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Saturday, April 29, 2006


I mentioned in my post about The Wisdom of Crowds that Moneyball was a popular "have-you-read?" suggestion when I was promoting the Surowiecki book to members of the USTA High Performance staff.

My last plane trip provided me with the chance to read Moneyball, Michael Lewis' exploration of how Billy Beane, the General Manager of baseball's Oakland A's could continue to field winning teams with relatively little money to spend on talent.

Although I am a baseball fan and have been since I was old enough to understand the game, it's not necessary to have that background to appreciate the book. Anyone who is interested in how an organization does more with less can learn from Lewis' look at the inner workings of the A's.

One of the great lessons of the first half of the book is that athletic talent and skills, as measured by radar guns and stopwatches, are very poor predictors of baseball success. Baseball, with its plethora of statistics, provides other measures of calculating a player's value, but it took rotisserie leagues and stat guru Bill James to bring these measures to the attention of those inside baseball. Most owners and GMs ignored these insights, but Beane did not, and as the first to exploit them, he gained an advantage that has kept his team competitive year after year.

So how does this apply to tennis? I don't know. Other than a reminder that it's silly to pronounce someone a tennis player simply because he looks like one, I don't see a course of action for tennis from the lessons of this book.

Tennis doesn't have many statistics to mull over and correlate to outcomes, it doesn't have 30 owners competing for the best talent, it doesn't have cities with fan bases, it has no fantasy leagues of any consequence.

But what tennis does have is a Club. If you don't read any other part of Moneyball, read the Afterword in the paperback edition. Lewis details the vehement reaction from the baseball "Club" to the book's publication and popularity, and provides a very perceptive explanation of the source of this hostility. If you can read this passage and not be reminded of the tennis "Club", you've had a much different experience with the sport than I've had.