Anyone who wanders into Major League Baseball can't help but notice the stark contrast between the field of .play and the uneasy space just off it, where the executives and the scouts make their livings. The game itself is a ruthless competition. Unless you're very good, you don't survive in it. But in the space just off the field of play there really is no level of incompetence that won't be tolerated. There are many reasons for this, but the big one is that baseball has structured itself less as a business than as a social club. The Club includes not only the people who manage the team but also, in a kind of Women's Auxiliary, many of the writers and the commentators who follow it, and purport to explain it. The Club is selective, but the criteria for admission and retention are nebulous. There are many ways to embarrass the Club, but being bad at your job isn't one of them. The greatest offense a Club member can commit is not ineptitude but disloyalty. Had he not been an indiscreet writer, Jim Bouton might have made a second career scouting and coaching big league prospects. But because he wrote Ball Four he was as good as banished from the Club.
That's not to say that there are not good baseball executives and bad baseball executives, or good baseball scouts and bad baseball scouts. It's just that they aren't very well sorted out. Baseball doesn't subject its executives to anything like the pressures of playing baseball, or even of running a business. When a big league baseball team spends huge sums of money and loses, heads may roll, but they don't roll very far. Club insiders have a remarkable talent for hanging around, scouting young players, opining on the game, until some other high-level job opens up. Whereupon, with genuine hope in their hearts, they go for their interview with all the other Club members who were fired the last time around. There are no real standards, because no one wants to put too fine a point on the question: what qualifies these people for this job? Taking into account any quality other than clubability would make everyone's membership a little less secure.
This book, as I've said many pages ago, began with a simple, obvious observation: some baseball executives seemed to be much better than others at getting wins out of dollars. The idea didn't begin with me-an excellent baseball writer named Doug Pappas had long hammered on this idea of efficiency. Pappas had pointed out that one team, the Oakland A's, had been consistently so much more efficient than anyone else that they appeared to be in a different business. I have tried to explain how this could be.
To fully appreciate the response to Moneyball from inside the Club you need a bit of otherwise irrelevant background. When I began my reporting I didn't know anyone inside the Oakland A's; I'd never even heard of Billy Beane, the Oakland GM. In the year I spent studying his organization the only explicit interest Beane took in my project-the only time he mentioned it-were the few times he said I shouldn't focus too much on him. He and the other critical character in the Oakland front office, assistant GM Paul DePodesta, were never exactly rude to me but they made it pretty clear that they had more interesting things to do than talk to me. The only power they ever had over my project was to throw me out of their office or clubhouse-which they did, on occasion. But the sad truth is that I was a matter of some indifference to them. As far as they knew I wasn't even writing a book about the Oakland A's. I was writing a book about the collision of reason and baseball. (They weren't the only ones whose eyes glazed over when I tried to explain what I was up to.) They would be in it but so would other teams. So, for that matter, would players whose lives had been changed by the new value system they were introducing. A long section of the book would be devoted to the spiritual father of their enterprise, the baseball writer Bill James.
It was only after I had spoken with other teams, and found they didn't have much to add to this particular story, that I came to focus on the A's management and players. By that time the baseball season was over, and I had my material. As always happens when the material is strong, the story became telescoped in the writing. I felt compelled to jettison everything that didn't have to do with putting together a baseball team. The result wasn't anything like a biography of a man; it was more like a biography of an idea-that left its main character, Billy Beane, for thirty-five pages at a time.