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by Michael Lewis

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

The equal playing field that competitive sports like baseball requires is in danger of being corrupted by the unequal money base that exists between large market teams like the New York Yankees and small market teams like the Oakland Athletics.  Suggestions like revenue sharing as a way to counteract this trend are predictably opposed by the large market teams, and one
despairs that the entire sport will be spun out of whack as a result.  Why should anybody care, especially if they are not a sports fan?

A financial journalist enters into this fray and tells us why.  Michael Lewis spent the 2002 season with the management team of the Oakland Athletics, and describes how one small market team has remained competitive by thoroughly analyzing the value of statistical indicators and applying the resultant knowledge to the unorthodox nature of player selection it employs in building its roster.  Oakland's general manager, Billy Beane, has a century of statistics, lovingly kept, that allows him to revolutionize how
players add to or subtract from a team's wins total.  Other general managers have access to the same stats, but baseball is primarily a good ol' boys network.  For most general managers, predominantly ex-players, if it was good enough for Babe Ruth, it's good enough for Sammy Sosa.  Hallowed statistical measurements like batting average and earned run average are
understood by management and fan base alike, so their utility goes unchallenged.

This begins to change with the advent of sabermetrics.  Sabermetrics (Society of American Baseball Research-metrics), aided by spread sheets and computers, make it possible to conceive new categories, to ask previously sacrilegious questions and act upon radically different assumptions.  This becomes a necessity for small market teams, which have often been priced out
of the market for superstars.  Billy Beane specializes in finding flawed players, who carry less onerous contracts, and in blending them together to cleverly mask their deficiencies.  He achieves seasonal wins totals that rival the hated Yankees with a small fraction of the salary base.

Lewis portrays this process in fascinating detail. He shows how the Athletics actually improved after letting their best player, Jason Giambi, sign a mega-deal with the archrival Bronx Bombers.  He demonstrates how ossified the philosophy of the national pastime has become, and suggests that things are bound to change as a new generation of money manager owners
purchase teams and streamline the sport.  Lewis gives the serious fan enough fodder so that never again will that fan look at the game with tired old eyes.  He shows how some player categories, like relief pitcher and base stealer, are over-valued, and how other categories, like patient hitters who work the pitchers for bases on balls, thus driving up the pitch count and inducing earlier fatigue, are under-valued.  And he gives fans a glimpse of baseball's future.  The Yankees should beware.  Their most intense rival, the Boston Red Sox, a big market, monied team like the Yankees themselves, has just hired a 29-year-old sabermetrician, Theo Epstein, a disciple of Billy Beane, as their new general manager.  The curse of the Bambino may soon go the way of the Eephus pitch, the complete game, and the five-tool superstar.

Reviews by Dean Rink

Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:

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