I enjoyed reading The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First by financial journalist and sportswriter Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri). Keri has a podcast and is also the author of a book on the Expos. He’s active on Twitter and a great guy to follow.
The Extra 2% is a mix of many interests of mine like sports, finance, and business. With the NHL and the NBA finished for the year, it’s time for summer sports and summer reading. Baseball holds a special place. Maybe it’s because I played it when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because of the 1994 Expos and their possible come back. Or maybe I played too much Ken Griffey jr. the video game. Or maybe it’s because baseball is such a different sport from all the other major sports. There’s no clock; you go home after 27 outs. Or the real reason is probably because it’s so goddamn much fun to hit a ball with a bat.
The book documents the turnaround of the Tampa Bay Rays by three financial wiz kids from possibly one of the worst run franchises to a team that’s making the mighty Red Sox and Yankees sweat. And that’s with a tiny fraction of their budget. If the Rays considers spending $8 million on a closer, it’s a huge decision with many implications. If the Red Sox or Yankees spend $8m on a closer and it doesn’t work out, it’s a rounding error.
It’s the classic David vs Goliath story. The only difference in this story is that the large majority of fans are cheering for the two Goliaths. Since the Rays can’t compete on financial ground, they need to find another way to win games. They have to find an edge else where. They have to do things differently. They have to be creative. This is a good follow up book on Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. It’s a similar play. Both the A’s and the Rays are a small payroll team that was willing to discard old baseball wisdom. If you dare going against 100 years of conventional wisdom, you better make sure you are right.
The book is a great case study. Stuart Sternberg, Matt Silverman and Andrew Friedman accomplished so much in so little time. They turned a perennial loser into a contender. They are lessons to learned. The title, the extra 2%, reminds of something Anthony Robbins said (I think it was him). He said something like if you only try to improve 1%, it can make a huge difference in the long run. You might not noticed it at first, but that 1% will add up. Just think of what happened to a golf ball when it you hit it a couple degrees off. It matters.
In a way, the book could have been published now. Stuart Sternberg is still the owner. The Rays are still fighting the mighty Red Sox and Yankees. The Rays are still hustling for a division title. They are still a low budget team. They still don’t have anybody watching them. And they still don’t have stadium deal. Also I should mention that Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, wrote the forewords.
I don’t really care about the Rays but I pay attention to them from a distance, that is their stadium saga. Rumors in Montreal is that if the Rays can’t get a stadium, Montreal is waiting in the wings to welcome them. Montreal first need to built a stadium and there’s a team of investors working on that. Despite the success of the Rays, Tropicana Field is empty. Tropicana Field is awful and the Rays have a lease until 2027. Is Montreal going to wait another 9 years for a team?
I don’t blame the fans in Tampa or surround areas. I think it’s a Florida problem in general. Most major sports franchise in Florida are not major hits. It’s a college state (and Nascar). Floridians love their college sports. People in Tampa are baseball fans, but they are Cubs fan, Red Sox fans, and Yankees fans. Most Floridians are from there and cheers for their former home club.
To conclude, it would be interest to hear an update from Jonah on the Tampa Bay situation.