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Reading Groups

University Libraries book discussion series schedules, discussion questions, and additional resources.

Spring 2019 Schedule

Book Preview
Mar. 25 | 5:30–7 p.m.
University Library 309

Book Discussion: Part 1, Beginning–Chapter 6
​Apr. 1 | 5:30–7 p.m.
University Library 309

Book Discussion: Part 2, Chapter 7–End   NEW  Meeting this evening is canceled per University directive for NCAA Basketball Tournament. This meeting will not be rescheduled. The University Library will close at 6 pm tonight. Thank you.   

Apr. 8 | 5:30–7 p.m.
University Library 309

Note: Guests may park in the R11 lot (band lot) south of the Music Building at no charge. Please see the parking attendant.
Visitor parking on TTU campus

Speaker Biographies

Apr. 1
By day, Alan Reifman is a professor of Human Development and Family Studies, teaching courses on adolescence, the transition to adulthood (known as emerging adulthood), and statistics. Outside of his human development studies, Dr. Reifman applies statistics to sports phenomena, including in his 2011 book Hot Hand on the probability of various sports streaks. One streak Dr. Reifman was glad to see end was his beloved Chicago Cubs’ 108-year drought of no World Series titles. In fact, the Cubs are among the Major League Baseball teams (along with the Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, and Indians, and others) making extensive use of statistical analytics and showing up in the World Series. Other teams, such as the Pirates and Athletics, have done well with analytics, although falling short of the World Series. College baseball teams as well, such as Texas Tech, have enjoyed success with an analytic approach. Dr. Reifman will speak briefly on trends in how baseball teams have been using analytics.

Apr. 8

Dr. David Pifer is an assistant professor in the Kinesiology and Sport Management department at Texas Tech. His research focuses broadly on sports analytics and how sport organizations can use “big data” to make more informed decisions. He has served as a statistical consultant for professional sports teams and athletic departments in the past, and has published articles in the Journal of Sports Analytics and other peer-reviewed outlets. He recently developed, and currently teaches, undergraduate and graduate sports analytics courses here at Tech. Most of his current research focuses on analytics in European soccer and college basketball, but he credits the Moneyball story for initially inspiring him to pursue research in this field.

Jorge Iber is Associate Dean in the Student Division of the College of Arts & Sciences. Before he was kicked upstairs, he served as the Chair of the History Department where he was a tenured Professor. His research interests focus on the social significance of the history of Latinos/Latinas in U.S. sports. He still teaches courses on U.S. History, Texas History, and Mexican-American History. He has published 11 books, including Mike Torrez: A Baseball Biography (Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishers, 2016) numerous journal and encyclopedia articles, and book chapters. He is currently working on a book on Texas Tech football standout Gabe Rivera: Señor Sack.   

Additional Reading

Additional works on baseball are available from the Mahon Public Library. They include adult and children's books, print books, ebooks, videos, eAudiobooks, etc.

   A sample listing is given below:    

Araton, Harvey.  (2012).  Driving Mr. Yogi: Yogi Berra, Ron Guidry, and Baseball's Greatest Gift.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin   MAHON 796.3570922 ARAT  

Bildner, Phil. (2002). Shoeless Joe & Black Betsy.  New York:  Simon and Schuster  MAHON J 796.357092 JACK  

Crisfield, D.W.  (1998)  The Louisville Slugger book of Great Hitters   New York:  John Wiley & Sons.  MAHON J 796.357092 CRIS

Fuerst, Jeffrey B.  (2002)  The Kids' Baseball Workout.  Brookfield, Conn: The Millbrook Press.   MAHON J 796/3573  FUER    

Liebman, Glenn. (1994)  1,0001 Baseball Quips and Quotes   New York:  Gramercy Books.  MAHON  796.3570973 LIEB

McKissack, Patricia C and Frederick McKissack, Jr (1994)   Black diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues   New York: Scholastic.  MAHON  J 796.357097 MCKI

Smith, Ron  (1998) The Sporting News Selects Baseball's Greatest Players.    MAHON 796.3570922  S658s

Tuttle, Dennis R.  (1999) Life in the Minor Leagues.  Philadelphia:  Chelsea House Publishers.  MAHON J 796.35764 TUTT

 

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game

Additional Reading

Bibliography for Additional Reading

Other books by Michael Lewis available in the University Library (chronological listing)

Related books

  • Reifman, Alan. (2012). Hot Hand: The Statistics behind Sports' Greatest Streaks. Washington, DC: Potomac Books. Call number: GV741.R43 2012.
  • Reiter, Ben. (2019). Astroball: The New Way to Win It All. New York: Three Rivers Press. 
  • Sawchik, Travis. (2016). Big Data Baseball: Math, Miracles, and the End of a 20-Year Losing Streak. New York: Flatiron Books.

Related articles

Points to Ponder while Reading—Discussion Questions

Questions for Discussion by LitLovers:

  1. Michael Lewis writes of Billy Beane, "it was hard to know which of Billy's qualities was most important to his team's success." What are those qualities? What kind of character is Beane? And what do you think most accounts for his success in remaking the A's?

  2. Why does Billy Beane stop playing baseball, which seems to Lews an unimaginable decision. What explanation is offered? Why do you think Beane quit playing?

  3. What does Lewis mean by the following passage...and what are baseball's "eternal themes?

    The old scouts are like a Greek chorus; it is their job to underscore the eternal themes of baseball. The eternal themes are precisely what Billy Beane wants to exploit for profit—by ignoring them.

  4. Follow-up to Question 3: Talk about the way Beane turns received wisdom on its head: his theory of selecting players. In his eyes, what makes a player valuable?

  5. How has measuring each player's on-base percentage, for instance, revolutionized baseball strategy, at least in Oakland?

  6. Are the geeks going to take over sports (as well as the rest of the world)—is their cutting-edge analytical data the future? Put another way—is Beane a "flash in the pan" as the New York Times reviewer wonders? Have Beane's methods truly redefined the way baseball is...and will be played?

  7. What does the book's subtitle mean by "an unfair game"? Why "unfair"?

  8. Follow-up to question 7: Newsweek columnist George Will, an avid baseball fan, once proposed that teams pool financial resources so as to level the playing field between big media market teams and small market teams. How do you feel about his proposal? (Will, by the way, is a conservative in politics, despite his socialistic approach to sports.)

  9. Who is Lewis referring to, and what does he mean, when he writes...

    Baseball offered a comfortable seat to the polysyllabic wonders who quoted dead authors and blathered on about the poetry of motion. These people dignified the game, like a bow tie?

    Lewis goes on to say that those polysyllabic wonders "were harmless. What was threatening was cold, hard intelligence." What was threatening about data?

  10. Lewis gives us Beane-in-action as he trades players. What are some of the tactics Beane uses to outfox his opponents?

  11. Who are some of the other characters Lewis describes? Bill James? Jeremy Brown? Any other vignettes you found particularly engaging?

  12. In his review of Moneyball, Steve Forbes points out that the three players who formed the foundation of the A's success—Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder—were "the kind of players any GM would have taken." He also points out that other small-budget teams have had similar successes: Seattle Mariners and the Anaheim Angels (a mid-level budget) for instance. Does Forbes's arguments undermine the premise of Michael Lewis's book...and Beanes' analytical approach?

    Questions for Discussion by Ian Barba:

  13. One of the main themes of the book is on the use of empirical data versus subjective opinion or gut decisions. In this regard, Billy Beane et al. seem to be a minority group inside professional baseball. Can you think of other fields where people prefer opinion to science? Why do you suppose it is this way?

  14. Moneyball discusses the difference between good data/bad data. Specifically, how box scores only tell part of the story, for ex. batting avg. versus on-base percentage. Can you think of other times statistics have been misleading?

  15. Another theme of the book was the power of asking new questions. For ex. can errors be counted in a useful way that better reflects how incredibly complex the factors involved are? Can you think of other problems that are very difficult to gather data about?

  16. Why was Billy Beane able to run the Oakland A’s so efficiently? Could he have done so if he had been a successful ball-player?

  17. Another theme of the books is of insider versus outsider. Can you think of other fields where insiders prefer to judge on factors other than merit?

  18. What did you think of the Bill James backstory about the origins of the sabermetric movement in baseball? How about the sections on  specific players like Hatteberg?

  19. Baseball scouts were very often former players, some successful but most not. Think about your own job (or work or academic focus). Do you think you would be able to efficiently judge others on how well they would perform in your field?

  20. Are you familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect? It shows how across many fields, the least-skilled are typically the most unaware of their deficiencies. Arguably, some of the insiders and scouts in Moneyball suffer from the effect. How honestly do you think you can estimate your own abilities?

Michael Lewis Interview with Charlie Rose

Sponsor

This Reading Group is sponsored in part by the Humanities Center at Texas Tech. The 2018–2019 theme is "Play."

Texas Tech Humanities Center Banner

About the Author

Michael Lewis is a best-selling author who has written books on a wide variety of topics, including sports (The Blind Side and Coach), finance (The Big Short, Flash Boys & Liar’s Poker), the current administration in Washington (The Fifth Risk), and fatherhood (Home Game). His writing style, which is both journalistic—clear and precise—and compelling—filled with personal anecdotes—has made him one of the most popular and read non-fiction writers of the 21st century. Two of his books, one of which was Moneyball, have been made into movies. He has written numerous magazine articles that have appeared in The New Republic and Vanity Fair among others. In Moneyball: The Art of Winning in an Unfair Game (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003), Lewis combines sports and finance into one book.

Lewis was born on October 15, 1960 in New Orleans where he attended private schools. He later attended Princeton University, where he earned a degree in Art History (1982) and an MA in Economics from the London School of Economics (1985). His experiences working for Solomon Brothers as a bond salesman led to his first book, Liar’s Poker (1989). With the success of Liar’s Poker, Lewis turned his attention to writing full time. 

About the Book

Moneyball is about how the Oakland A’s put together competitive teams despite a small budget for players’ salaries. The team’s general manager, Billy Beane, did this by focusing on evidence-based criteria when scouting and drafting players. This analytical approach to scouting and drafting players became known as sabermetrics. The major aspect of this approach is that the wrong criteria is used to judge players. Beane used data provided by sabermetrics to draft players who had high on-base percentages as opposed to high slugging percentages. He also scouted and drafted college players, as opposed to high school players, because college players generated more reliable statistics than high school players. Likewise, Beane went after pitchers who may not have had a 90 MPH fastball, but pitchers who had low ERA’s with only an 80 MPH fastball and other pitches, such as a curve ball or slider that could “set up” an 80 MPH fast ball effectively. The book follows the Oakland A’s through the entire 2002 season.

Today, many Major League Baseball teams use the same system Bill Beane used in the early 2000s to make the Oakland A’s one of the most powerful teams in baseball.