DATE May 28, 2003 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Michael Lewis discusses his new book "Moneyball: The
Art of Winning an Unfair Game," which describes how baseball's
Oakland A's managed to be successful despite its low payroll
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
When Michael Lewis started researching his new book "Moneyball," he had a
simple question: How did the Oakland A's, a motley collection of baseball
misfits and utility players with the second-lowest payroll in all of baseball,
win so many games? The answer lies, as it often does in baseball, with
statistics; in this case, a very creative and unusual use of statistical
analysis on the part of the A's general manager, Billy Beane. Beane paid
attention to numbers collected over the years by a group of baseball
enthusiasts, including software engineers, physics professors and Wall Street
analysts, numbers that most everyone else in baseball ignores. These stats
enabled Beane to discern the unique talents of undervalued players no one else
wanted. He then assembled and regrouped them on the field according to their
strengths, eventually pulling together a winning team last year.
Michael Lewis followed the A's through the 2002 season. He's also the author
of "Liar's Poker" and "The New New Thing." Terry asked Lewis to talk about
the prevailing wisdom that teams with the most money to spend on players win
the most games.
Mr. MICHAEL LEWIS (Author, "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game"):
Well, the American League West--which has Oakland, the Seattle Mariners, the
Anaheim Angels and the Texas Rangers in it--finished in exact inverse relation
to the amount of money the teams spent on players. I think Oakland spent $40
million and won 103 games, Anaheim won a few games less and spent $20 million
more, Seattle won a few games less than that and spent $20 more than Anaheim,
and Texas won 20 or 30 games less than everybody and they spent, I don't know,
$110 million, $115 million or some vast sum of money. So anybody who believed
that money bought success in baseball would have been perplexed by how the
American League West finished.
TERRY GROSS, host:
OK, so we're talking about money and baseball, and you pointed out that the
discrepancy between the richest and the poorest of the baseball teams is
bigger than the financial discrepancy in any of the other sports, like
basketball or football. Why is it so big in baseball? Is there a reason for
Mr. LEWIS: Yes, because the teams have never agreed to share revenues with
each other. They share modest amounts of revenues, but in the other sports,
there's more central control of the sport, and the teams have all agreed that
it's for the good of the sport, that the best thing that the teams that are
naturally richer--which would be, you know, for example, the New York teams,
the big-market teams--would share a lot of what they get from, say, their
local media contracts with the other teams.
In baseball, the principal source of the discrepancy between the teams is
local media contracts. So the New York Yankees get, I don't know, a couple of
hundred million a year for their local television rights, which they're not
obliged to share with the other teams in baseball, and the Oakland A's, which
have a small media market, get 10 or $15 million a year for their local
broadcast rights. And it's a combination of the owners' resistance to the
idea of sharing revenues and the players' resistance to the idea that the
owners would share revenues. The players have been adamantly opposed to major
league baseball forcing the richest teams to share their loot with the poorest
teams, because they think the net effect on players' salaries will be to
GROSS: You attribute a lot of the Oakland A's success to its general manager,
Billy Beane. What kind of shape was the team in when he took over the team?
Mr. LEWIS: It was a losing team when he took over in 1997, and it's gotten
better every year under his stewardship. And Billy Beane came into the
organization and embraced the idea that there was such a thing as new
knowledge in baseball, and you could research baseball and find out
interesting things about it by researching it, and that the way baseball teams
were conventionally run had all sorts of inefficiencies in it that could be
exploited for profit. And so you've got, essentially, one team that's living
purely by its wits and making a good run of it.
GROSS: So the new knowledge, as you put it, that he was trying to find or to
create in baseball was based, in part, on new baseball statistics and new ways
of measuring the performance of players. What made him look at statistics
more carefully and look for new ways of creating statistics?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, his predecessor in the job at Oakland, a fellow named Sandy
Alderson, who now works in the commissioner's office, had discovered Bill
James, the baseball writer, who in the late '70s and early '80s, published a
series of what he called abstracts, where he systematically challenged the
conventional wisdom of baseball, the traditional way baseball was played on
the field, the traditional ways of evaluating baseball players.
And while the Oakland A's have not sort of aped Bill James and taken
everything he said and applied it to their system, they had embraced the idea
that is sort of central to James' work, that just because everybody does it a
certain way doesn't mean it's right, and that you can use statistics to sort
of dig below the surface of baseball and find the hidden game, find
attributes, for example, in players that are very important but not highly
valued in the marketplace, and also find attributes in players that teams pay
a lot for that actually aren't worth that much when it comes to victory and
GROSS: What are some of the Bill James statistical creations that changed the
thinking of the A's?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, they say it's the spirit of James more than the specifics,
but in his early works, James does something, you know, which seemed
commonsensical. He builds a statistical model to explain where runs come
from, you know, how important is a walk or a single or a double or triple in
creating runs. And what he would do it take all the singles and doubles and
triples and walks that, say, the Boston Red Sox in 1975 had and try to predict
how many runs the Boston Red Sox would score on the basis of that. And so he
developed this predictive model that was actually quite good. I mean, he
could see how important these offensive attributes were, these offensive
statistics were, and he quickly came to the conclusion that batting average,
for example, which is held out--was maybe the chief way to evaluate the
effectiveness of a hitter, was less important than on-base percentage, and the
big difference between batting average and on-base percentage is how often a
And so then the Oakland A's take this and they go out and look for players who
walk a lot but don't have gaudy batting averages. So they aren't very
expensive, but they generate this thing that's very valuable called on-base
percentage. But an awful lot of what the Oakland A's do is actually now
proprietary to the Oakland A's. They sort of embrace this spirit of James and
they created their own kind of research and development program within the
organization to generate proprietary information.
GROSS: Two of the guys who created one of the systems that the Oakland A's
have used were from a stock market background. They analyzed and traded
derivative securities, and they came up with their own baseball statistics.
Mr. LEWIS: Well, that's right. They were two traders from the Chicago stock
exchange whose job had been analyzing complicated securities. And they
realized that the sort of thinking they were doing about securities could be
applied to baseball players, and they set out to essentially strip out the
luck factor from players' performances.
So take a simple example: A hitter hits a double and he's credited with a
double in the record books of baseball, and his value goes up a little bit
because doubles are valuable. But what these guys recognized was that's
really not adequate if you want to price the value of what the guy has done
because not all doubles are alike. There are sort of fly balls that get lost
in the sun that should have been outs, and those really shouldn't be scored as
doubles. They should be something--in the credit book for this player, they
should be something else. And then there are screaming line drives that
normally would be doubles and, you know, just because there was some
sensational outfielder who happened to be there or some luckily positioned
outfielder, they get caught and they become outs.
So what they did is they took everything that happened on a baseball field and
reduced it to--sliced it and diced it to its most elemental parts and they
said, `This is the true value of that event, and so we're going to credit that
value to this player's account.' And the end result was coming up with very
different valuations for players' performances than the conventional wisdom,
and this is basically what the Oakland A's are doing, too.
GROSS: It's a very subjective way of being empirical, because, you know,
you're subjectively analyzing each play and, like, who gets the credit for it
and then you're converting it into this empirical number.
Mr. LEWIS: Well, it isn't that subjective because what you're doing is
comparing what happened on the baseball field to what normally happens. And
so what they would do is they would say--let's say Johnny Damon of the Boston
Red Sox hits a line drive. They would actually not even call it a line drive.
They'd call it `a ball hit at a certain velocity in a certain angle to the
ground that landed on this little spot, on this little point on the baseball
field.' And they would say, `Well, balls hit like that over the past 10
years, what typically are they?' And they would say, `Typically,' they'd say,
`87 percent of the time they're doubles.' So they'd say whatever happened in
that particular case, with Johnny Damon's ball, that he should be credited
with 87 percent of a double. So what they're trying to do is sort of
eliminate the subjectivity. Instead of judging the thing that happened by the
outcome, they're sort of looking at the process that led to the outcome.
The end result of all this is that the Oakland A's are forced, because they
don't have any money, to build a team out of players that the other teams
don't value, because if the other teams do value them, the Oakland A's can't
afford them. So they're forced to find a way to find the hidden value in
players. And that they have built this team out of players that other teams
often had no interest in at all and always had much less interest in, and that
this group of, you know, rejected parts from other organizations has come
together and become this juggernaut on the field was, to me, the really
BOGAEV: Michael Lewis, talking with Terry Gross. His new book "Moneyball" is
about the Oakland A's baseball team. We'll be back after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: If you're just joining us, Terry's guest is Michael Lewis. His new
book is "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game." It's about money and
baseball and new strategies of measuring players' abilities. It tells the
story of the 2002 Oakland A's and their manager, Billy Beane.
GROSS: Why don't you describe how one of the players signed to the Oakland
A's became a big success with the A's, but hadn't been thought of as a great
player before joining the A's?
Mr. LEWIS: There are plenty of examples, but--well, let's take one of the
characters in the book, Scott Hatteberg. Scott Hatteberg had spent 10 years
in the Boston Red Sox organization; four of them in the minor leagues and I
guess almost six of them in the big leagues. He'd been a catcher, and the Red
Sox viewed him as a catcher who, you know, wasn't a disaster as a hitter and
that was because they didn't value what he did really well. What he did
really well was he got on base at a rate way above the big-league average,
which is the single most important thing that a player can do. And in
addition--and this is a more subtle virtue in a hitter--each of his plate
appearances were inordinately drawn out. He would always see more pitches per
plate appearance than just about any player in the league. And he rarely
swung at pitches that were out of the strike zone. Now the effect of this is
to subtly wear down the opposing pitching. It's good for the team to have a
team full of guys who don't swing at balls and who force the opposing pitcher
to throw lots of pitches, but it's even better to have a team full of guys who
get on base a lot.
Anyway, the Oakland A's had seen these qualities in Scott Hatteberg because
they measured things like the number of pitches he saw per plate appearance
and they watched very closely for on-base percentage. And so they had been,
for several years, praying they could some way get their hands on Scott
Hatteberg. Well, Scott Hatteberg had an accident during spring training with
the Boston Red Sox and ruptured a nerve in his throwing elbow, and it
basically meant he couldn't feel his hand. He had to relearn how to throw the
baseball. He was finished from that moment on as a catcher because you have
to be able to throw as a catcher. And the Red Sox then tossed him on the
scrap heap. They had no sense that he was valuable as a hitter.
Well, Scott Hatteberg ends up becoming a free agent and no one wants him. I
mean, it was actually extraordinary. He becomes a free agent, I think, it's
two days before Christmas at midnight, and at 12:01, Paul DePodesta, the
assistant GM of the Oakland A's is on the phone to his agent saying, `We got
to have this guy.' And as his agent said, `Look, we were looking at a market
where 29 teams regarded Scott as useless, and one team desperately wanted
him.' So Hatteberg became the first baseman of the Oakland A's last year, and
he's been terrific. He's been a subtle but extremely important offensive
player, and the reason they got him is that no one else saw the value in him.
And because no one else saw the value in him, he was cheap. They didn't have
to pay him very much.
GROSS: And also, it seems like, you know, Oakland is using players
differently than other teams might use them because its measuring their skills
Mr. LEWIS: That's right. You know, one of the things they're doing in
Oakland is identifying which traits in a baseball player are overpriced and
which are underpriced. And the trait that is dramatically overpriced is foot
speed. They say that, you know, the effect of speed on the game--you know, it
is there. There are effects, but it's small in relation to what you pay for
it. So as a result, they don't buy it. They don't buy fast guys because fast
guys get paid too much. And as a result, they're by far the slowest team in
baseball, and that leads in turn to an even greater disdain for things like
trying to steal bases or taking risks, generally, on the base paths. They
would have that attitude towards base running anyway because they have
analysis that shows that trying to steal bases often doesn't--the rewards
often don't justify the risk. But the fact that they have collected a group
of people who can't steal bases anyway means they're not going to do it.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Lewis, and his new book
is called "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game," and it's about
money in baseball, looking specifically at the Oakland A's and its manager,
Mr. LEWIS: And, you know--but to get back to--just to finish off a thought
about Scott Hatteberg that--to me what was great about this story, as I say,
is that you have this collection of junk yard dogs; these are underdogs that
nobody else wanted, coming together to be a really great team. And often what
was valuable about them as baseball players was hidden to the wider world.
There was traits that were discerned by the Oakland front office that other
people hadn't seen, but they were often also character traits. I mean, one of
the questions--the sort of the open question that they discuss often in the
Oakland front office is whether this quality that Scott Hatteberg had, and
has--plate discipline, they call it--which is so important in an offensive
player, whether it can be taught or whether it's in some way innate. And
Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland A's, has come to the
conclusion that it's innate, that basically unless they could get a guy in
diapers, by the time they become professional baseball players, they're almost
hard-wired to approach hitting the way they approach hitting.
So the question I had when I, you know, get to know Scott Hatteberg and spend
some time in his life is: What is it about him that makes him so patient,
that makes him so disciplined and composed when he's in the batter's box,
which in turn leads to his value? And this wonderful stuff comes out of him,
you know. When I would spend an hour before every game with him reviewing
tape of his performances and of the pitchers he was about to face, and I
remember there was one tape where he's facing a pitcher from the Seattle
Mariners named Jamie Moyer. And he's already seen seven or eight pitches,
there's a full count and he's fouling off pitches, and Jamie Moyer, in
disgust, steps off the mound and shouts something to him. And I said, `What
on earth is that about?' And he said, `Well, it's a little weird,' he said,
`but he was asking me what I wanted.' And I said, `What do you mean?' He
said, `Well, he said, "Just tell me what you want, and I'll throw it."' His
approach to hitting absolutely frustrated opposing pitchers, because
everything he did--he drew out their encounter for far too long in the eyes of
the opposing pitchers. And I spent an awful lot of time just trying to get to
the bottom of what it was inside of Scott Hatteberg that led him to do this.
GROSS: And do you think you figured it out?
Mr. LEWIS: I think I figured out that what it was inside him had been inside
of him since was a little boy, because since he was a little boy, baseball
coaches, Little League baseball coaches, high school baseball coaches, college
baseball coaches had tried to beat out of him this valuable approach. There
is this strain of thinking in the game that if you're going to be a great
hitter, you have to be aggressive. And people were always screaming at him to
swing at things he didn't want to swing at.
And he took refuge in a tape that the Yankees' famous first baseman Don
Mattingly had made when Hatteberg was a boy, and it was a tape called "How to
Hit .300." And on this tape, Mattingly explains that it's important to be
patient at the plate, that drawing lots of walks is a good thing for a hitter,
that swinging at things that you can't hit hard, even if they're strikes, is a
bad idea. This was the one thing that Hatteberg heard as a young baseball
player that gave him the courage of his conviction. But he wanted to believe
it anyway. As he said, `I've always felt uncomfortable, say, swinging at the
first pitch. I need to slow the game down before I can really play it, and
have always thought'--and another time he said, `Even when I was a little kid,
when I'd swing at something that, you know, I really couldn't hit hard and I'd
ground out to second base, it just struck me as a worthless experience.' And
it was an insistence that the game conform to his idea of what it should be,
that to slow the game down, to kind of give it a kind of meaning.
BOGAEV: Michael Lewis' new book is "Moneyball." We'll continue Terry's
interview with Lewis in the second half of our show.
I'm Barbara Bogaev, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new recording
featuring trumpeter Clark Terry and drummer Max Roach. We're listening to it
now. And we continue our interview with Michael Lewis about the Oakland A's
general manager Billy Beane and his new approach to baseball.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.
Let's get back now to Terry's interview with Michael Lewis, author of the new
book "Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game." It's about the Oakland
A's 2002 season; how despite being one of the financially poorest teams in
baseball, they went on to break the American League West record for most
consecutive wins. Lewis describes how general manager Billy Beane used
unorthodox ways of assessing player's talents to assemble a winning team. For
instance, he paid more attention to players' on-base percentage than their
batting average. This radically influenced the kinds of players Beane hired.
GROSS: You know, in talking about how Billy Beane signs new players, he gives
you his rules for a shopping spree. What are some of his rules?
Mr. LEWIS: The first and most important rule, violated by many, many teams
in big-league baseball, is that the minute you feel like you have to do
something, you're screwed; that you can always recover from the player you
didn't sign, but you may never recover from the player that you did sign that
you shouldn't have. And baseball is littered with teams that have signed
punitive superstars to huge contracts who then don't pan out. And the
franchises are wounded or sometimes severely crippled by the fact that they
don't have any money left to go and pay other players, and they're left with
this superstar who's not performing and earning $80 million. In baseball, it
makes much less sense to do this than in most sports because one guy on a
baseball team rarely makes that much difference. It really is a team sport.
So the notion that you've got to sign this superstar or that superstar is
really a little silly, and that's the first principle of Billy Beane's school
GROSS: What's another one of his rules?
Mr. LEWIS: Number two is identify exactly who you want and go and get him. I
mean, what they do is they use statistics to identify Scott Hatteberg or the
pitcher named Chad Bradford who they got or any number of guys, and they say,
`This is the guy who has the value, the hidden value, that we can afford. And
I am going to relentlessly pursue the team he plays for until I get that guy.'
You know, so they don't go into trades with a kind of loose notion of what
they want. They're very, very focused about what they want. And this is a
big problem for them because Billy Beane has been so successful in the trades
he's made in the last three or four years, he always seems to get so much more
than he gives, that other teams have become instinctively very wary about
doing business with him. So if he wants a guy, he'll often find that the guy
is magically not available. So he's had to find all kinds of clever ways to
get the players that he wants, because once he wants them, they're not his.
GROSS: What's a clever way he found?
Mr. LEWIS: Well, what he does, he goes fishing. What he'll do, I mean, he
did this--there's a long section in the book about a very improbably
successful pitcher named Chad Bradford, who's a submariner--he throws
underhand, basically--who was in AAA, in the minor leagues, with the Chicago
White Sox and who had been just deadly, had been just wiping out opposing
hitters, and yet the White Sox were refusing to move him to the big leagues.
And Billy knew that he if called the White Sox GM and said, `What do I have to
give you to get Chad Bradford?' that the price would have gone up to the point
where he didn't want to do it. So instead, what he does is he calls the White
Sox GM and he talks about how he has this catcher he might like to move
because he needs to get a pitcher who might be a kind of--as he said, a 12th
or 13th man on the staff, a guy who might be in the bullpen or might be
shuffled between AAA, but he just needed another arm, he said. And he asked
the White Sox GM to recommend some names, and the first set of names didn't
have Chad Bradford in it, so he goes back and he says, `Can you recommend
any more guys?'
And so eventually the White Sox general manager says, `Well, you know, I hate
to even mention him because, you know, he only throws 82 miles an hour, and
he's called recently and said that his back's not feeling so good, but there's
this guy named Chad Bradford who's in AAA,' and, you know, Billy says, `Oh,
GROSS: Right. So are other teams starting to use the Billy Beane approach to
Mr. LEWIS: In the off-season between 2002 and 2003, it was pretty clear that
the dollars were starting to dry up. The market for baseball players was
changing a little bit, and I think that is directly the influence of the
Oakland A's. More specifically, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox
have in the last year and a half more or less openly said that they're
reinventing themselves in the image of the Oakland A's. The Red Sox, just
before the 2003 season, tried to hire Billy Beane to run them.
GROSS: And they would have offered him a lot of money, too.
Mr. LEWIS: They actually had come to terms--Billy Beane had spent one day as
the general manager of the Red Sox. He had accepted a deal that I think was
going to pay him $12 1/2 million over five years, which is I guess more than
anyone is being paid to run a baseball team. But he said he woke up the next
morning and he didn't feel right, so he changed his mind.
GROSS: Any regrets, do you think?
Mr. LEWIS: I don't think he regrets not going to the Red Sox. He might
regret having taken it in the first place because it created a big stir in the
newspapers, and I think he was a little embarrassed by how much noise it
created. But on the other hand, I think that part of what motivated him was
that there is still a widespread lack of appreciation inside baseball for what
this organization has done. I mean, it is astonishing the success that they
have had with their resources, because nobody thinks in terms of efficiency
when they think in terms of running a baseball team. They just think in terms
of, `Did you win the World Series or not?' and so the fact that they got
bumped out of the playoffs in the first round and everybody was saying, `Oh,
they're failures,' it was nice for him to get the validation that--to have
some owner say, `Yes, I recognize that you are the best in the game.'
And I think that it was especially nice because the new owner of the Boston
Red Sox is a fellow named John Henry, who made his fortune on Wall Street, and
so Henry is a guy who sort of understands how markets work, and he's seen that
sort of what he learned on Wall Street is equally applicable to baseball.
GROSS: And doesn't that bother you just a little bit, that baseball is
becoming so much like Wall Street and that players' performance is measured
with these complex computerized programs? I know statistics have always
played an important part in baseball, but, you know, it's getting so complexly
calibrated and so like Wall Street in that respect.
Mr. LEWIS: It is true that one of the influences of the Oakland A's is to
intellectualize the sport. That is true. I can't say it bothers me, not
because I have any particular fondness for intellectualizing the sport, but
because I've seen the consequences, and the consequences are all these guys
who previously were thought to have no value, whose value was missed because
the sport was improperly understood, are being given their chance to have
their day in the sun. I mean, it is a wonderful story. This collection of
guys, most of whom have been told their whole lives they were ill-suited for
one reason or another, often because of the way they looked, because of the
shapes of their bodies, to play big-league baseball. And then these guys have
assembled and become this fighting force that when they take the field against
three and four times the amounts of money are regarded as the favorites.
I mean, to me, that's inspiring. I mean, what I find depressing is the idea
that you can just buy it; that the New York Yankees with their $140 million
can just go buy success and that it's so obvious who's the best, that you can
just buy them and put them on the field and they'll win. It is wonderful that
there is still room for underappreciated, undervalued people to have that kind
of success in the sport.
BOGAEV: Michael Lewis' new book is "Moneyball." We'll hear more of Terry's
conversation with him after the break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: Back now to our interview with Michael Lewis. His book about the
Oakland A's new approach to baseball is called "Moneyball."
GROSS: How did Billy Beane become a manager? He started as a player.
Mr. LEWIS: He began his life as a player. He spent 10 very frustrating years
bouncing around the minor leagues and then on the benches of big-league teams.
And when he realized that the hopes and dreams of scouts had been misfocused
upon him, that he really should not have been a player, that even though
everybody thought he was going to be a superstar, he wasn't cut out to be a
baseball player, he walks out of the dugout of the Oakland A's, where he was a
fourth or fifth outfielder and into the front office and asked for a job.
He's 27 years old, at what should be the peak of his playing career, and he's
decided he doesn't want to play anymore. The front office had never seen
anything like it. I mean, nobody walks out of a dugout and says, `I want to
be a scout' or `I want to put on a suit and take a job here.'
So nobody quite knew what to make of it, but they gave him a job. And what
had happened was baseball had essentially rendered Billy Beane unfit for
anything but itself; that he had not gone and gotten his education. He had a
high school degree and no experience in anything but baseball, so, I mean, I
think as he put it, it bred a certain sense of desperation in himself, but he
thought that he had seen enough of the game to know that there was an awful
lot wrong with it, an awful lot of inefficiency in it, and he thought maybe he
might make a career attacking that inefficiency and taking advantage of it.
So he worked his way up within the front office of the Oakland A's and his
boss, the GM of the A's at the time, Sandy Alderson, made him his successor in
GROSS: Do you think the fact that he used to be a baseball player himself has
affected Billy Beane's relationship with the players on his team?
Mr. LEWIS: There's no question that the fact that he played has a huge effect
on his relationship with the players, because he--I mean, most general
managers don't loiter around the clubhouse. David Justice, who played for the
A's last year, told me that he saw more of Billy Beane in one season than he'd
seen of all the GMs put together in the previous dozen or so years combined in
the big leagues. I mean, Billy Beane is maybe the one general manager in
baseball who never sets foot in his luxury suite in the Oakland Coliseum. He
spends all of his time in the clubhouse. I mean, he's very hands-on, and he's
very comfortable mingling with the players, and the big thing is that there's
an awful lot of--he's not deterred by the mystique of a big-league clubhouse.
He doesn't have any use for it, and it's very hard for players and managers to
buffalo him with big-league baseball nonsense, because he's been there. He's
played. He knows what's true and what's not.
And oddly, you know, I mean, one of the strange things about the Oakland A's
is that their general manager is perhaps the best athlete in the organization.
I mean, he was a sensational natural athlete who was just not a great baseball
player, and so when Billy Beane--he still has that aura about him. He still
moves like a great athlete, and when he goes into the clubhouse, he often goes
in the clubhouse to put on his sweats and hit the weight room, or run on the
treadmill, and I think that, you know, he has a certain credibility with the
players as a man among men.
GROSS: Do you feel like you see baseball differently now that you've studied
the management and the money end of it?
Mr. LEWIS: I tell you, spending a year as a fly on the wall in the Oakland
A's front office and in the clubhouse has had a couple of big effects on the
way I just watch a baseball game. I mean, they have taught me to see it as a
game of odds, and they've taught to see that everything that happens on a
baseball field changes the odds of what might happen. So first pitch, strike;
I have some sense of how much it lowers the odds that a hitter will get a hit,
that it's going to end well for the hitter. First pitch ball, the opposite.
Runner moving from first to second, the likelihood of that leading to a run.
The probabilistic nature of the game was something I dimly sensed before and
am now acutely aware of, and that's one big effect it's had on me.
The second is to humanize the players. I mean, I spent a lot of time working
my way into the lives of several of the Oakland A's players, and it was
fascinating to me to see the way they thought about the game. I mean, these
guys were essentially lab rats in a science experiment in some way, and they
were oblivious to the experiment, but they knew it was working, if that makes
GROSS: One last question. Since the Billy Beane approach to signing new
players takes into account talents that they have or abilities that they have
that other people haven't really noticed, once they join the A's, that talent
does get noticed, therefore they become more valuable, therefore another team
might want to sign them, therefore the A's might not be able to afford to keep
them anymore, or the player might just, you know--because the player might
demand a higher salary that the A's can't match. So have they already lost
players or do you think they're in danger of losing players because the
players have become more valuable?
Mr. LEWIS: Oh, that's a great question and it's completely true. I mean,
let's take an example: Jason Giambi, who they identified as an amateur player
and drafted in the second round, who they identified as a good natural hitter
but he didn't actually have a lot of power, didn't hit a lot of home runs, and
then comes to the A's and develops into this slugger. And the way baseball is
structured is the team that drafts a player basically has him as an indentured
servant for the first three years of his career. The second three years
there's a kind of negotiation called arbitration where they get him at below
his market value. But in the seventh year he can auction his services; he can
become a free agent.
And Jason Giambi did just this after the 2001 season, and he ended up getting
about $120 million from the New York Yankees for seven years. And the A's
didn't even begin to compete for him. I mean, they pretended in the media as
if they wanted to re-sign him, but they knew that if they invested this kind
of money in a single player, they were putting the entire franchise at risk.
It would be in violation of Billy Beane's first rule of management: Don't put
yourself in a position where one bad contract can ruin your future. So...
GROSS: Has he done as well with the Yankees as he did with the A's?
Mr. LEWIS: Not quite as well, but he's still been--this year he's been off to
a soft start, but last year he was very good. But the interesting thing is
that when he left at the end of 2001, everybody was saying, `Ah, this proves
that poor teams can't compete. This proves that the A's are doomed. Now
they've lost one of their stars to free agency.' They had won 102 games in
2001. They came back without Jason Giambi in 2002 and won 103 games. What
they show is that even when you lose these stars because you can't afford to
pay the market price for them, there are ways of replacing them. I mean, in
the first place players are more fungible than the market understands. You
can get guys from the minor leagues and you can get guys from other teams who
can fill in the gaps that are left behind and do the job.
What they understand is that superstars can be replaced if you understand what
exactly it was that they contributed to your baseball team. You can often go
and find those pieces in other players and reconfigure the team so that it is
just as successful without him as it was with him. And this is sort of one of
the big points of the organization, that when you lose a star because he's
able to auction his services, you don't try to replace the star, you try to
replace the aggregate. You try to replicate the team you had, the aggregate
statistics you had with the star on the team. So it may mean moving a couple
of other--replacing three players and upgrading the team in other places. But
they've done this now over and over again, and they will--you're
right--continue to lose stars, but it looks like they can survive it.
GROSS: Well, Michael Lewis, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. LEWIS: Thanks for having me.
BOGAEV: Michael Lewis is the author of "Moneyball."
Coming up, a review of a new CD featuring drummer Max Roach and trumpeter
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: New Max Roach and Clark Terry CD "Friendship"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:
Over the years jazz drummer Max Roach has recorded duets with singer Abbey
Lincoln, pianists Abdullah Ibrahim, Cecil Taylor and Connie Crothers,
saxophonists Archie Shepp and Anthony Braxton, and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie.
Last year at age 78, Roach recorded with former Ellington trumpeter Clark
Terry. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.
(Soundbite of music)
KEVIN WHITEHEAD reporting:
Clark Terry and Max Roach from their CD "Friendship." Before recording it
last year these old friends and jazz heroes had hardly crossed paths in the
studio. A 1954 jam with Clifford Brown and Dinah Washington and one number
with Thelonious Monk from '58 about cover it. Clark Terry was 81 when he cut
this session, which is getting up there for a working trumpeter, let alone one
plagued by various ailments. He doesn't push himself as hard as he used to,
but his sound is still plump and juicy as a big raspberry.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: It's fascinating to hear how these crafty titans deal with aging,
mostly a matter of pacing themselves. Roach isn't the firebrand he was, say,
26 years ago when he recorded his duets with South African pianist Abdullah
Ibrahim. Conveniently enough, that disc was just reissued to prompt the
comparison. This is Max Roach in 1977.
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WHITEHEAD: That was then. Now with Clark Terry, Max Roach plays more
sparely. But as he pares his style down, he lays bare its roots and dance
rhythms. Roach likes to point out that one reason people didn't dance to
bebop was a wartime entertainment tax that penalized jazz clubs with dance
floors. But he still feels that severed connection. He phrases with the
clarity and grace of a tap dancer. You can hear it on "Brushes and Brass,"
where Clark Terry's blues expand on a pet trumpet lick. It's kind of short,
so let's hear the whole thing.
(Soundbite of "Brushes and Brass")
WHITEHEAD: The Clark Terry/Max Roach CD also has some quartet, trio and solo
pieces, including what may be the trumpeter's only unaccompanied ballads on
record. But the six duets are the heart of the program. Where some of
Roach's earlier face-offs were epics, these meetings are more offhand, more
sketches than masterworks. But old friends shouldn't get too formal with one
another. They allude to shared experiences they don't have to refer to
BOGAEV: Kevin Whitehead writes for the Chicago Reader and the Chicago
Sun-Times. He reviewed "Friendship," the new CD featuring drummer Max Roach
and trumpeter Clark Terry. The 1977 CD "Streams of Consciousness" has also
been reissued featuring Max Roach and Abdullah Ibrahim.
(Soundbite of music)
BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.