Moneyball was a best-selling 2003 book by Michael Lewis and a 2011 hit movie starring Brad Pitt. Moneyball’s underlying theme attempts to support a specific hypothesis about management science–that statistical analysis, such as econometrics, offers a more reliable guide to decision making than does gut-instinct based on experience. Hence Moneyball attributes the success of the 2002 Oakland A’s to general manager Billy Beane’s reliance on econometric analysis, and consequent disregard for the advice of his professional scouting staff.
As someone who actually teaches econometrics, I happen to know a bit about the limitations of the technique, and I therefore always believed that Moneyball oversold the benefits of data analysis. As Steve Sailer argues, the success of the 2002 A’s might have a simpler explanation: steroids.
[I]t never seems to have occurred to [Lewis] that Oakland A’s baseball general manager Billy Beane might not have drawn back the curtain on his statistical techniques for the benefit of Lewis’ Moneyball purely out of a disinterested love of advancing learning.
One possibility is that Lewis’ book served Beane’s need to permanently distract from the large role played in the success of the A’s by performance-enhancing drugs, at least since Jose Canseco arrived in Oakland in the mid-1980s. I heard from a baseball agent in the early 1990s that “Jose Canseco is the Typhoid Mary of steroids,” but in Moneyball a decade later Lewis mentioned the word “steroids” only once.
Moneyball diverted attention to obscure Oakland fringe players and away from Beane employing in 2002 a slugging shortstop, Miguel Tejada, who won the Most Valuable Player award by driving in a remarkable 131 runs.
And then, two years later, Tejada knocked in 150 runs.
A couple of years after Moneyball hit the best-seller lists, Tejada was mentioned in Canseco’s memoir Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ’Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big.
In 2009, Tejada pleaded guilty to perjuring himself to Congress regarding steroids.
Econometrics is a great subject. But when it comes to explaining the success of the 2002 A’s, I find chemical enhancement more relevant than the fact that Billy Beane hired a Yale grad with a laptop.
By the way, back in 1998, students asked me what I thought about the fact that Mark McGwire had just broken the home run record. I replied that McGwire must be taking steroids. The students expressed shock at my reply, and seemed appalled that I would disparage McGwire’s achievement.
Oh well. Young people often have their delusions shattered.