Moneyball

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Money and Value Theme Analysis

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As its title would suggest, Moneyball studies the role of money in Major League Baseball in the late 20th and early 21st century. Baseball—no less than any other popular, sought-after form of entertainment—is a business, and Michael Lewis (a former Wall Street trader himself) shows how a group of savvy general managers and assistant general managers revolutionized baseball by applying business principles to it.

One of Moneyball’s most important insights into the role of money in baseball is that, in practice, Major League Baseball functions in more or less the same way as the American economy itself. A large number of franchises compete with one another to sign contracts with the most talented players, ensuring that those players will compete on their behalf for many years to come. As with the American economy, however, the competition between franchises is far from fair and equal. The largest, richest franchises, such as the New York Yankees, have a huge advantage over their poorer competitors: they can afford to buy the most sought-after athletes. If the biggest franchises always bought the best players, one would expect that, over time, the biggest franchises would continue to get bigger and better. However, as Lewis shows, big franchises don’t always make good use of their funds and their players. Sometimes, promising players turn out to be bad investments, and sometimes, players with good agents charge the largest franchises an inflated price for their services. In effect, smaller franchises are—to use the market analogy again—startups, using novel strategies, shrewd investments, and pure luck to outcompete their larger, more static rivals. As a result of the occasional incompetence of large franchises and the ingenuity of smaller franchises, such as the Oakland A’s, Major League Baseball remains exciting and entertaining for fans—the richest teams don’t always win. Nevertheless, as Moneyball makes clear, money controls Major League Baseball to a degree that even devoted fans of the sport don’t realize: franchises make draft decisions not out of loyalty, or even due to players’ talents, but based on what their budgets enable them to do. And their success depends on the value they gain from the money they spend.

Evidently, money is the means of achieving success in the world of professional baseball. But Lewis also suggests that, in slightly a different sense, money is the ultimate measure of success. The goal of a Major League franchise is not, in the end, to win the World Series, but to draw fans, sell tickets, attract popular interest, and to boost the general cash value of the franchise. It’s still important for the franchise to win games, but not simply for the intrinsic glory of winning. Indeed, during the era in which Moneyball is set (the 1980s to the early 2000s), many baseball franchises, which had previously been thought of as essentially philanthropic organizations (i.e., money-losers), refocused their strategy and became proper businesses. Understood in this way, Moneyball’s view of baseball can seem somewhat cynical: the goal of the game is not, contrary to what many fans believe, to please fans or maintain loyalty to certain players, except as means to the end of building a profitable business.

Billy and Paul remain controversial figures in the world of organized sports. While their sabermetric management style challenged the conventional wisdom that the richest teams always won, their strategies ultimately made baseball more money-centric than ever before by applying Wall Street derivative tactics to baseball. In the early 2000s, Billy’s unique insight led the Oakland A’s to a successful season, leveling the playing field for a small, underfunded team. But since the early 2000s, and the success of Moneyball itself, many different baseball teams, big and small, have begun making management decisions with the help of sabermetrics, effectively canceling out any advantage that DePodesta’s methods lent to smaller franchises. After leading the A’s to a successful season in 2002, Billy Beane was offered a chance to work for the Red Sox and become the highest-paid general manager in baseball history. To widespread surprise, he turned the Red Sox down, claiming that he’d never make a decision that was “just about the money.” Lewis doesn’t reveal Billy’s precise motives for turning down the contract, but Billy’s decision symbolizes the contradictions of sabermetrics and monetization: although the people who pioneered the use of sabermetrics seemed to be motivated by something more than just a desire for money, their decisions had the effect of clarifying and strengthening the role of money in baseball overall.

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Money and Value ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Money and Value appears in each Chapter of Moneyball. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Money and Value Quotes in Moneyball

Below you will find the important quotes in Moneyball related to the theme of Money and Value.
Chapter 1 Quotes

When things did not go well for Billy on the playing field, a wall came down between him and his talent, and he didn’t know any other way to get through the wall than to try to smash a hole in it. It wasn't merely that he didn’t like to fail; it was as if he didn’t know how to fail.
The scouts never considered this. By the end of Billy’s senior year the only question they had about Billy was: Can I get him?

Related Characters: Billy Beane
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lewis discusses the early baseball career of Billy Beane, a once-talented athlete who, after being drafted by the Mets, floundered in the minor leagues and never lived up to his potential. As a high school player, Billy wowed professional talent scouts: they thought he was a sure-fire major-leaguer. However, beneath his impressive plays and charisma, Billy was insecure and couldn’t cope with failure, no matter how small. When he made a mistake, he’d allow his failure to tarnish the rest of his game, instead of moving past the mistake as the best athletes do.

One of Lewis’s insights here is that Billy’s psychological profile was as important as his physical profile to his success, a fact that the scouts couldn’t see. Naively, they assumed that Billy would be fine as a major league player, even though he wasn’t psychologically mature enough for big-league play. The traditional scouting system, Lewis suggests, is severely flawed: it focuses too much on an athlete’s big, impressive plays, and not enough on the athlete’s endurance, determination, or maturity. Years later, as General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy is inspired to institute a new, sabermetric approach to drafting and acquiring players, recognizing that, as evidenced by his own career, the traditional scouting methods don’t always work.

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Chapter 2 Quotes

There was no avoiding just how important the 2002 amateur draft was for the future of the Oakland A’s. The Oakland A’s survived by finding cheap labor. The treatment of amateur players is the most glaring of the many violations of free market principles in Major League Baseball. A team that drafts and signs a player holds the rights to his first seven years in the minor leagues and his first six in the majors.

Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

Necessity is the mother of invention, and one reason that Paul DePodesta instituted a new sabermetric strategy for the Oakland A’s is that the Oakland A’s were a poor team that needed to save money. In 2002, the conventional wisdom held that big teams, because of their higher budgets, could afford the most highly-valued (and therefore the best) players, and thereby ensure the team’s success throughout the season. Paul, recognizing the need to find budget players, realized that, in fact, some of the best players in the league were stranded in the amateur draft because they didn’t meet talent scouts’ arbitrary definition of talent. Therefore, by drafting and signing secretly talented players, the Oakland A’s could assemble a great team and save lots of money.

In many ways, the Major League Baseball world is an economic market like any other. As Lewis points out here, baseball franchises survive by buying players before they become famous, and then continuing to pay them far too little for years to come. There’s nothing glamorous or noble about the Oakland A’s practice of hiring cheap players and exploiting them for cash—Paul and Billy aren’t trying to do right by the players; they’re just trying to make their team financially viable.

Chapter 3 Quotes

Since the late 1970s the A’s had been owned by Walter A. Haas, Jr., who was, by instinct, more of a philanthropist than a businessman. Haas viewed professional baseball ownership as a kind of public trust and spent money on it accordingly. In 1991, the Oakland A’s actually had the highest payroll in all of baseball. Haas was willing to lose millions to field a competitive team that would do Oakland proud, and he did. The A’s had gone to the World Series three straight seasons from 1988 to 1990.
Deferring to success became an untenable strategy in 1995.

Related Characters: Walter A. Haas, Jr.
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The rise of sabermetrics in Major League Baseball coincided with the rise of sports franchises as major moneymakers. For example, in the case of the Oakland A’s, one of the first franchises to use sabermetrics extensively for drafting and acquiring players and for determining team strategies, the team needed to start generating income. In the past, under the leadership of owner Walter A. Haas, the goal of the Oakland A’s wasn’t to make money, but rather to provide pride and entertainment to the people of Oakland. However, under its new leadership, the Oakland A’s needed to sell tickets and save money through wise resource allocation. Ultimately, Paul DePodesta instituted sabermetric strategies because he recognized the necessity of maximizing profits by spending as little money as possible to acquire good players.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Volcker was also the only commissioner with a financial background. To the growing annoyance of the others, he kept asking two provocative questions:
1. If poor teams were in such dire financial condition, why did rich guys keep paying higher prices to buy them?
2. If poor teams had no hope, how did the Oakland As, with the second lowest payroll in all of baseball, win so many games?

Related Characters: Paul Volcker
Page Number: 121
Explanation and Analysis:

In the 1990s, the Major League Baseball organization set up a commission whose purpose was to study the economic inequalities in the sport. One of the people appointed to the commission was the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker. Volcker recognized that, as most everybody knew, Major League Baseball was wildly unfair. The biggest, richest teams had the budget to afford the best players, and, as a result, they made more money and got bigger in the long run. However, Volcker also recognized that some small, underfunded teams, such as the Oakland A’s, did very well in spite of their poorness—why?

In many ways, Volcker’s question dominates the entire book. As we come to see, the traditional system for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of ballplayers is highly misleading: some excellent players aren’t valued very highly at all, while others are overvalued. The result is that, at times, franchises like the Oakland A’s can identify gifted players that fly under the radar of wealthier teams, such as the New York Yankees, and assemble a great team that doesn’t cost much money. The premise of Volcker’s question is that the economy of baseball is operating efficiently: the A’s use of sabermetrics showed that this premise was false.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Justice walked a lot. Just a few years ago Justice's ability to wait for pitches he could drive—to not get himself out by swinging at a pitcher's pitch
–had enabled him to hit lots of home runs, too. Much of his power was now gone. His new Oakland teammates witnessed his dissipation up close. After he'd hit a long fly ball, Justice would return to the A’s dugout and say, matter of factly, "That used to be out." There was something morbid about it, like watching a death, play-by-play.
The A’s front office didn't care. They sought only to milk the last few ounces of superior on-base percentage out of David Justice before he expired.

Related Characters: David Justice
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we learn about David Justice, a formerly impressive ballplayer who’s now a little past his prime. Justice has been acquired by the Oakland A’s, and, though he assumes it’s because he’s a talented hitter, that’s not the reason that the A’s brought him on. On the contrary, the A’s acquire Justice because he’s phenomenal at getting on base—an underrated talent in Major League Baseball, at least in 2002, which Paul exploits to the great advantage of the team.

As with many other passages in Chapter Seven, this passage is almost cruel in the way it describes Billy and his colleagues cynically manipulating Justice for their own profit. Justice is fairly well-paid (although, as Lewis makes clear, the A’s pay him far less than he’s worth), but the general manager and team manager mislead him into thinking he’s more talented than he really is. The A’s managers’ strategy is, as Lewis acknowledges here, morbid.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Billy Beane wanted him to hit. Hatteberg told his agent to cut a deal with Oakland: one year with a club option for a second with a base salary of $950,000 plus a few incentive clauses. The moment he signed it, a few days after Christmas, he had a call from Billy Beane, who said how pleased he was to have him in the lineup.
And, oh yes, he'd be playing first base.

Related Characters: Billy Beane, Scott Hatteberg
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:

At the beginning of Chapter Eight, Billy Beane has signed a one-year contract with Scott Hatteberg, an unpopular, unglamorous player who nonetheless has a superb on-base percentage (i.e., he has a lower than normal probability of getting an out). Billy signs Hatteberg to the A’s, but he doesn’t tell Hatteberg why, exactly, he’s signed him. As a result, Hatteberg is confused about what he’s supposed to be doing for the A’s. He’s assigned the position of first baseman, which is surprising since Hatteberg can barely throw anymore—he’s had a bad accident in the past, and his right arm isn’t in good shape at all.

Billy’s strategy in the 2002 season is novel because it involves players taking positions for which they have little training or talent. However, in the long term, Billy’s strategy works out. Even though Hatteberg isn’t much of a first baseman, it’s worth it: playing first base means that Hatteberg gets to hit, which further means that Hatteberg is almost guaranteed to get on base and help the A’s win the game.

Chapter 9 Quotes

The moment he hangs up he calls Mark Shapiro, current owner of Ricardo Rincon, and tells him that he has the impression that the market for Rincon is softening. Whoever the other bidder is, he says, Shapiro ought to make sure his offer is firm.

Related Characters: Billy Beane, Mark Shapiro
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

In this impressive and somewhat comical scene, Billy Beane negotiates with multiple general managers (GMs) simultaneously. Billy is trying to trade some of his lesser players to other teams and acquire good players in return. Here, Billy is trying to acquire a talented, popular player named Ricardo Rincon from Mark Shapiro, the GM of the Cleveland Indians. In order to convince Shapiro to trade Rincon to the A’s—and not the many other teams clamoring for Rincon—Billy tricks the Giants’ GM into hedging on his (the Gants GM’s) negotiations with Mark Shapiro. Convinced that Billy will be the most reliable market for Rincon, Shapiro agrees to trade Rincon to the A’s rather than the Giants.

The passage is entertaining, because it allows us to see Billy at his finest: quick-thinking, charismatic, and effortlessly persuasive. Indeed, the passage confirms something Lewis suggested about Billy’s athletic career: Billy’s real passion was always managing baseball, not playing it. As a GM, Billy gets a chance to flex some mental muscles that he never got the chance to use in a professional game.

In his youth he might have mouthed off. He would certainly have borne a grudge. But he was no longer young; the numbness had long since set in. He thought of himself the way the market thought of him, as an asset to be bought and sold. He'd long ago forgotten whatever it was he was meant to feel.

Related Characters: Mike Magnante
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of this chapter, Billy Beane is finished trading his players. As a result, one of the Oakland A’s athletes, Mike Magnante, is told that his big-league career is effectively over—Billy doesn’t need him anymore. Magnante isn’t angry with this news, though—he’s so used to being treated like an asset to be bought or sold that he accepts his GM’s decision.

The passage is one of the clearest evocations of how professional sports dehumanizes its athletes. Billy doesn’t show any loyalty to Mike Magnante because loyalty would interfere with Billy’s ability to make the smartest, most mathematical choice. Instead of protesting against Billy’s callousness, Magnante seems to accept it: he accepts that he really is useless to the A’s at this late stage in his career.

Chapter 12 Quotes

"I made one decision based on money in my life—when I signed with the Mets rather than go to Stanford—and I promised I'd never do it again." After that, Billy confined himself to the usual blather about personal reasons. None of what he said was terribly rational or "objective"—but then, neither was he. Within a week, he was back to scheming how to get the Oakland A’s back to the playoffs, and Paul DePodesta was back to being on his side.

Related Characters: Billy Beane (speaker), Paul DePodesta
Related Symbols: The 2002 Playoffs
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the book, Billy gets a shot at an incredible contract with the Boston Red Sox: he has the opportunity to manage the team for more than twelve million dollars over the course of five years, a record for professional baseball. At first, Billy is excited about the prospect being a highly paid general manager for the Red Sox, but in the end, he chooses to remain on as the general manager of the Oakland A’s.

Billy’s explanation for his surprising decision is tantalizingly vague. He claims that he didn’t want to make a decision purely for the money—i.e., he didn’t want to manage the Red Sox, a team he didn’t really care about, just because they wanted to pay him a lot. But Billy doesn’t explain why he chose to remain with the A’s instead of transferring to another team. It’s not clear if Billy was motivated by loyalty to his team and his players, a desire to win a World Series with the A’s, or some other reason. Nevertheless, his decision not to leave the A’s brings the book full circle from where it began—with Billy’s decision to sign with the Mets. Billy is fond of saying that after signing with the Mets, he never made another decision purely for the money. Billy honors his promises to himself and he remains with the A’s.

Epilogue Quotes

Everybody's laughing at him again. But their laughter has a different tone. It's not the sniggering laughter of the people who made fun of his body. It's something else. He looks out into the gap in left center field. The outfielders are just standing there: they've stopped chasing the ball. The ball's gone. The triple of Jeremy Brown's imagination, in reality, is a home run.

Related Characters: Jeremy Brown
Page Number: 286
Explanation and Analysis:

In the epilogue of the book, Michael Lewis describes one incredible play by Jeremy Brown. In the game, Brown hits the ball hard into the crowd, but he assumes it’s going to bounce back into the field. In the meantime, he hustles to first base and slips. Embarrassed, Jeremy gets up and realizes that, contrary to what he expected, he’s just hit a home run.

In many ways, the passage is symbolic of the Oakland A’s new approach to baseball. Jeremy Brown isn’t the most graceful ballplayer in the league—he slips in the dirt, after all. But Jeremy is, without a doubt, one of the most successful and talented players in the league, even if his plays aren’t always that beautiful to watch. By using sabermetrics so extensively, Paul DePodesta has ushered in a new generation of ballplayers like Jeremy, who lack conventional baseball talent and polish but who still succeed at the sport. Moreover, as the passage—with its deft mixture of comedy and drama— proves, sabermetrics isn’t going to ruin baseball, as some people have claimed. Instead, sabermetrics creates ballgames that are fun, entertaining, and surprising to watch.