Moneyball Summary

Michael Lewis


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Moneyball Summary

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Moneyball is a narrative with a powerful, universal theme: the perseverance of the underdog. For Michael Lewis, this perseverance is seen in no better place than professional baseball. Lewis notes that the idea for the story came about from seeing undervalued baseball players and executives alike being kept out of the major leagues. By banding together, these same individuals then went on to become one of the greatest franchises in baseball history. The book itself has a large audience. It appeals to fans for many reasons, in part because of its attention both to baseball history and folklore, taking readers onto the “frontlines” of baseball’s greatest teams. It also appeals to readers based on its investigation of the business side of things, as exemplified in Billy Beane’s approach—and that of his colleagues—to Major League Baseball.

While pondering the Oakland A’s success, Lewis noted that the Oakland Athletics, also known as the A’s, were actually winning a lot of games despite being one of the poorest teams in the league as far as finances were concerned. He gives examples of some of the highest payroll teams, like the New York Yankees, which sets up the hypothesis that something the A’s were doing in regard to the team was definitely different than the rest of the other high-paying teams.

As it turned out, the A’s general manager, Billy Beane, went about making the A’s a powerhouse team despite the financial hurdle. Beane and his colleagues actually researched the field and began scouting for the skills that were undervalued in Major League Baseball at the time, such as plate discipline. When Beane began recruiting players based on this new research and his search for undervalued players, the A’s met with a lot of success. In time, other teams noted Beane’s approach and success, and began incorporating his methods into recruiting. This led to Billy Beane being considered one of the greatest innovators of modern baseball.

Lewis then sets about investigating how Beane went about changing his view on undervalued players and skills. He delves into Beane’s past to better understand the present (which was 2002 for Lewis), as well as some of Beane’s coworkers, including Paul DePodesta. Lewis looks not only at Beane’s strategies and style of play, however, he also addresses what is known as sabermetrics, which is an analysis of baseball via detailed statistics. Sabermetrics was created by fans and, in the past, had not been accepted by Major League Baseball as an acceptable way to evaluate success. Lewis hones in on Bill James, a preeminent sabermetrician, and one of DePodesta’s influences as well.

By evaluating Beane’s approach to baseball from these various avenues, Lewis is able to show the decision-making factors that launched the A’s to their success. He gives two notable examples of this, citing the team’s acceptance of business-oriented solutions in regard to approaching recruitment over instinctive solutions. In other words, the A’s went for objective qualities versus subjective qualities. These subjective qualities were what organized baseball had always run on, and were limited to “pluses” like the ability to run, hit and throw. By expanding his purview and adding empirical evidence to recruitment, Beane was able to avoid the pitfalls of major teams with more than twice his budget and payroll. His success in honing a team to success “based on the facts” effectively changed the face of baseball.

The narrative is interspersed with Beane’s own initial success and subsequent failures. He was scouted and viewed to be a potential success early on, but there were key factors that were overlooked. He even gave up his chance to go to Stanford and play, and lost his dream of signing with the Mets, when he did not make the cut. Highlighting these issues shows how Beane’s recruitment indicated problems beforehand that were overlooked based on the old ways of evaluating potential. By showing Beane’s background, and then showing how he rebounded to make a better life not only for himself but for other players and Major League Baseball in general, Lewis highlights how powerful the underdog can be when given the chance.

Moreover, Moneyball shows how these underdogs have the potential and the knowhow, they just need a system that is able to grow and evolve along with the times. By establishing a new system, Beane showed that the talent in these individuals was there all along, it was just being overlooked based on a traditional view of success. This theme is symbolic and indicative of the way people in general approach life and success. People learn and grow in different ways, and those that are considered underdogs or lacking may only be on the bottom because of a system that inadequately defines both talent and success.