04 June 2012

I just finished reading "Moneyball" by Michael Lewis...

...which I had wanted to read after seeing the film starring Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  I can't say which I preferred because I liked parts of each greatly.

The film I found interesting, exciting, and oddly engaging...in that "Island of Misfit Toys" kind of way -- with Pitt as Rudolf, Hill as the Dentist Elf, and Hoffman as the Abominable.  It was, in short, a smart script that made the strategic elements of the Oakland A's financial constraint palpably felt.

The book grabbed me immediately because it opens with a look at the back story of Billy Beane, the General Manager of the A's and primary architect of "Moneyball" in action, which is not dealt with in any detail in the film.  In the film, we are shown elements of Beane's character (his explosive temper, his sense of being undereducated, etc.), but are never told why he's that way.  I liked the book for enlightening me on how the GM, whom I was predisposed to like from the film, ended up the way he was.  And it's a decidedly sad tale to tell.  But, while it's good to know and a great read, had the film script tried to tackle it, it would've killed the film.  So, nice bit of restraint/editing! 

Indeed, the film is just the last half of the book, and that half, while a good read, is simply not as lively as the film.  The other part of the book not included in the film is the history of Bill James and other stats guys who made the hidden numbers approach to baseball possible, something I had read about several years in Alan Schwarz's 2004 The Numbers Game.

I did like Lewis's absolutely brutal descriptions of the pre-Theo-Epstein Boston Red Sox, not to mention the shot he takes at George Will and his baseball books and columns, like Men at Work (1990) and Bunts (1997):

Professional baseball was happy to have intellectuals hanging around the clubhouse and the Commissioner's office and the GM's suite....Baseball offered acomfortable seat to polysyllabic wonders who quoted dead authors and b;lathered on about the poetry of motion.  These people dignified the game, like a bow tie.  (85)

But Lewis's new "Afterword" in the edition I read seems far too defensive and "Told-You-So-esque" for my taste.  We do understand why the baseball establishment would hate your book and Billy Beane, and we understand that because the rest of your fine book made the case vividly clear in a far more interesting way.  So, some restraint/editing needed here!

Anyway, a nice pairing the film and the book.  If I had to do it all over again, here's what I'd do:
Read Chapters 1-3, 5-8, and the Epilogue ("The Badger") and then watch the film.  

What's even more fun is to realize that all this stuff is still under discussion.

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