Gladwell on PirateBall

More from the ESPN interview of Malcolm Gladwell. This time, something to think about as the Pirates again try to break .500:

First, what was your baseball meltdown?

Gladwell: It came after the Blue Jays (my team) won the second of their World Series titles. Economic reality hit, and they basically stopped trying to compete at the top level, and I wondered to myself: Why do I care so much about a sport where some teams have $200 million to spend and some teams have $20 million to spend? I know, I know -- as Rob Neyer and others point out -- that there is no necessary correlation between payroll and success. It is possible, as "Moneyball" reminds us, to win with less by being smarter. But the point is not that if you have more money than someone else you automatically win more games. The point is that if you have more money that someone else you're playing a different game than they are. Wal-mart is not competing against mom-and-pop corner stores. They're in a different business. And it isn't fun, at the end of the day, to watch a mom-and-pop compete against Wal-mart. It's painful and pointless.

I loved "Moneyball." I thought it was one of the best books of the past decade. I think it should be taught in psychology classes and business schools as a treatise on the subtle effects of bias on expert decision-making. But do you think that Billy Beane, for a moment, wouldn't trade his situation with Theo Epstein or Cashman? To me, the hard cap in football -- and, to a lesser extent, the soft cap in basketball -- are what makes those sports so interesting. It's what makes them sports. Contests where one player has significantly more resources than another are not sports. They are marketplaces. To root for the Yankees or the Red Sox is the functional equivalent of rooting for Microsoft or General Electric. No thanks.


1 Response to "Gladwell on PirateBall"

Tim Murray said... 3/04/2006 8:18 AM

Amen to that! I chuckle that MLB calls its teams "franchises." Would Nissan or GM allow one franchisee to detroy another as baseball does? No, because it's not in their interest, so they work to have the strongest dealers they can in each of their markets (which markets are, by law, exclusive of same line-make dealers). Why do the majority of Major League Baseball teams, which are not super-rich, allow the minority, which are, to run/ruin the game? (Successful smaller market teams like St. Louis are the exception.) If you don't think this is what's happening, ask someone who grew up here in the '60's and '70's, as I did: Hard to believe but the Pirates were the best hitting team in baseball overall for those two decades, and had one of the lowest ERA's. I would bet, but haven't figured it out, that the
Pirates also had the best overall record of any team in baseball for that period. Baseball has taken most of the fun out of the game for lots of small market fans, especially for those of us who remember what it was like to be consistently better than the Yankees.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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