Moneyball by Michael Lewis

The book is always better than the movie, always. There aren't any exceptions. Well, Deliverance may be close, but no, the book is still better. Last night, I finally watched Moneyball with Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill, the movie based on the book by Michael Lewis, which I read last fall. Tomorrow I'll talk about the movie, but today, let's look at the book.

In Moneyball, author Michael Lewis chronicles how Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane went against the conventional thinking in baseball and started looking a little deeper at players’ statistics. By finding so called diamonds in the rough, he was able to put together winning teams on a shoestring budget. They weren’t star-studded teams, but they won a lot of ball games.

But I like to think that the book isn’t about the Oakland A’s and their surprise success, it’s about how ineptly many sports franchises are run. In Moneyball, Billy Beane and his staff discover that by not following conventional statistics, which they find to be very flawed, they can get players that while good, other teams simply aren’t interested in.

Take a look at batting averages. While they do represent how often a player gets a hit, it doesn’t represent how successful he is at not making an out; that is better represented by on-base percentage. Of course today, everybody looks at that stat, but in 2000 it was cutting edge thinking. Because teams were so focused on batting average, instead of on-base percentage, Beane and his staff felt they could put together a great line up, by getting guys who had a really high on base percentage and paying them peanuts. These guys may not have as high an average, but there didn’t make as many outs. The thinking was it was better to have a guy batting .280 with a .400 OBP over a guy batting .310 with a .350 OBP. Sounds like a no brainer to me.

Naturally, when Beane first begins to look at these newer statistics, he meets a lot of resistance from his scouting department, who tend to rely on ‘gut feeling’ more than anything else, when trying to decide if an 18 year old will be a good player in six or seven years. He quickly realizes that his new system isn’t simply looking at a different column of stats, but a dramatic change in thinking about how the team is run. As most of the people running a team were former players, they tended to rely on the stats that were used in their playing days, however flawed. Basically, everybody seems to adhere to the ‘we’ve always done it that way’ philosophy, regardless of how ineffective it has always been.

Being a baseball fan and one who is interested in the economics of sports, the book is a natural fit. But one doesn't need t be a ball fan to enjoy this book. While Lewis delves pretty deep into the statistics and mathmatics of baseball, it's explained in layman's terms, allowing anybody to understand it and more importantly to be entertained by it. Much of the data is actaully quite generic and really could be applied to any sport. Like, say, hockey, which has no shortage of statistics that don't make any sense or provide us with any real information on a player's value. But that's another topic for another day.

Simply put, the book is well written, interestind, and entertaining, which I guess makes for a pretty good read.

Comments 3
George Prax's picture

For the record, there are plenty of movies that are better than the books. Considering the number of books that get turned into movies it's impossible that some aren't. The Bourne movies (especially the last 2) were better than the books. I thought Fight Club was better as a movie, outside of maybe the very end. The Shining is a big one, and I'm a huge Stephen King fan saying that. Frankly anything that Fincher or Kubrick have adapted is probably better than the book lol (I'm going to stop short of saying Coppola too so I don't piss off any Heart of Darkness fans).

Either way good review, I've been meaning to read this ever since I watched the movie, which was excellent.

Bryan Wright's picture

Alright, maybe there a couple of exceptions...maybe! And you're right, The Shining is a perfect example. The book's great and the movie's a little different, but the movie is fantastic.

I do generally feel that the book is so much better though, which doesn't mean the movies are always bad, nor is it really the movie's fault. A two hour movie is about 100 pages long, while a book is hundreds and hundreds of pages. The book can just go into so much more detail than the movie, and the book isn't constrained by reality. Look at The Shining, where Kubrick used a hedge maze at the end, as they were unable to replicate what King had written in the book.

And like you said, some directors are really good at adapting a book (although Nabokov's Lolita is far superior to Kubrick's!) Another good movie adaptaion is The Great Train Robbery, probably because Michael Crichton wrote the book, but also wrote the screenplay and directed the movie. I've never seen a movie so closely reflect the book.

George Prax's picture

Most of the English classes I took in college had some sort of movie element, and it really made me appreciate the process of adapting a movie a lot more. One semester for my final essay I decided to use Dreamcatcher (King, of course!), and in my first draft I tore the movie to shreds for not being similar to the book. Then I had a chat with my teach and I realized it was very much like the book. Even if they changed a lot of superfluous things, the actual subject matter was the same. It's a matter of perception, and I think people need to realize that they're taking a book that as you said can go into as much detail as possible, and imply those details and use subtle filming and writing techniques to get them across in order to fit the movie into two hours.

I agree with you, in general it's obviously better on paper. On the other side there are also a lot of writers (King, Palahniuk) who are just good at writing really adaptable books.