less but who also may produce on the field? Should he risk deals with older players who may not have much left in the tank but who could be good for one more year? Those are the kind of decisions Michael Lewis witnesses and writes about in Moneyball.
If you are not a fan of baseball, I still recommend this book to you for two reasons. One, it is a great peak inside the business operations of an organization. You find yourself thinking through the decisions yourself, wondering how you would respond if you were in Billy Beane’s shoes. Two, Michael Lewis is a great non-fiction writer, with other books focusing on topics such as Wall Street.
Billy Beane and his team do the ‘impossible’ in terms of traditional baseball mindset…their teams win. To be fair, they do not win the World Series, but they are competitive beyond most people’s expectations. They use analytics and more business savvy tools to field the best team their budget allows. In 2018 analytics and thinking through advanced stats is something every Major League team does at some level. Well, in 2004 that was not the case. Billy Beane and his front office really pushed those tools to the forefront.
One more thing I’ll say about this book. I really appreciated the insight into a Major League baseball front office and how intense the process can be. You will enjoy this book. And the movie’s pretty good too.