But the book is well-written and gripping. In many ways it reminds me of Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand which kept me on the edge of my seat even though, by the time I'd read it, I'd seen the movie several times. It takes a good writer to surprise you with a known outcome.
But the part of the book that strikes me most is not the ending. About half-way through the book, Lewis begins to discuss Bill James, hits, and runs. He basically goes through the math of showing the worth of a player who is willing to be walked versus a player who flails away at anything (which is pretty much the way I play the game; shoot, I start waving the bat AFTER the ball crosses the plate).
He goes on to examine Oakland A's' unique willingness to "hire" (buy?) players willing to let pitches go by, even to earn strikes, in order to get on-base. David Justice--whose age had lowered his apparent worth (yeah, men in sports over 30 slow down)--still had the supreme gift of being patient at the plate; the A's, through DePodesta, had discovered that "an extraordinary ability to get on base was more likely to stay with a player to the end of his career than, say, an extraordinary ability to hit home runs."
|The Two Hattebergs|
And then came the part of the book that made my hair stand on end, the chapter about Hatteberg:
Hatteberg's was a more subtle, less visible strength. He was unafraid of striking out and this absence of fear showed itself in how often he hit with two strikes . . . The A's hitting coaches had to drill into hitters' heads the idea that there was nothing especially bad about striking out . . . It angered [Hatteberg] far less to take a called strike than to swing at a pitch he couldn't do much with, and hit some lazy fly or weak grounder.Lewis discusses how counter-intuitive this business of striking out, allowing for strikes, is in a culture where hitting, hitting anything, has become the end-all-be-all of a player's life.
But it isn't just counter-intuitive in baseball--it is counter-intuitive in life. At least American life.
I read what Lewis wrote about the worth of not reacting precipitously and thought, "But that's just about every single argument I've tried to make in the workplace in my life."
And lost--because our culture says that to do something, ANYTHING, is better than not doing something. Administrations/heads/bosses feel a constant compulsion to rejigger things, overview stuff, review whatever. Change what happened before. Add extra steps. BIG BIG BIG. MORE MORE MORE.
I knew I was a libertarian before reading Lewis's book. I had no idea it was more than just a distaste for punditry and political excess.
For example, I have always instinctively worked to keep my courses from becoming morasses of "little work"--continual small homework assignments and projects with endless readings and recourse to the textbook. I always figured, if I can't convey basic writing principals in a single semester using a minimum of assignments/outside texts, I'm not doing my job. The more I've taught, the more I've come to believe this. (In fact, I've reached the point where I think textbooks should be banned; any instructor who relies on a textbook to teach a class shouldn't be teaching.)
Because constant motion doesn't automatically achieve anything. And Moneyball proves this. Or maybe Bill James did before the Oakland A's put it to the test and Lewis wrote about it. But Lewis says it in a way that instantly clicked in my head: There's nothing automatically meritorious about doing-something-for-the-sake-of-the-doing. There's nothing to be gained from creating more and more hoops for people, like students, to jump through for the sake of showing how hard somebody other than the students are working. There's nothing worthwhile about inventing supposed needs--students must learn to do X, Y, or Z--just so teachers and administrators can then fulfill those needs.
There's no merit in appearing caring and charitable if the care and charity is merely meant to show off the personalities and character of the responders.
"We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented," Matthew 11:17. Seems like an odd sentence to show up in the New Testament but boy, does it say a lot about human nature, especially the political mindset, wherever that mindset appears.