New York Loves Us

Posted on July 5, 2006 by

2


On May 29 Malcolm Gladwell gave The Wages of Wins a glowing review in The New Yorker.  A couple of weeks later – June 10 to be exact — I authored an invited op-ed in The New York Time.  Two weeks after my op-ed appeared, Joe Nocera reviewed The Wages of Wins on the front page of the business section of The New York Times.  Martin Schmidt followed this review on July 2nd by penning a Keeping Score column, again for The New York Times.  After all this, it appears we have made it in New York.  And as the song goes, if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. 

Looking at our ranking at Amazon.com, this certainly appears to be true. After the Gladwell review appeared we quickly ascended towards the very top of the sales rankings for sports books at Amazon.com.  In the days that followed our ranking slowly drifted down.  Even my op-ed could only slow the steady decline.  The Nocera review, though, reversed the trend dramatically.  Nocera’s review appeared on June 24th and by the end of that day we held the #2 spot at Amazon.com on their list of bestselling sports books.  The next morning The Wages of Wins was listed as the top selling sports book at Barnes&Noble.com. Clearly the Nocera review has led many people to buy our book.

So what Nocera said clearly made us happy.  But after reading the review I feel the need to offer a few observations for our new readers.  Specifically, the book people have bought includes much more than one would expect given Nocera’s comments.  Here is how he describes our work:

“So here are some of the questions the authors found interesting enough to merit the “Freakonomics” approach: In baseball and basketball, are the size of the payroll and the success of the team highly correlated? Is Shaquille O’Neal better than Kobe Bryant? Is Allen Iverson overrated? Is Kevin Garnett the best player in the National Basketball Association? Do good players play better in the playoffs? And are high scorers given too much credit — and paid more than their true value to a team?”

The previous paragraph comes from the following chapters of our work: Chapter One, Chapter Six, Chapter Seven, Chapter Eight, and Chapter Ten.  Our book is ten chapters long, so we think the many people who bought our book are in for a pleasant surprise.  Not only are the above questions answered, but our book offers so much more.

It is interesting that Nocera not only reviewed our work, but also the book that clearly impacted our writing style.  At the onset of Nocera’s review he offers the following description of Freakonomics, the best-selling work of economist Steven Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner.

Mr. Levitt, of course, is the University of Chicago economist who has become well known for applying the tools of economics — statistical analysis, economic modeling and so on — to try to answer such real-world questions as: do real estate agents always act in their customers’ best interest (no), are swimming pools more dangerous than guns (yes), and do some teachers cheat to make their student’s test scores look better (you bet they do).”

I thought it would be interesting to re-write the above paragraph, but this time imagine that Nocera actually was talking about The Wages of Wins:

Berri, Schmidt, and Brook have applied the tools of economics – statistical analysis, economic modeling and so on — to try and answer such questions as: does payroll determine wins in professional sports (not really), do strikes and lockouts reduce attendance in sports (no), does baseball have a competitive balance problem (no), does the NBA have a competitive balance problem (yes), are star players essential to consumer demand in the NBA (no), who benefits if a team employs a star (everyone but the team paying the star), is Shaq better than Kobe (he was), is Iverson overrated (yes), is Garnett the best player in the NBA (he was the past four years), do good players play better in the playoffs (not usually), should quarterbacks be given credit for wins in the NFL (no), does past performance indicate future performance for quarterbacks (not very well), and do decision-makers in the NBA pay the most money to the player’s who produce the most wins (no).

Not to quibble, but as one can see from the above paragraph, Nocera did skip over a few details from our work. 

And again, not to quibble, but Nocera’s conclusion also requires some comment.

“The more I read “The Wages of Wins,” the more I wound up thinking that what they had mainly done was use the tools of economics to stir up the kind of debate that goes on forever in sports and will never be conclusively answered: who’s the better player? … it strikes me as an awfully trivial way to spend a lot of economic firepower.”

Okay, I am going to quibble. But just a bit. I really like the idea that Marty, Stacey, and I bring a lot of economic firepower to the table.  The other part of what Nocera says I am not too sure I like.  In sum, Nocera argues that what we did may not have been “important.”  Nocera, though, only focused on a fraction of our story.  Had he commented on all we did would he still have concluded that what we did was unimportant? 

Well, maybe not.  This is a book on sports and one might read all that we say and still reach Nocera’s conclusion. Still, I think what we said goes beyond whether Shaq was better than Kobe, the value of Kevin Garnett, and the lack of value created by Allen Iverson. 

So for our new readers, I hope you enjoy the many stories we tell about the NBA.  But, perhaps more importantly, I hope you enjoy the many other stories we tell as well.

– DJ 

Posted in: General