Would you rather discuss:
- The meatbag manager who will piss us off with his bunting and terrible bullpen usage in 2011; or
- A book with a catchy title about several members of the Mets' new front office?
The choice is clear. Tonight's discussion of Moneyball will cover the Preface and Chapter One: The Curse Of Talent.
Moneyball author Michael Lewis tells the reader his goal right in the opening paragraph:
I wrote this book because I fell in love with a story. The story concerned 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.
Whoomp, there it is. Undervalued commodities and the search for them in professional ball. I'm a proponent, but not always a follower, of conveying the thesis of a piece of writing as early as possible. It makes for clearer, more targeted discussion of a work. Lewis does it in the Preface, expanding upon his opening sentences with specifics about the Oakland Athletics and their seemingly supernatural ability to win a ton of baseball games with meager resources. The A's won 296 games from 2000-2002, boasting the best dollar-per-win ratio in MLB. How did they do it? The short answer -- A's GM Billy Beane, the centerpiece of Chapter One.
"Billy had the Good Face", Lewis writes. Good Face is capitalized to demonstrate the importance many baseball scouts place(d) not only on the five tools, but also the structure of a prospect's face. Billy Beane was a high school boy in 1980, and a coveted potential first round draft pick. Billy was faster than Darnell Coles, who had signed to play wide receiver at UCLA. Billy hit .500 his junior year in high school. And Billy possessed "the Good Face":
Beneath an unruly mop of dark brown hair the boy had the sharp features the scouts loved.
Apparently he really was a stud (pause), as it is later mentioned in Chapter One that Billy was dating all the prettiest girls. Scouts adored him, especially the Mets' head scout, Roger Jongewaard. This is particularly relevant because the Mets held three first round picks in the 1980 MLB Draft, including #1 overall. Jongewaard wanted to take Billy #1 -- others in the organization preferred another phenom out of Crenshaw High in Los Angeles named Darryl Strawberry. The others won out; Darryl was selected #1. But Billy slid to the Mets at #23, due to signability questions (many teams felt he would head to Stanford to play ball). And the Mets had their planned outfield of the future.
Someone with no knowledge of how Billy Beane's major league career played out would nonetheless have an educated guess based on the hints Lewis drops. Billy struggled to deal with adversity, often destroying items in the dugout after his failures, much like the great baseball warrior Paul O'Neill. He also waffled on playing pro ball out of high school. His fate as a pro player -- which would shape his post-playing career as an executive -- is covered in Chapter Three. For now, a list of Mets-related namedrops and then some discussion questions.
Mets-centric appearances/mentions in the Preface and Chapter One:
- Billy Beane, first round draft pick of the Mets (#23 overall) in 1980
- J.P. Ricciardi, current Mets Special Assistant to the GM
- Roger Jongewaard, former Mets head scout
- Darryl Strawberry, first round draft pick of the Mets (#1 overall) in 1980
- Frank Cashen, former Mets GM
- Lee Mazzilli, Mookie Wilson, Wally Backman, 1986 World Series Champions
- Joe Torre, former Mets manager
1. Does Michael Lewis seem overly enamored of Billy Beane? (this and questions #2 and #3 are general questions to consider while reading the entire text)
2. If the answer to question #1 is yes, is this a bad thing? Would you prefer a more objective, textbook style look at the A's, instead of a passionate, perhaps biased look at the A's?
3. Did Billy Beane make a mistake allowing a writer such intimate access to the inner workings of his front office?
4. How much attention should be paid by talent evaluators to a prospect's "intangibles"? Which intangibles are most crucial for a prospect (dealing with adversity, family issues, loquaciousness, legal issues, grades, etc.)?
5. Was early 1980s Billy Beane really as handsome as the scouts declared? How would he stack up vs. other 1986 Mets in that department? As a GM, would you rather sign a lothario or a mature, married player (like Ollie)?
6. Butterfly effect question -- how would the world be different if Joe Torre managed the Mets to the 1986 World Series Championship?
These questions are just conversation starters. Discuss anything from the Preface and Chapter One.