I am a baseball fan. No, make that "I am a huge baseball fan." I have loved the game since I was a small boy when I picked up my first bat and glove. In fact one of my first memories of childhood is playing pitch and catch with my dad in the backyard of my Tennessee home. And also of staying awake late at night with my portable radio in bed listening to the Cincinnati Reds or the St. Louis Cardinals.

I couldn’t hit very well so I never became a really good baseball player. I got hit by a pitched ball when I was very young and no one ever helped me stand back in the box and hit a thrown ball again without some measure of fear about getting hit. So I took what I knew about the game in my head and made it work for me in other ways. Had God not called me to the gospel ministry I think I would have become a sport’s writer and covered baseball for a major newspaper. I like to think I would have done a decent job.

All of this to say that I love a good baseball book and Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, is a very good baseball book. No, it is a great baseball book. For that matter it is a great book about life itself. Moneyball is the story of how Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland Athletics, took one of the smallest payrolls in major league baseball and turned his team into a perennial winner, regularly getting more for a dollar spent than any team in the sport. His skill defies the "socialist" theories that the rich in baseball must share with the poor or the game will fail.

The moral of the Billy Beane story is quite simple—big money is supposed to always win in baseball, at least according to the lords of the game. But it simply isn’t so. Billy Beane has proved otherwise for the past five years. (And for those who pay attention Oakland is doing it again this season, recently riding a winning streak of epic proportions right into playoff contention after being buried in the American League’s Western Division early in the season. And this is happening, no less, after Beane lost two of this three top pitchers to the financial market in the off season!)

How does Billy Beane, a David in baseball terms, regularly slay the Goliaths of the bigger markets? He pays attention to the numbers that almost everyone else in the game ignores. He believes the most important offensive statistic in baseball is not batting average, or home runs, but on-base-percentage. He has worked this observation out to a science and follows it religiously. He has made a game of these numbers and turned them into a successful business principle by paying careful attention to things that others simply ignore. And he sticks to this philosophy while others jeer and doubt.

Billy Beane believes winning baseball games is both a science and an art. It is an unfair game and those who win must understand how it works and why some win while others lose. To some extent life works this way too. You are given certain opportunities. You can work with what you have and try to win with your resources, both by mastering what you do have and by improving them wherever possible. Complaining about what you do not have, or about "the hand that you’ve been dealt," as the saying goes, solves nothing. Don’t waste your time on what you can’t change. Know yourself. Study your resources very carefully. Make what you have work to real advantage.

Not bad counsel. And I got that from reading a great baseball book!

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  1. Bruce Gerencser August 2, 2005 at 9:01 am

    I presume you listened to the Reds on the “Big One” (700 WLW) I have spent many a night in a distant land (Michigan, Northern Ohio) away from Cincinnati tryng to listen to Marty and Joe via a fading radio signal.When they offered broadcasts via the internet I signed up for them.
    I like baseball no matter who is playing. I believe real baseball is played in the National league.
    I am always pleased when a “small market” team wins out over the monied teams. I look at some of the young bucks the Reds have and they are almost as good or better than many of the high dollar players. Of course when they get fiive years out and are free agent eligible many of them will jolin the “oh, they used to play for the Reds” club.
    My 12 yr old son asked me the other day (as I was explaining how many former Reds were on the teams we were watching) if “everyone used to play for the Reds?”
    I enjoy your theolgical wrghtings, John. But………I also enjoy reading articles that deal with the “joys” of life, and baseball is certainly one!
    St Louis will not be caught this year. My hopes for the Red’s is that they can improve to “respectable.” If they play like they have the last 10 days…….

  2. Steve Scott August 2, 2005 at 3:42 pm

    John, thank you for an article that addressed my entire life. I remember meeting you at a conference back in ’97 and afterward we had some wonderful chat about baseball. It’s good to see somebody draw from this subject. I’ll have to read Moneyball.
    I, too, am a huge baseball fan. Honestly, the only thing I ever wanted to do was to play major league ball. I love baseball more than all other areas of life combined. Theology is a distant second and my vocation an even further third. I was an all-star at every level I played from Little League through high school. Ironically, it was a pietistic view of religion that led me to quit. Baseball simply wasn’t “spiritual.” But in college (Calif. Berkeley) I signed up for the team and attended the first team meeting. My classes stood in the way and I quit. Being a mere spectator in my front row bleacher seat in Oakland wasn’t enough, so I took to becoming part of the game by heckling the other team’s players. Even though I enjoyed good success, I couldn’t make a living from it.
    But a kid I grew up with from across town played against me at every level. He even signed up for the same college team. He broke Pac-10 records and eventually ended up as an A’s left fielder, just 30 feet in front of my bleacher seat. Although I was very excited for him, I always wonder if it could have been me.
    Although I don’t complain about the “hand I was dealt”, I do complain to myslelf about the hand that I let life deal me. But now, in the last five years, I’ve become a husband, father and homeowner, without much idea of how to do those things! But I know God has a different path for me now, and I just pray for the wise counsel to help me through and not dwell on past failures. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. CJ Costello August 13, 2005 at 5:32 pm

    I also enjoyed reading Moneyball. I thought the larger lesson of the book was that Billy Beane succeeds by finding players that the market undervalues. Fortunately for the A’s, most teams have not traditionally paid attention to on-base-percentage. College players were also undervalued by baseball teams until recently so the A’s always drafted college players. There has been a correction in the market here, and not surprisingly, the A’s drafted a lot of high school pitchers in the early rounds this year.
    Now, is there a parallel to this in the life of the church? Maybe that we tend to undervalue Christians who do not fit the spiritual mold that we expect – that statement is similar to some comments made in and on your posts on Mars Hill.

  4. H. A. Scott lll August 16, 2005 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for your recent comments on baseball. I played as a child, and went on to other pursuits. I became a Braves fan when they came to Atlanta, and have remained one since. When my oldest son(age 14) began to progress as a player, I began to read more about baseball, to see if I could glean some wisdom.
    I stumbled upon Moneyball, and found it a fascinating read. It is a terrific bit of writing in several ways. You bring out a great lesson or two in your remarks- ones which edify. One of the hardest things to do as a pastor today is to think, decide and act “outside of the box”- the “box” of mega-church, church growth, success-CEO-business model Christianity that is constantly pushed on us.
    “Make what you have work to real advantage” is a great, simple, practical thought. May we all be wise enough to do so! May each of us pursue, and be at peace with, a real, simple, deep, great and gracious New Testament faith!

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