Preface and Chapter 1 Summary
Michael Lewis explains in his preface that he wrote Moneyball because he fell in love with a story about
a small group of undervalued professional baseball players and executives, many of whom had been rejected as unfit for the big leagues, who had turned themselves into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Baseball.
However, the idea for the story formed when Lewis noticed that the Oakland Athletics (the A's) were winning a lot of baseball games, even though they were one of the poorest teams in baseball.
The A's were not physically or athletically inferior to other teams; instead, they were at a financial disadvantage. The New York Yankees, for example, had a payroll of $126 million in 2002. Just a decade before, the New York Mets had the highest payroll in the league at $44 million. Although it seemed like money buys wins, Lewis notes that some high payroll teams have nevertheless failed to win. Oakland, meanwhile, had won more regular seasons games than every other team but the Atlanta Braves, in spite of having the second lowest payroll in the league. The A’s general manager, Billy Beane, realized that he would never have as much money as the Yankees, so he began to look for “inefficiencies in the game.” He had his staff investigate the market price for undervalued skills such as "foot speed," and they began recruiting bargain players with those skill sets. They achieved great success. Before long, bigger market teams like the Red Sox began reinventing their organization in the image of Beane’s A’s, establishing Beane's reputation as one of baseball's great modern innovators. What, however, made Beane reevaluate player selection in the first place?
In the opening chapter, “The Curse of Talent,” Lewis explains how scouts have traditionally searched for talent in their prospects. He begins in San Diego in 1980 where managers from several teams were evaluating five especially promising prospects. One of the prospects was a young Billy Beane. Scouting had recently taken on greater significance because “professional baseball players had been granted free agency by a court of law,” and players’ salaries subsequently tripled. The scouts carried a checklist as they look for a player’s “tools.” The five tools were: ability to run, throw, field, hit, and hit “with power.” The five prospects were asked to run, and Billy Beane “flat-out smoked” the others, astonishing the managers.
Beane was also an especially talented pitcher and batter, and he even had “the Good Face.” (Lewis explains that some scouts believed that the structure of a player’s face revealed both his character and his “future in pro ball.”) Beane was a phenomenal athlete, but all the scouts missed several important clues, such as the abrupt drop in Beane’s batting average during his senior year. When he struck out, he would angrily swing his bat into the wall. Lewis suggests that “when things did not go well for Billy on the playing field, a wall came down between him and his talent," and he did not know how to get through it.
Roger Jongewaard, a scout with the New York Mets, was intent on signing Beane even though Beane was determined to go to Stanford on a football and baseball scholarship. However, Beane changed his mind when the scout took Beane to the Met clubhouse to meet major league players. Beane's decision cost him his admission to Stanford and changed his life for the worse when he failed to make the majors:
One day Billy Beane could have been anything; the next he was just another minor league baseball player, and not even a rich one.
Chapter 2 Summary
The second chapter, “How to Find a Ballplayer,” begins over twenty years later. Beane is now the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Although he has sworn never to make another decision based on money, he is happy to manage money “so long as he was using it on other people, and not having it used on him.” Beane is in a room full of scouts, a group of people...
(The entire section is 7,035 words.)