"The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First" (Ballantine Books, ESPN), by Jonah Keri. With some Americans still bitter toward Wall Street, this might not be the best time to write a book praising the wisdom of Wall Street strategies. But even if it's frustrating to read such a book, it's even more disappointing when the title fails to deliver on its promise.
That's the biggest weakness in "The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First." It's the story of the Tampa Bay Rays, a small-market team that did the unthinkable in 2008: It outplayed the juggernaut Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to reach the World Series.
Clearly there's a compelling story. How did a low-income team beat out such wealthy rivals? What was its secret? What can other bad teams learn from its example?
The title hints at the answers but, disappointingly, the book doesn't deliver.
Maybe that's inevitable. As author Jonah Keri points out, the Rays owners who came from Wall Street have little to gain from revealing their secrets. Keri does share snippets about how the team analyzes statistics and scouts opponents, but his presentation doesn't go far enough.
For example, virtually every team crunches numbers and scours records looking for the slightest edge. It's not clear what the Rays do differently, or better.
In fact, the story at times seems to downplay the executives' achievement. The previous owner is portrayed as so hostile and inept that it seems any successor could have improved the situation simply by undoing his directives.
That's precisely what the Wall Street execs did. They also benefited from the high draft picks the team stockpiled during its lean seasons.
In short, the team's biggest successes seem rooted less in Wall Street strategies than in traditional, if better-executed, baseball strategies.
Even Keri acknowledges this. He writes of the 2009 squad, "Many of the Rays' best subtle advantages result from old-fashioned player development and instruction more than data-crunching."
The closest we come to learning about any Wall Street secrets is in a later chapter about the "mystery men" _ the statisticians who crunch numbers behind the scenes. But even then we're given few details, and there's no context to clarify how they stack up against their counterparts in other clubs.
That's not to say "The Extra 2%" is a poor read; in fact, quite the contrary.
(The title, by the way, comes from a Rays executive who says the team has to do everything 2 percent better to succeed in baseball's most stacked division. It would have been nice if the explanation appeared in the book, rather than tucked away in the acknowledgements.)
Keri tells a compelling story, and baseball fans will get a well-researched glimpse into how a front office is run. There's a lot to like here.
In fact, the book would have merited a much better review had the subtitle promised simply to tell readers how the team went from worst to first. But by including the Wall Street angle, setting up expectations that the book fails to meet, the end result is disappointing.