He Said She Said: Moneyball Book Review

Today we’re bringing you another round of He Said/She Said.  These posts are really your chance as readers to hear how discussions (and sometimes disagreements) play out when managing our lives with each other.  For a look at some of the past He Said/She Said discussions – check ‘em out here.


The Background On Today’s Conversation

In 2003, Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.  In it, Lewis describes the Oakland A’s quest under general manager Billy Beane, to level the monetary playing field of major league baseball.

Shortly after the book came out, a friend of mine who’s an economist (E) started poking me to read it.  And I resisted.

Mrs. PoP: It’s about baseball.  And I hate baseball!  Baseball just reminds me of awful summer afternoons sitting in the grass at the minor league ball park because we scored free tickets from my aunt.  Baseball is boring and I don’t want to read about it.  

E: It’s not really about baseball, I swear.  It’s about economics.  But… you know you’re unAmerican for saying you hate baseball, right?

Mrs. PoP: I’m not big on chocolate either.  Or fireworks.  Should I send my passport back to the State Department?

The poking continued occasionally from my economist friend, and from Mr. PoP… and then in 2011 Moneyball was turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt.  The poking started again.  

E: At least see the movie.  If you hate it, I’ll reimburse you.  No, that’s not true.  I’m just confident that you won’t hate it.

Mrs PoP: But I don’t even find Brad Pitt attractive.  I wouldn’t even have any consolation eye candy if the movie bored me to tears.  I’d be forced to walk out, and I would hold that against you.  =)

E: You’re kindof an ass sometimes.  I’ve met donkeys less stubborn than you.

Finally a couple of months ago, I was perusing the DVD selection at the local library and saw Moneyball the movie on the shelf.  (Yes, I promise – this is a Moneyball book review, not movie!)  Barrier to entry reduced to next to nothing, I picked up the DVD and brought it home with a couple of others.  Worst case, if I hated it, I’d stop the movie and put in something better.

Well, Mr. PoP and I watched the movie and I didn’t hate it.  In fact, I daresay I liked it.  (Though I’m still not attracted to Brad Pitt.)  Mr. PoP and I both liked it enough that we requested the book from the library so we could both read it and see if the book really is better than the movie.

Turns out, it is.  And here are our thoughts.


He Said

Oh man this book is good on so many levels!  Michael Lewis takes you inside the A’s clubhouse as their General Manager Billy Beane constructs a pennant-winning team from misfits and outcasts.  The under-dog narrative would have been enough to carry the book, but the process of how Billy changes the game of baseball by using sabermetrics to become an investor of under-valued players is fascinating.

Partly because of Lewis’s background in business writing (he wrote Liar’s Poker and The Big Short), the book turns into a meditation on the difference in Value and Price. As Buffet said, “Price is what you pay and Value is what you get,” and Billy Beane is a value investor of the first order, judging players by their stats, and how they fit together as a team, instead of what they look like.

The difference between Price and Value is incredibly important to anybody who is trying to get their finances sorted out. The prices of consumer goods are always plain, but what is the value? Just as Billy discovers the underlying value of underpriced players to build a championship team, people have to figure out if the price they are paying for new cars, McMansions, fancy restraunts is really worth the value they receive. You can pay the high price for all of these things if you have as much money as the New York Yankees, but what happens if you are like the A’s, and have 1/10th of the money to throw around? Just like Billy Beane, you have to get very good at figuring out what the real value of a purchase is, or if you can get equal value some place else (and still beat the Yankees!).

Accumulating wealth, and enjoying life while you do it, is like winning an unfair game.

She Said

Turns out, baseball as a sport is really only a minor character in Moneyball.  The main character as I see it isn’t Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane, nor any of the individual misfit players on the Oakland A’s lineup (though I am now especially fond of Scott Hatteberg).  The main character in this book is money.  It’s a book about having the odds stacked against you money-wise and coming out on top not in spite of that fact, but because of it.

It’s about a lack of funds necessitating the development of new information gathering techniques and figuring out what the diamonds in the rough truly are.  It’s about changing the view of baseball as a sport of “Great Men” into one that sees the team’s performance as an aggregate of many individuals.  It’s about upending the notion of what a player looks like and instead focusing on what they can do for you and what results they can deliver day in and day out.

At its heart, Moneyball seems to be a tale of that mixes together value investing, basic statistical analysis, and negotiations and behavioral economics and wrap it all up with stories like those of:

  • Kevin Youkilis – the Greek god of walks
  • Scott Hatteberg – whose friendly chats with opposing players on first base necessitated an official MLB memo reiterating MLB policy against “fraternizing with opposing players”
  • Chad Bradford – who pitched so low to the ground he frightened off most scouts, yet could outlast most pitchers on the mound despite pitching so low his knuckles nearly dragged through the dirt.

All in all, Moneyball was a great read.  And to both E and Mr. PoP, I officially eat my words.  I should have read it years ago I enjoyed it so much.  And recommend it heartily for anyone with a passing interest in value investing, statistical analysis, human behavior, and good stories.  

Have you ever read Moneyball (or seen the movie)?  What did you think?  Any other book suggestions to add to our reading list that we might both enjoy?


* Links through to Amazon are affiliate and purchases made there will send a small kick back to the PoPs.

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