Baseball

Finding good players is easy. Getting them
to play as a team is another story.
—Casey Stengel

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis, NY & London:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2004

p. 12:  The Yankees, after all, were the most egregious example of financial determinism.  The Yankees understood what New York understood, 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.  …  For that matter, what was it about baseball success that resisted so many rich men’s attempt to buy it?  …  The answer begins with an obvious point:  in professional baseball it still matters less how much money you have than how well you spend it.

p. 13:  At the bottom of the Oakland experiment was a willingness to rethink baseball….  …Billy Beane, had set about looking for inefficiencies in the game.  Looking for, in essence, new baseball knowledge.

p. 14:  Baseball – of all things – was an example of how an unscientific culture responds, or fails to respond, to the scientific method.

p. 16:  Whom the gods wish to destroy they first call promising.  Cyrill Connolly, Enemies of Promise

p. 29:  Paul was fascinated by irrationality, and the opportunities it created in human affairs for anyone who resisted it.  …  There was, for starters the tendency of everyone who actually played the game to generalize wildly from his own experience.  …always thought their own experience was typical when it wasn’t.  There was also a tendency to be overly influenced by a guy’s most recent performance:  what he did last was not necessarily what he would do next.  Thirdly – but not lastly – there was the bias toward what people saw with their own eyes, or thought they had seen.  The human mind played tricks on itself when it relied exclusively on what it saw, and every trick it played was a financial opportunity for someone who saw through the illusion to the reality.  There was a lot you couldn’t see when you watched a baseball game.

p. 43:  The scouts don’t see the point of history.  In their view history isn’t terribly relevant….  (PRP:  story of my life!  Why should scouts be any different from anyone else grounded in modernity?!!?)  …  ‘That’s all right,’ says Billy.  ‘We’re blending what we see but we aren’t allowing ourselves to be victimized by what we see.’  (PRP:  Oh would that more organizations could catch this!)

p. 61:  By 1995, Alderson had created a new baseball corporate culture around a single baseball statistic:  on-base percentage.  Scoring runs was, in the new view, less an art or a talent than a process.  If you made the process a routine – if you got every player doing his part on the production line – you could pay a lot less for runs than the going rate.  … the system was the star.  The reason the system works is that everyone buys into it.  …

p. 71:  …baseball statistics are not pure accomplishments of men against other men, which is what we are in the habit of see them as.  They are accomplishments of men in combination with their circumstances.  (PRP:  Context, context, context)

p. 80:  Major League Baseball had no sense of the fans as customers, and so hadn’t the first clue of what the customer wanted.

p. 83:  Conventional opinion about baseball players and baseball strategies had acquired the authority of fact….

p. 87:  Well into the late 1990s you didn’t have to look at big league baseball very closely to see its fierce unwillingness to rethink anything.  …  Actual data from the market means more than individual perception/belief.  The same is true in baseball.

p. 90:  …James’s attitude toward the inside:  ‘I think, really, that this is one reason that so many intelligent people drift away from baseball (when they come of age), that if you care about it at all you have to realize, as soon as you acquire a taste for independent thought, that a great portion of the sport’s traditional knowledge is ridiculous hokum.’

p. 91:  …statistics were beside the point.  The point was understanding; the point was to make life on earth just a bit more intelligible; and that point, somehow had been lost.

p. 92:  …if you challenge the conventional wisdom, you will find ways to do things much better than they are currently done.

p. 112:  Assembling nobodies into a ruthlessly efficient machine for winning baseball games, and watching them become stars, was one of the pleasures of running a poor baseball team.  …superior management could still run circles around taller piles of cash.

p. 117:  Heresy was good:  heresy meant opportunity.  A player’s ability to get on base – especially when he got on base in unspectacular ways – tended to be dramatically underpriced in relation to other abilities.  Never mind fielding skills and foot speed.  The ability to get on base – to avoid making outs – was underpriced compared to the ability to hit with power.  The one attribute most critical to the success of a baseball team was an attribute they could afford to buy.

p. 142:  The Oakland A’s are baseball’s answer to the Island of Misfit Toys.

p. 151:  …on-base percentage was three times more important than slugging percentage, and that certain secondary traits in a hitter, widely ignored by the rest of baseball, were also critically important to the success of the team.  Hatty had some power, but what he really had was an approach to hitting that helped an offense to create runs.  …more subtle, less visible strength.  He was unafraid of striking out….  The reason for his fearlessness was how seldom he struck out.  …

p 152:  His talent for avoiding strkeouts was another of his secondary traits that, in the Oakland calculus, added value, subtly….  The strikeout was the most expensive thing a hitter routinely could do.  …  (Hatty had no hole, no weakness in his form so he wasn’t afraid of striking out)  These secondary traits in a hitter, especially in the extreme form in which they were found in Scott Hatteberg, had real value to a baseball offense.  And yet they were being priced by the market as if they were worth nothing at all.

p. 153:  …did not treat hitting a baseball as pure physical reaction.  Hitting was something that you did better if you thought about it.

p. 156:  Even in new, stressful situations, the quality at the center of Scott Hatteberg – his compulsion to make himself at home in the game, to slow the game down, to make it come to him, to make it his game – was apparent.  He was one of those people whose personality was inextricable from his performance.  No:  whose personality was necessary for his performance.  (PRP:  authenticity)

p. 158:  Hatty had a gift for tailoring the game to talents.  It was completely ignored.  …  Hitting, for him, was a considered act.  He didn’t know how to hit without thinking about it, and so he kept right on thinking about it.  In retrospect, this was a striking act of self-determination;…

p. 159:  That was a byproduct of the Oakland experiment.  They were trying to subordinate the interest of the individual hitter to those of the team.  (a good at bat if moved teammate over even if you got out)

p. 160:  A good pitcher…creates a kind of parallel universe.  It doesn’t matter how hard he throws, in absolute terms, so long as he is able to distort the perception of the hitters.

p. 169:  No matter how successful you are, change is always good.  There can never be a status quo.

p. 181:  …the many foolish teams that thought all their questions could be answered by a single player.

p. 191:  In  Billy Beane’s mind, pitchers were nothing like high-performance sports cars, or thoroughbred racehorses, or any other metaphor that implied a cool, inbuilt superiority.  They were more like writers.  Like writers, pitchers imitated action, and set the tone for their games.  They had all sorts of ways of achieving their effects and they needed to be judged by those effects, rather than by their outward appearance, or their technique.

p. 192:  Good pitchers were pitchers who got outs, how they did it was beside the point.  …  It was an odd business, this getting of outs.  Obviously a physical act, it was also, in part, an act of the imagination.  …  The adjustments that lead to pitching success are mental as much as they are physical acts.

p. 193:  The power of an imagination can arise from what it refuses to foresee.

p. 206:  ‘The problem with major league baseball,’ he said, ‘is that it’s a self-populating institution.  Knowledge is institutionalized.  …’  Voros McCracken  (PRP:  what he says about baseball is also true of churches, seminaries, non-profits, any organization)

p. 229:  The more money the teams spent on players, at least in the American League West, the less able those players were to win baseball games.  (lesson learned now by most teams.  Needs to be learned by churches and seminaries as well)

p. 249:  Every nook and cranny of American society, it seemed, held people similarly obsessed with finding and exploiting market inefficiencies – and the Oakland front office inspired them.  The people most certain they had nothing to learn were other Major League Baseball teams.  But of course they didn’t!  They weren’t a business, they were a Club.  In a business, if someone comes along and exposes the trade secrets of your most efficient competitor, you’re elated.  Even if you have your doubts, you grab the book, peek inside, check it out.  Just to see.  Not in baseball.  In baseball, they were furious.  …

p. 252:  Indeed, one way of looking at the revolution in baseball management is as a search for less dramatic versions of Jackie Robinson – players who, for one unfair reason or another, often because of their appearance, had been maligned and undervalued by the market.

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