By Oliver Franklin
Nov. 21. 2011
“If I had taken the readers response seriously, I would have shot myself,” laughs Michael Lewis down the line from his home in California. The author and Vanity Fair contributing editor is reminiscing about the fallout from Moneyball: The Art Of Winning An Unfair Game, his landmark 2003 book on the business of baseball. Not only did the title revolutionise sports management but it also generated its a fair share of controversy. The story of how Billy Beane, the manager of West Coast minnows Oakland Athletics, used sabermetrics – or statistical analysis – to buy undervalued players and thereby outperform the league’s richest franchises has affected every sporting outfit, including British Premier League clubs. Now Moneyball has been adapted into a film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill and is widely tipped for 2012 awards glory. Before it hits these shores this week, GQ.com called Lewis to talk about the backlash, his favourite HBO TV shows and having lunch with Tom Wolfe.
GQ.com: Why did Moneyball cause such an outrage when it came out?
Michael Lewis: It threatened people’s jobs, because there was a change in the culture of sports. Sports management was about to become highly intellectualised and more complicated – a new kind of person was going to have a place in a management office. But I didn’t anticipate that this movement would infect these other sports in the same way: baseball is a very natural place to have this argument because you can generate very clean stats. It’s very hard to generate really clean stats in sports where the action is more of a flow, like soccer, basketball or American football. But I gather the same thing is happening now in British football. There’s the same sort of culture war: the old guard thinks the new guard is full of s*** and the new guard thinks the old guard is a bunch of outdated fools.
Do you get nervous when Hollywood adapts once of your books?
I had lunch with Tom Wolfe back when I published Liar’s Poker and I had just gotten an offer on a movie deal for it. He said, “Young man, here’s my advice to you: drive across the country with your book, hurl it into Hollywood, have them hurl out the money, and drive back as fast as you can.” With The Blind Side and Moneyball I do feel that I’ve played Russian roulette with a gun that has two empty chambers and I happened to get two empty chambers in a row. Eventually the system will get me but it hasn’t yet.