The book: “The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First”
The author: Jonah Keri
The vital stats: ESPN, 272 pages, $26.
The pitch: Imagine of the Dodgers or Angels, who start a two-game series today in Tampa, Fla., had the same resources as the Tampa Bay Rays. Oh, right. They do. But look at who’s gone farther into playoffville over the last three seasons.
The fortunes of a franchise created in 1998 didn’t change until 2005 when former Goldman Sachs pals Stuart Sternberg and Matthew Silverman assumed control and took a different mindset toward running a sports team. “Boy Genius” Andrew Friedman soon became the Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations after 2005 — skipping the GM job all together — and then replacing Lou Pinella with Joe Madden off Mike Scioscia’s bench to steer things into the right direction pushed things over the top.
So if Oakland had “Moneyball,” Tampa has “Equityball,” and remains one of the more amazing baseball stories of the last decade, for how quickly they competed in an AL East division against some of the most top money-heavy franchises in all of sports by simply being observant, prudent, and smart.
It didn’t come through magic, but a strategy that’s practically outlined here by Keri, an ESPN.com writer and the co-author and editor of the 2008 “Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong.”
Crunch the numbers yourself — that extra two percent intangibles that separate a winning organization from a losing one comes from a business approach that some baseball people are still trying to get their heads around. Not only that, but as Keri points out on page 191, the key to Sternberg, Silverman and Friedman was to “protect their secrets” involving anything from pending stadium construction to trade negotiations.
“No sharing of secret sauce on any key projects, whether on the baseball side or the business side. No on-the-record, impolitic words for anyone in the game. And certainly no sidling up to even the most venerable of reporters; no supposed inside information would be worth ruining their own deals. The approach was born primarily out of pragmatism. … The publication of ‘Moneyball’ had triggered a wave of both reverence and distain for Billy Beane. . The Rays honchos simply wanted to do their job in peace, while maining that coveted 2 percent edge.”
Chapter 6 may be key, though — it is devoted entirely to how Madden changed the attitudes of the younger players and deserves as much credit as anyone. Research goes into how the Angels even found him — former Angels GM Mike Port gives credit to Preston Gomez for pushing Maddon up the ladder, and how Gene Mauch made an impact on him. Maddon nearly got the Boston Red Sox’s job after Grady Little left in 2003. What if that happened?
“You talk about thinking outside the box, I think that expression was made for Joe,” says Scioscia on apge 121. “Joe would have been an incredible engineer if he wasn’t in baseball. He could look at parts of an organization, parts of a team, and in imaginative ways, just based on sound common sense, make an organization better, make people better, make a team better.”
Mark Cuban, the technotratic Dallas Mavs owner who did something of the same thing in changing the fortunes of his NBA team once he bought them, even says in the foreward: “The Tampa Bay Rays are a shining example to anyone, whether you’re running a professional sports franchise or a Fortune 500 company or a neighborhood gas station. Every day they look up and see the two biggest names in the industry, standing right on their turf. So they dream up new ideas, whether it’s to find a new relief pitcher, improve their brand or build their profit margin. No one idea is ikely to make a huge difference. But collectively, those ideas make the difference between winning and losing, or winning a little and winning a lot.”
Even if it’s just getting Manny Ramirez in there at the right time to clean the windshield and check the oil.
“We’ve worked hard to get that extra 2 percent, that 52-48 edge,” says Sternberg (26 at the time he got the Rays). “We don’t want to do anything to screw that up.”
How it goes down in the scorebook: Did the Rays know something back at the 2009 trading deadline when they gave standout lefthander Scott Kazmir to the Angels for a bag of groceries, knowing they’d have to pay him $8 milion 2010? The Angels, who owe him $12 million this season, wonder now if they can afford to even keep the two-time All Star and 2007 AL strikeout leader in the starting rotation.
You kinda think so now, eh?