Well, "astonishing" isn't how I'd describe Moneyball, but if Michael Lewis was describing my reaction to the book, he might use "astonishing" because damn near everything is worthy of being deemed "astonishing." The low cost of on-base percentage? Astonishing. Billy Beane admitting a mid-season shake-up was unnecessary? Astonishing. Bill James' Baseball Abstract? Astonishing. Greg Maddux's reaction to giving up cheap hits? Astonishment. Chad Bradford's AAA stats? Astonishing. And on. And on. And on.
OK, so railing on the author's penchant for astonishment is pretty nitpicky. But it did seem strangely out of step with a narrative that's all about removing a certain level of astonishment, mysticism, and stupidity from the game and replacing it with rationality, logic, and "science"--however loosely that last term may be employed. And it was freaking annoying.
Anyway, I realize I'm years behind the curve here, but I'm gonna jot down a few thoughts about the book anyway. New to me, new to FTG. So it goes.
Overall, I did find Moneyball a really enjoyable, light read... and fairly well-written, as sports writing goes (my field of judgment as far as books is about as limited as it gets here--I remember reading Andre Dawson's (auto)biography... along with the Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann SportsCenter book way back in the day). In any case, it was a nice read after being liberated from the shackles of 19th century literature.
It illustrated exceedingly well the institutional and individual inertia built around received knowledge, evident in so many walks of life, can be completely and utterly illogical and destructive. And it showed how difficult rationality and logic is to adhere to sometimes, no matter how much you're committed to your system (there are many exceptions to the rules Billy Beane sets up for himself).
As much as I've come to trust Kenny Williams (despite his adherence to "small ball" and his strange affinity for guys like Darin Erstad and Scott Podsednik), do I wish Billy Beane was the White Sox's GM? Undoubtedly yes. But those things aside, I think reading Moneyball was one of those cases of having a book built up so much--by friends, media, whomever--that I couldn't help but be disappointed.
For me, the most disappointing aspect of the book was its intention to disprove the idea that economic disparity in baseball is a serious problem. I don't care that however many different teams have won the World Series in however many years, creating more winning diversity than other professional sports leagues--as Billy Beane says, winning in the playoffs is something of a crapshoot. Just look at the Cardinals last year.
It can be incredibly demoralizing to a fan base to continually lose superstars, developed in the farm system, to free agency because your team can't afford to pay them. It's even more demoralizing to fail to be competitive year after year after year. Yes, Billy Beane has been able to make the Oakland A's successful despite a low payroll. Yes, he has done it by being smarter than a bunch of dumb GMs. But that does not logically mean that baseball doesn't have a huge problem in payroll disparity.
Here's why: if Billy Beane had the money that Brian Cashman had, he'd mop the floor with the league, year after year, instead of having to scrap and claw his way to the top. In other words, money doesn't automatically make winners, but it makes winning a hell of a lot easier. To argue that because the Oakland A's of the world exist we don't need some sort of salary cap or more drastic revenue sharing is akin to arguing that, because some families are capable of living a happy life below the poverty line we don't need to address the growing disparity of wealth in this country. It's absurd.
For all the awareness of problems surrounding small sample sizes Michael Lewis seems to show throughout the book, he ignores the fact that the time encompassed in Moneyball is an exceedingly small sample size--a sample that worked particularly well to illustrate the supposed "genius" of the way Billy Beane and JP Ricciardi ran the A's. From 2000-2003, the A's made the playoffs every single year. The next 2 years, while they were certainly competitive, they missed the playoffs. Does that mean Billy Beane was any less genius those years? No, I don't think so. But what happens when the richer teams get smarter?
Theo Epstein, who makes a cameo appearance at the end of Moneyball, is held up as an example of the type of GM that employs the same strategies as Billy Beane. The thing is, Theo has roughly two to three times as much money to play with as Billy--which means he can hang onto and buy guys like Manny, Big Papi, Schilling, Beckett, Matsuzaka, etc., etc. These are the kind of guys--guys like Tejada, Giambi, and others--that Beane has continually been forced to let go. The Red Sox won the championship in 2004 and, despite suffering a third place finish due to a rash of injuries last year, have set themselves up to succeed far into the future. It's something that's a lot easier to do when you've got that much money to play with.
And don't think the Yankees aren't taking notice--Brian Cashman is running his team with more and more sense, which is kinda scary. Of course, money combined with supposedly Moneyball-type roots won't guarantee that you're competitive. The Blue Jays and JP Ricciardi have made and been burned by some questionable investments the past couple years--AJ Burnett, BJ Ryan, Frank Thomas, to name the most prominent. So there are no guarantees no matter how you run your team.
But still (and I realize I've got no hard evidence to back this up), I don't see how you can debate my core point: money makes it easier to win. Who do I blame for this? Bud Selig, naturally. I hate you Bud.