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Books: Athletic Intellectualism

Michael Lewis isn't the typical sportswriter. With a degree from Princeton and a master's from the London School of Economics, he seems better matched as a New York Times Magazine writer. But then again, Moneyball isn't the typical sports book. Instead, it's MBA meets professional athlete, and somehow the MBA seems to be the dominant player.

Moneyball, which hit bookshelves this summer, chronicles the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics clinching the American League West title against all odds. Not only did manager Billy Beane have a unique leadership method, but he also overcame monetary disparity, successfully competing against the staggering payrolls of teams such as the Texas Rangers with his meager $40 million.

This David and Goliath theme in sports, approached with a business style, is not unique to Lewis' Moneyball. In 2002's Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich, brains once again dominate over an established institution. Mezrich tells the story of six MIT students who beat the system when it comes to blackjack. In a twist on sports, the seemingly geeky students take on the biggest casinos in Las Vegas and around the country and come away with millions in profit. Although they use illicit methods to achieve success, they nevertheless prove that brains always conquer brawn.

Billy Beane's method, however, is much more above the table. Although the A's lost their top three free agents--Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon and Jason Isringhausen--to teams that could afford their high seven-figure salaries, Beane persevered and examined obscure statistics to find the athletes who played smart and could best fill the holes left by the three marquee athletes.

The story of the A's is not unique to the world of sports. With the increasing free agent costs facing teams with limited payrolls, general managers have no choice but to turn to alternative, economic methodologies as solutions, and authors such as Lewis have accurately captured this current trend with their business backgrounds.


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