‘Moneyball’ about production [UPDATED]Published 9:47am Monday, March 26, 2012 Updated 11:48am Monday, March 26, 2012
One of the credos, I guess, that I have always subscribe to is the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
After reading the book, “Moneyball,” that credo becomes even more valid for me.
The book chronicles the Oakland A’s in the early 2000s as they won a division championship, despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
While “Moneyball” delves into “inside baseball,” I felt the book and movie, which was nominated for several Academy Awards, really is about judging people by what they do, rather than what they look like, who their family or friends are, or what they say or claim.
In “Moneyball,” the Oakland A’s, fresh off losing three stars to free agency, decide to take a fresh approach. They determine that there are certain statistics — particularly on-base percentage, which combines walks and hits – that not only correlate to scoring runs, but are undervalued in baseball. That is, while the guys with high numbers of home runs and runs batted in tend to get the big contracts, they guys who specialize in drawing walks do not.
The point is that, in many sports, a player’s value is determined by things that have nothing to do with his or her performance. Does the person “look” like a baseball player? Was the person’s father a big-time athlete? Do they say all the right things?
The fact that coaches at all levels get enamoured with such things is a big reason why first-round draft picks become busts, and why undrafted free agents become hall of famers.
It’s also why two of my favorite sports these days are golf and running. Neither one of them can be faked (unless you cheat in golf, of course).
In the many running events I have competed in, it always amazes me the variety of body types at the starting line, and that there is no way one can predict one’s time based on a body type. Sure, the elite runners all look the same – extremely thin, long, strong legs. But after that, anything goes. I don’t know how many times I watched a “portly” runner finish with a smoking good time, while some athletic-looking person crawl in with a slow time.
Similarly, in golf, much is made of the swing. However, I know lots of players with beautiful, textbook swings that can’t score. And I know lots of players that have funky hitches in their swing (take Jim Furyk on the PGA Tour) that are consistently breaking 75.
The point is, in running or in golf, a competitor is judged only on time and score, respectively. And only you are to blame for it.
I think such a point extends to the business world as well – even more so. There are many, many people who are hired based on the person’s ability to jazz up a resume, look the part or say all the right things in an interview. While those are valuable attributes, they are not always a good indicator of whether someone can actually do the job.
But while it’s possible to compile statistics for a variety of professions – whether it be sales, management, engineering, law, medicine or construction – it’s probably not realistic. In professional baseball, when players make millions, having a geek compile statistics related to every ball ever pitched is feasible. It’s not so feasible to create a statistic on, for example, every nail a construction worker pounds.
The book “Moneyball” is a must-read for anyone who hires people for a living. Every manager must determine what a business or organization does that is most important – as in the case of baseball, scoring runs – and then judge a potential hire on his or her ability to contribute to that mission.
Any other appealing attributes are largely irrelevant.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s publisher. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org