If you haven’t read “Moneyball; The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” by Michael Lewis, please do.
If you’re not a fan of baseball, statistics, or behavioral economics, I can understand your hesitancy. Who would want to willingly read about a poor baseball team that managed to beat the odds? And worse yet, they did it with math?
I did play baseball as a kid. I was great at tee-ball, and frankly, when the ball’s sitting on a tee, how hard is it to be bad at the game?
When I moved up to coach pitch, it got harder. Then there was the real pitching when the other team sought to fire heat at you from the mound. Most of the “fastballs” were laughable and wildly off target.
I gave up when I found out that I wasn’t naturally gifted at hitting or pitching. I was okay at catching. And then there’s the long and drawn out self-reflection I keep going through that if I’d just committed to getting better, maybe I could have been good enough to play in college.
Self-reflection aside, I have very little interest in baseball. It’s a fun sport to play, and I can put up with it on TV.
But the film adaptation got me interested in the book. And Scott Brick’s narration of the book proved to be irresistible. I’ve listened to it about twenty times now.
And why do I do it?
Well, quite frankly, it’s not about baseball.
Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics in 2001 and the central character of the book, was a naturally gifted athlete. Michael Lewis repeatedly points out how scouts saw him as a future great, an all-star that would be up there next to Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Cy Young.
He never made it though.
Billy Beane turned out not to be the amazing athlete everyone thought he was destined to become.
“Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.” – Cyril Connolly
Lewis uses this quote to foreshadow Beane’s career.
Instead of wallowing in the sorrow of futures unrealized, Lewis gets to work detailing how Beane’s non-career turned him into something else- an instrument to dismantle old ways.
Beane himself would explain that he did it for the money. The New York Mets enticed him with a hefty signing bonus. Despite his gut reaction to pass on it and go to college, Beane took the money. From then on he decided never to do it again.
Unfortunately, all of baseball, and some teams are sadly still geared this way, thought financial determinism was the way to build a winning team.
Billy Beane proved them wrong.
He’d made a bad choice and decided never to do it again. This governed his future decisions and what ultimately led him to find new ways to build a baseball team where money was less of a determining factor.
Major League Baseball, on the other hand, kept on making the same bad choices again and again.
That One Idea
Lewis made a compelling argument all throughout Moneyball– old behaviors need to be changed.
Then there was that smaller argument he made early in the book- if baseball teams could blow millions on failing teams, what did that mean for other industries?
It’s conceivable that other industries are run by old ideas that are costing millions, possibly billions, of dollars in inefficiencies and poor leadership. And yet no one is the wiser.
Furthermore, someone who’d been chewed up by the system could also find a way to claim a leadership spot and turn things around.
Billy Beane did just that.
It almost seems as if Major League Baseball, through its own ignorance, created the very person who would seek to dismantle it.
And that idea hit me hard.
One More Story
For those who aren’t thrilled with hearing about baseball and statistics, I hope you’d be interested, even if it’s only marginally, in comic books.
Doctor Strange was an entertaining adaptation of the comic book. I knew who the character was, but I hadn’t read the comics at all. But one night, while searching through Netflix, my wife and I decided to watch it.
The basic story is as follows; a brilliant doctor loses the use of his hands, this forces him to seek alternative medicine and he stumbles upon the mystic arts.
Along with fighting a bunch of bad guys, bending reality, and making sarcastic quips, Dr. Strange comes to understand something deeper- he’s been given a gift.
While he originally sought out the mystic arts as a way to regain the use of his hands, Strange finds that there’s a war going on. He’d like to stay out of it and just go back to being the premier doctor in his field.
The ancient one, the guide for this story, convinces him otherwise.
She explains to him how he can regain the use of his hands through the mystic arts.
But if he were to do that, the world wouldn’t be a good place.
You see, Strange could use mystic arts to make a real difference, at least according to the movie.
Therefore, Strange decides to forgo healing his hands and instead focuses on saving the world.
Both of these stories, one fiction and one non-fiction, point out how life can change. Often times the change is dramatic, traumatic, and decisive. Both Beane and Strange can’t undo what’s happened.
Instead, they resolve to make the most of it, find a new opportunity and cut a new path.
These stories have had an impact on me.
I’ve made some decisions based on the actions of the protagonists. Well, more so because of Billy Beane than Dr. Strange, but you get the idea.
Beane has irrevocably changed baseball and the way we assume it should be played. There are still those old baseball thinkers who wouldn’t change if their lives depended on it. Soon they’ll be gone and baseball can be reshaped to be a better industry. Hopefully, other industries will see this change and begin to incorporate it.
As for me, I’ve resolved to be a ghostwriter.
I have no editorial background, I didn’t go to college for it, I don’t have an extensive network of publishing contacts. Yet, I believe it’s possible.
So far I’ve been proven true. It hasn’t been an easy road though.
Just imagine if someone like me can be persuaded by a story, be it fiction or non-fiction, what could your story do?
And why aren’t you telling it?
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