A great book
is a great book, no matter the subject. So why do sports
books often get such a bad name? Sports editor Hayden Meikle
- who answers his own question by acknowledging the sports
book market has more dross than most - names the 12 sports
books you simply must read.
Sample: ''The statistics were not merely inadequate;
they lied. And the lies they told led the people who ran
major league baseball teams to misjudge their players, and
mismanage their games. James later reduced his complaint to a
sentence: fielding statistics made sense only as numbers, not
as language. Language, not numbers, is what interested him.''
The setting: Major League Baseball in the United
States in the early 2000s.
The protagonists: Principally a former (average)
baseball player turned genius general manager, Billy Beane.
Also, sidekick Paul DePodesta and loads of scouts,
number-crunchers, officials and players.
Why it is brilliant: Arguably, no book has had such a
massive impact on its sport. Moneyball heralded the
''statistical revolution'' in baseball, the move from putting
faith in old blokes predicting a future star player on gut
feeling to crunching numbers - lots and lots of numbers - in
a bid to get an edge on the opposition. Beane and his Oakland
Athletics, operating on a budget much smaller than many
teams, used their analysis to look for hidden gems in the
sport. The book is both a fascinating portrait of Beane and a
thrilling (no, really) look inside the methods by which
statistical boffins seek sporting success.
Don't just take my word for it: ''You do not need to
know or care about baseball - though I defy you not to be
smitten after reading the book - because like all good sports
books, it is not really about sport, or even in this case
about applied statistics. It is about people.'' - Nicholas
The aftermath: It wasn't long before every team in
baseball was delving into ''sabremetrics'', the anagrammatic
term for delving deeper into statistics. Hence, the Athletics
lost some of their competitive advantage. Some football
clubs, too, have embraced the approach. After years of
delays, a Moneyball movie (starring Brad Pitt as Billy
Beane) came out in 2011.