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Wednesday, June 4th, 2003


Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

by Michael Lewis

The New New Strategy

A review by Chris Jones

Early on in Moneyball, Michael Lewis's terrific stab at figuring out how the piss-poor Oakland A's keep coming in first, there's a revealing scene: Billy Beane, the team's new-thinking general manager, is debating the merits of drafting a fat catcher named Jeremy Brown with a gang of even fatter scouts. "He's huge in the ass," one bird dog sputters. But Beane isn't having it. He's in love with Brown because he's patient at the plate, if not at the buffet table.

That, and because Beane won't invest his faith in bullshit hokum like heart, or presence, or what the scouts call "the Good Face." (Think Joe DiMaggio's.) All Beane can afford is facts. And his facts tell him that backstops who walk a lot are good bets, even if they're huge in the ass.

At first, Beane's radical belief system as presented by Lewis, author of Liar's Poker and The New New Thing is unsettling, mowing down baseball's timeworn romance like grass. (Among Beane's statistical eurekas: There's no such thing as clutch hitters.) But watching Beane build his club in Moneyball, you'll realize that the art of ballpark dreaming isn't dead. It's just been replaced by a new imagination. And here, Lewis uses his remarkable access to highlight one man's knack for fantasy, the kind of fresh wonder that just might save the biggest Rotisserie League of 'em all.

Instead of reading something into matador cheekbones, say, Beane chooses uglier things to hang his hopes on. He'd rather his players have warts so long as they're in mathematically insignificant places because, first, that makes them dirt cheap, but also because there isn't much sport in sniffing truffles off dessert trays. There's a bunch more fun for him and for us to be found in the Jeremy Browns.

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