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MICH A




THE ART OF




NING AN UNFAIR GAME



./



ISBN 0-393-05765-8 USA $24.95

CAN. S37.50 -!•'



' *



"What does it take to turn a subject like
baseball statistics into a true-life thriller not
even a baseball-loathing bibliophobe could
put down? Answer: saturation reporting, con-
ceptual thinking of a high order, a rich sense
of humor, and talent to burn. In short,
Michael Lewis. Moneyball is his grandest tour
de force yet." -Tom Wolfe



"I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story.
The story concerned a small group of undervalued
professional baseball players and executives, many
of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big
leagues, who had turned themselves into one of
the most successful franchises in Major League
Baseball. But the idea for the book came well before
I had good reason to write it-before I had a story to
fall in love with. It began, really, with an innocent ques-
tion: How did one of the poorest teams in baseball,
the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?"

With these words Michael Lewis launches us into
the funniest, smartest, and most contrarian book
since, well, since Liar's Poker. Moneyball is a quest
for something as elusive as the Holy Grail, some-
thing that money apparently can't buy: the secret of
success in baseball. The logical places to look would
be the front offices of major league teams and the
dugouts, perhaps even in the minds of the players
themselves. Lewis mines all these possibilities— his
intimate and original portraits of big league ballplay-
ers are alone worth the price of admission-but the
real jackpot is a cache of numbers— numbers!— col-
lected over the years by a strange brotherhood of

(continued on back flap)



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RLSO BY MICHAEL LEWIS

Liar's Poker

The Money Culture

Pacific Rift

Losers

The New New Thing

Next





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The Art of Winning an Unfair Game



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W. W. NORTON & COMPANY
NEW YORK LONDON



Copyright t 200.^ bv Michael Lewis

All rights reserved

Printed m the United States nt America

First Edition

For intormation about permissiDn to reproduce selections troni this

book, write to Permissions \V W. Norton ^ Company, Inc ,

^(Xl Fitth .-Xyenue New York, NY 1(11 10

.Manuiacturing by Quebecor Fairfield

Bo«)k design bv Chris Welch

Provluction manager: lulia I^ruskin

Library of Congress CataloginginPublication L^ata

Lewis Nhchael iMichael M '
Monevball the art ct winning an unfair game bv Michael Lewis. —

1st ed

p cm

ISBN n-io ?-()=;■' ()S-8 ihardcover)

1, Baseball — Economic aspects — United States 1. Baseball — Scouting —

United States. V Baseball players — Salaries, etc.— United States, I. Title.

CVHS0.L4^ 200^!

■'s'rvVS'^orv^i

2nn.^on.=^089

VV. VV. Norton &. Company, inc.

SOO Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 101 10

www.wwnorton.com

\V. VV. Norton & Company Ltd
Castle House, 7S/7(S Wells Street, London WIT .3QT

11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 1 9 20



For Billy Fitzgerald
I can still hear him shouting at me



Preface XI

Chapter One THE CURSE OF TALENT 3
Chapter Two HOW TO FIND fl BflLLPLflYER 14
Chapter Three THE ENLIGHTENMENT 43
Chapter Four FIELD OF IGNORANCE 64

Chapter Five THE JEREMY BROWN BLUE PLATE SPECIAL 97
Chapter Six THE SCIENCE OF WINNING AN UNFAIR
GAME 119

Chapter Seven GIAMBI'S HOLE 138

Chapter Eight SCOTT HATTEBERG, PICKIN' MACHINE i62



VIII



CONTENTS



Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Epilogue



188



OF fl^' "■



r\ r ^ \ / /*^ 1



217



^MENT 244



/^r -^iir Tr\rn



263



281



Acknov/ledgments 287



Lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the

passengers fastened a belt about him with two hundred

pounds of gold in it, with which he was found afterwards

at the bottom. Now, as he was sinking — had he the gold?

or the gold him?
— John Ruskin, Unto This Last



I WROTE THIS BOOK bccausc I fell in love with a story. The story
concerned a small group of undervalued professional baseball
players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as
unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of
the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball. But the
idea for the book came well before I had good reason to write it —
before I had a story to fall in love with. It began, really, with an
innocent question: how did one of the poorest teams in baseball,
the Oakland Athletics, win so many games?

For more than a decade the people who run professional base-
ball have argued that the game was ceasing to be an athletic com-
petition and becoming a financial one. The gap between rich and
poor in baseball was far greater than in any other professional
sport, and widening rapidly. At the opening of the 2002 season, the
richest team, the New York Yankees, had a payroll of $126 million
while the two poorest teams, the Oakland As and the Tampa Bay
Devil Rays, had payrolls of less than a third of that, about $40 mil-

XI



XII PREFACE

lion. A decade before, the highest payroll team, the New York
Mets, had spent about S44 million on baseball players and the
lowest payroll team, the Cleveland Indians, a bit more than $8
million. The raw disparities meant that only the rich teams could
afford the best players. A poor team C(mld afford only the maimed
and the inept, and was almost certain to fail. Or so argued the peo-
ple who ran baseball.

And I was inclined to concede the point. The people with the
most money often win. But when you looked at what actually had
happened over the past few years, you had to wonder. The bottom
of each division was littered with teams — the Rangers, the Ori-
oles, the Dodgers, the Mets — that had spent huge sums and failed
spectacularly. On the other end of the spectrum was (Oakland. For
the past several years, working with either the lowest or next to
lowest payroll in the game, the Oakland A's had won more regular
season games than any other team, except the Atlanta Braves.
They'd been to the play-offs three vears in a row and in the previ-
ous two taken the richest team in baseball, the Yankees, to within
a few outs of elimination. How on earth had thev done that' The
Yankees, after all, were the most egregious example of financial
determinism. The Yankees understood what New York under-
stood, that there was no shame in buying success, and maybe
because of their lack of shame they did what they did better than
anyone in the business.

As early as 1999, Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan
H. ("Bud") Selig had taken to calling the Oakland A's success "an
aberration," but that was less an explanation than an excuse not
to grapple with the question: how'd they do iti" What was their
secret? How did the second poorest team in baseball, opposing
ever greater mountains of cash, stand even the faintest chance of
success, much less the ability to win more regular season games
than all but one of the other twenty-nine teams- For that matter,
what was it about baseball success that resisted so many rich



PREFACE XIII

men's attempt to buy it? These were the questions that first inter-
ested me, and this book seeks to answer.

That answer begins with an obvious point: in professional base-
ball it still matters less how much money you have than how well
you spend it. When I first stumbled into the Oakland front office,
they were coming off a season in which they had spent $34 mil-
lion and won an astonishing 102 games; the year before that, 2000,
they'd spent $26 million and won 91 games, and their division. A
leading independent authority on baseball finance, a Manhattan
lawyer named Doug Pappas, pointed out a quantifiable distinction
between Oakland and the rest of baseball. The least you could
spend on a twenty-five-man team was $5 million, plus another $2
million more for players on the disabled list and the remainder of
the forty-man roster. The huge role of luck in any baseball game,
and the relatively small difference in ability between most major
leaguers and the rookies who might work for the minimum wage,
meant that the fewest games a minimum-wage baseball team
would win during a 162-game season is something like 49. The
Pappas measure of financial efficiency was: how many dollars over
the minimum $7 million does each team pay for each win over its
forty-ninth? How many marginal dollars does a team spend for
each marginal win?

Over the past three years the Oakland A's had paid about half a
million dollars per win. The only other team in six figures was the
Minnesota Twins, at $675,000 per win. The most profligate rich
franchises — the Baltimore Orioles, for instance, or the Texas
Rangers — paid nearly $3 million for each win, or more than six
times what Oakland paid. Oakland seemed to be playing a differ-
ent game than everyone else. In any ordinary industry the Oak-
land A's would have long since acquired most other baseball
teams, and built an empire. But this was baseball, so they could
only embarrass other, richer teams on the field, and leave it at
that.



XIV PREFACE

At the bottom of the Oakland experiment was a willingness to
rethink baseball: how it is managed, how it is played, who is best
suited to play it, and why. Understanding that he would never
have a Yankee-sized checkbook, the Oakland A's general manager,
Billy Beane, had set about looking tor inefticiencics in the game.
Looking tor, in essence, new baseball knowledge. In what
amounted to a systematic scientific investigation ot their sport,
the Oakland front office had reexamined everything from the
market price of foot speed to the inherent difference between the
average major league player and the superior Triple-A one. That's
how they found their bargains. Manv of the plavers drafted or
acquired by the Oakland As had been the victims of an unthink-
ing prejudice rooted in baseball's traditions. The research and
development department in the Oakland front office liberated
them from this prejudice, and allowed them to demonstrate their
true worth. A baseball team, of all things, was at the center of a
story about the possibilities — and the limits — ot reason in human
affairs. Baseball — of all things— was an example of how an unsci-
entific culture responds, or fails to respond, to the scientific
method.

As I sav, I fell in love with a story. The storv is about profes-
sional baseball and the people who play it. At its center is a man
whose life was turned upside down bv professional baseball, and
who, miraculously, found a wav to return the favor. In an eftort to
learn more about that man, and the revolution he was inspiring, I
spent a few days with 1. P. Ricciardi, the general manager ot the
Toronto Blue lays. Ricciardi had worked with Billy Beane in Oak-
land, and was now having a ball tearing down and rebuilding
his new team along the same radical lines as the Oakland A's.
Ridiculed at tirst, Ricciardi had, by the time 1 met him, earned the
respect of even the crustiest of the old baseball writers. By the end
of the 2002 season, the big fear in Toronto was that he would bolt
town for the job that had been offered to him to run the Boston



PREFACE XV

Red Sox, who now said that they, too, wished to reinvent their
organization in the image of the Oakland A's.

It was at a Red Sox game that I tried to tempt Ricciardi into a
self-serving conversation. Months before he had said to me, and
with some insistence, that there was a truly astonishing discrep-
ancy between Billy Beane and every other general manager in the
game. He'd raised one hand as high as he could and lowered the
other as low as he could and said, "Billy is up here and everyone
else is down here." Now, as we sat watching the Boston Red Sox
lose to his brand-new Blue Jays, I asked Ricciardi if he was willing
to entertain the possibility that he was as good at this strange
business of running a baseball team as the man he'd left behind in
Oakland. He just laughed at me. There was no question that Billy
was the best in the game. The question was why.



m



Q



Chapter One



THE CURSE OF TALENT



Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.
— Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise



THE FIRST THING they always did was run you. When big
league scouts road-tested a group of elite amateur
prospects, foot speed was the first item they checked off
their lists. The scouts actually carried around checklists. "Tools"
is what they called the talents they were checking for in a kid.
There were five tools: the abilities to run, throw, field, hit, and hit
with power. A guy who could run had "wheels"; a guy with a
strong arm had "a hose." Scouts spoke the language of auto
mechanics. You could be forgiven, if you listened to them, for
thinking they were discussing sports cars and not young men.

On this late spring day in San Diego several big league teams
were putting a group of prospects through their paces. If the feel-
ing in the air was a bit more tense than it used to be, that was
because it was 1980. The risks in drafting baseball players had just
risen. A few years earlier, professional baseball players had been
granted free agency by a court of law, and, after about two seconds
of foot-shuffling, baseball owners put prices on players that defied



4 MONEYBflLL

the old commonsensical notions of what a baseball player should
be paid. Inside of four years, the average big league salary had
nearly tripled, from about S52,000 to almost $150,000 a year. The
new owner of the New York Yankees, George Steinbrenner, had
paid $10 million for the entire team m 1973; m 1973, he paid $3.75
million for baseball's first modern free agent, Catfish Hunter. A
few years ago no one thought twice about bad calls on prospects.
But what used to be a thousand-dollar mistake was rapidly becom-
ing a million-dollar one.

Anyway, the first thing they always did was run you. Five
young men stretch and canter on the outfield crabgrass: Darnell
Coles. Cecil Espy. Erik Erickson. Garrv Harris. Billv Beane. They're
still boys, reallv; all of them have had to produce letters from their
mothers saying that it is okay tor them to be here. No one outside
their hometowns would ever have heard of them, but to the scouts
they already feel like household names. All five are legitimate
first-round picks, among the thirtv or so most promising prospects
in the country. Thevve been culled trom the natu)n's richest trove
of baseball talent, Southern California, and invited to the baseball
field at San Diego's Herbert Hoover High to answer a question:
who is the best of the best-"

As the boys get loose, a few scouts chitchat on the infield grass.
In the outfield Pat GiUick, the general manager of the Toronto
Blue Jays, stands with a stopwatch in the palm ol his hand. Clus-
tered around Gillick are five or six more scouts, each with his own
stopwatch. One oi them paces off sixty yards and marks the finish
line with his foot. The boys line up along the left field foul line.
To their left is the outfield wall off which Ted Williams, as a high
school player, smacked opposite field doubles. Herbert Hoover
High is Ted Williams's alma mater. The fact means nothing to the
boys. They are indifferent to their surroundings. Numb. During
the past few months they have been so thoroughly examined by so
many older men that they don't even think about where they are



THE CURSE OF TALENT 5

performing, or for whom. They feel more like sports cars being
taken out for a spin than they do like young men being tested.
Paul Weaver, the Padres scout, is here. He's struck by the kids'
cool. Weaver has seen new kids panic when they work out for
scouts. Mark McLemore, the same Mark McLemore who will one
day be a $3-million-a-year outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, will
vomit on the field before one of Weaver's workouts. These kids
aren't like that. They've all been too good for too long.

Darnell Coles. Cecil Espy. Erik Erickson. Garry Harris. Billy
Beane. One of the scouts turns to another and says: I'll take the
three black kids [Coles, Harris, Espy]. They'll dust the white kids.
And Espy will dust everyone, even Coles. Coles is a sprinter who
has already signed a football scholarship to play wide receiver at
UCLA. That's how fast Espy is: the scouts are certain that even
Coles can't keep up with him.

Gillick drops his hand. Five born athletes lift up and push off.
They're at full tilt after just a few steps. It's all over inside of seven
seconds. Billy Beane has made all the others look slow. Espy fin-
ished second, three full strides behind him.

And as straightforward as it seems — what ambiguity could
there possibly be in a sixty-yard dash? — Gillick is troubled. He
hollers at one of the scouts to walk off the track again, and make
certain that the distance is exactly sixty yards. Then he tells the
five boys to return to the starting line. The boys don't understand;
they run you first but they usually only run you once. They think
maybe Gillick wants to test their endurance, but that's not what's
on Gillick's mind. Gillick's job is to believe what he sees and dis-
believe what he doesn't and yet he cannot bring himself to believe
what he's just seen. Just for starters, he doesn't believe that Billy
Beane outran Cecil Espy and Darnell Coles, fair and square. Nor
does he believe the time on his stopwatch. It reads 6.4 seconds —
you'd expect that from a sprinter, not a big kid like this one.

Not quite understanding why they are being asked to do it, the



MONEYBflLL



boys walk back to the starting line, and run their race all over
again. Nothing important changes. "Billy just flat-out smoked 'em
all," says Paul Weaver.



W,



HEN HE WAS a young man Billv Bcane could beat anyone at
anything. He was so naturally superior to whomever he happened
to be playing against, m whatever sport they happened to be play-
ing, that he appeared to be m a ditterent, easier game. By the time
he was a sophomore in high school, Billy was the quarterback on
the football team and the high scorer on the basketball team. He
found talents in himself almost hctorc his bddv was readv to
exploit them: he could dunk a basketball before his hands were big
enough to palm it.

Billy's father, no athlete himself, had taught his scm baseball
from manuals. A career naval officer, he'd spend nine months on
end at sea. When he was home, in the tamilv's naval housing, he
was intent on teaching his son something. He taught him how to
pitch: pitching was something vou could study and learn. What-
ever the season he'd take his son and his dog-eared baseball books
to empty Little League diamonds. These sessions weren't simple
fun. Billy's father was a perfectionist. He ran their pitching drills
with military efficiency and boot camp intensity.

Billy still felt luckv. He knew that he wanted to play catch
every day, and that everv' day, his father would play catch with
him.

By the time Billy was fourteen, he was six inches taller than his
father and doing things that his father's hooks failed to describe.
As a freshman in high school he was brought up by his coach, over
the angry objections of the older players, to pitch the last varsity
game of the season. He threw a shutout with ten strikeouts, and
went two for four at the plate. As a fifteen-year-old sophomore, he
hit over .500 in one of the toughest high school baseball leagues in
the country. By his junior year he was six foot four, 180 pounds



THE CURSE OF TALENT 7

and still growing, and his high school diamond was infested with
major league scouts, who watched him hit over .500 again. In the
first big game after Billy had come to the scouts' attention, Billy
pitched a two-hitter, stole four bases, and hit three triples. Twenty-
two years later the triples would remain a California schoolboy
record, but it was the way he'd hit them that stuck in the mind.
The ballpark that day had no fences,- it was just an endless hot tun-
dra in the San Diego suburbs. After Billy hit the first triple over
the heads of the opposing outfielders, the outfielders played him
deeper. When he hit it over their heads the second time, the out-
fielders moved back again, and played him roughly where the
parking lot would have been outside a big league stadium. Where-
upon Billy hit it over their heads a third time. The crowd had
actually laughed the last time he'd done it. That's how it was
with Billy when he played anything, but especially when he
played baseball: blink and you might miss something you'd never
see again.

He encouraged strong feelings in the older men who were paid
to imagine what kind of pro ballplayer a young man might
become. The boy had a body you could dream on. Ramrod-straight
and lean but not so lean you couldn't imagine him filling out. And
that face! Beneath an unruly mop of dark brown hair the boy had
the sharp features the scouts loved. Some of the scouts still
believed they could tell by the structure of a young man's face not
only his character but his future in pro ball. They had a phrase
they used: "the Good Face." Billy had the Good Face.

Billy's coach, Sam Blalock, didn't know what to make of the
scouts. "I've got this first-round draft pick," he says, "and fifteen
and twenty scouts showing up every time we scrimmage. And I
didn't know what to do. I'd never played pro ball." Twenty years
later Sam Blalock would be selected by his peers as the best high
school baseball coach in the country. His teams at Rancho
Bernardo High School in San Diego would produce so many big
league prospects that the school would come to be known, in



8 MONEYBflLL

baseball circles, as "The Factory." But in 1979 Blalock was only a
few years into his job, and he was still in awe of Major League
Baseball, and its many representatives who turned up at his prac-
tices. Each and ever>' one of them, it seemed, wanted to get to
know Billy Beane personally. It got so that Billy would run from
practice straight to some friend's house to avoid their incessant
phone calls to his home. With the scouts, Billy was cool. With his
coaches, Billy was cool. The only one who ever got to Billy where
he lived was an English teacher who yanked him out of class one
day and told him he was too bright to get by on his athletic gifts
and his charm. For her, Billv wanted to be better than he was. For
the scouts — well, the scouts he could take or leave.

What Sam Blalock now thinks he should have done is to herd
the scouts into a corner and tell them to lust sit there until such
time as they were called upon. What he did, instead, was whatever
they wanted him to do,- and what they wanted him to do was trot
his star out for inspection. Tbev'd ask to see Billy run. .Sam would
have Billy run sprints for them. They'd ask to see Billv throw and
Billy would proceed to the outfield and fire rockets to Sam at the
plate. They'd want to see Billy hit and Sam would throw batting
practice with no one there but Billv and the scouts. ("Me throw-
ing, Billy hitting, and twenty big league scouts in the outfield
shagging flies," recalls Blalock.' Each time the scouts saw Billy
they saw only what they wanted to see: a future big league star.

As for Billy — Sam just let him be. Baseball, to Blalock's way of
thinking, at least at the beginning of his career, was more of an
individual than a team sport, and more of an instinctive athletic
event than a learned skill. Handed an athlete of Billy's gifts,
Blalock assumed, a coach should lust let him loose. "I was young
and a little bit scared," Blalock says, "and 1 didn't want to screw
him up." He'd later change his mind about what baseball was, but
he'd never change his mind about Billy's talent. Twenty-two years
later, after more than sixty of his players, and two of his nephews.



THE CURSE OF TALENT 9

had been drafted to play pro baseball, Blalock would say that he
had yet to see another athlete of Billy's caliber.

They all missed the clues. They didn't notice, for instance, that
Billy's batting average collapsed from over .500 in his junior year
to just over .300 in his senior year. It was hard to say why. Maybe
it was the pressure of the scouts. Maybe it was that the other
teams found different ways to pitch to him, and Billy failed to
adapt. Or maybe it was plain bad luck. The point is: no one even
noticed the drop-off. "I never looked at a single statistic of Billy's,"
admits one of the scouts. "It wouldn't have crossed my mind. Billy
was a five-tool guy. He had it all." Roger Jongewaard, the Mets'
head scout, says, "You have to understand: we don't just look at



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