46 pages • 1 hour readMichael Lewis
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Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a nonfiction book by Michael Lewis published in 2003 by W. W. Norton. Lewis holds a master’s degree in economics and made his writing debut with the acclaimed Liar’s Poker (1989), based on his experience working for the investment bank Salomon Brothers. This background prepared him for Moneyball, a book about how statistics is applied to baseball in a method known as sabermetrics. A movie adaptation was released in 2011 starring Brad Pitt. This guide was written from the hardcover first edition.
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The first few chapters alternate between Billy Beane’s story as a young player in the 1980s and the year 2002, when most of the book takes place. Chapter 1 describes Beane as a sports star in high school and his road to signing with the New York Mets right after graduation. The next chapter jumps to 2002, when Beane is the general manager of the Oakland A’s the summer before the draft. The basic tension between the approach of the old-school baseball scouts and Beane’s method is introduced. In Chapter 3, the author returns to Beane’s playing days, describing his career with the Mets throughout the decade of the 1980s. Despite his promising start—and the conviction of the baseball insiders that he had the right stuff—his career was rather disappointing.
In Chapter 4, Lewis details the work of the baseball writer and analyst Bill James. From the humble start of a self-published newsletter in the 1970s, James builds a following over a decade or so, publishing his Baseball Abstract each year, in which he analyzes the game using statistics. He calls this method sabermetrics. Chapter 5 returns to 2002, covering Oakland’s picks when the draft gets underway. Lewis explains their approach and why Beane and his assistant like the players they have chosen. The next chapter presents an overview of the A’s success in the several years since Beane became general manager. The author explains why this success has been so unlikely given the small budget the team has to work with compared to other teams like the New York Yankees. He describes the A’s 2001 season and their prospects at the midpoint of the 2002 season.
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In Chapter 7, Lewis reviews how unheralded young players and veterans considered washed up were acquired to fill the hole left when their star from the previous season, Jason Giambi, became a free agent. One of those players is Scott Hatteberg, who Beane acquired for his hitting. Chapter 8 details how he changed from a catcher to a first-baseman when he joined the team. The next chapter shows Billy Beane’s approach to trades, which he used effectively to position his team better for the second half of the season. As Lewis notes, the A’s were often a different team after the mid-season trading deadline because of all the different players that had joined. Beane works the phones constantly right up until the deadline, fishing out information from other general managers, planting rumors—anything he can do to get the players he wants.
The last part of the book reveals the second half of the 2002 season. Chapter 10 is about Chad Bradford, an unorthodox pitcher Beane had picked up in a trade two years earlier. Lewis describes his background and his unlikely ascent in the major leagues, explaining why he fit in perfectly with the A’s unorthodox approach. In the next chapter, he narrates a game in September 2002, in which the team is attempting to win their 20th consecutive game, which would be a major league record. He writes how they expect their rational approach through sabermetrics to play out methodically. However, the human elements of imperfection and unpredictability creep in, almost causing them to lose after they had built up a huge lead. The final chapter details how the A’s lost to the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the playoffs despite having the better record and better team overall. This is because Beane’s method doesn’t work in playoff series, when so few games are played. In the Epilogue, Lewis describes catcher Jeremy Brown’s success with the A’s and how he perfectly embodies their approach to the game.
By Michael Lewis