Before we dive in, a disclaimer: there is an incredible amount of bias that you should be aware of before reading this review. DRaysBay is referenced as a source at multiple points in The Extra 2% and is listed in the book's acknowledgements. I'm also mentioned by name in the acknowledgements, and I've talked and interacted with Jonah multiple times over the last year. Jonah has posted articles on DRaysBay in the past, and his book's topic - as in, why the Rays are so awesome - falls right in line with the commentary and analysis we provide here. That said, I'm going to attempt to write this review with as little bias as possible. Don't laugh, I'm serious.
I've been waiting for this book for so long, when it finally arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, I didn't know what to do. Anticipation and expectations were so high, I almost felt as though reading the book would ruin it. There is no way Jonah's book could live up to all the hype surrounding it in the Rays blogosphere, so it was with excitement tempered with skepticism that I cracked open the book and started reading.
Jonah didn't disappoint. The Extra 2% sucked me in, and I firmly believe it should be a must-read for any fan of the Rays. However, I do have a one small critique to add.
In terms of information, this book is second to none. The shining strength of the book is its meticulous research and reporting, as Jonah completed 175 interviews while doing his background work for this book. Those interviews covered a wide swath of people, varying from Andrew Friedman to Joe Maddon's mother to Chuck LaMar to James Click. This book covers everything that happened with the Rays from the 1960s - when lobbying for a major league baseball stadium got underway - to the present day, detailing the problems along the road in getting a franchise, the stormy years under Vince Namoli, and the shift to the current regime and their new line of thinking. It is as comprehensive and deep a book as I have ever read.
Also, with the possible exception of Moneyball, you will not find another book like this that details the nitty gritty details on how a major league front office is run. Jonah starts by looking at the Namoli era, noting numerous business and baseball related gaffs that they made, and used his extensive baseball knowledge to inform his research and writing. While talking about the new regime under Sternberg, this book discusses many of the philosophies that saberists have been espousing for years - which makes sense, considering Jonah wrote for Baseball Prospectus in the past - but does so in a way that enlightens new readers rather than scares them off. If you want to teach a friend or family member how to think critically about baseball, The Extra 2% would be a perfect book recommendation.
My one critique would be this: while billed as such, The Extra 2% is no Moneyball...at least, from a literary perspective. While the books are similar in that they both delve into the workings of a major league front office that uses advanced analysis, Moneyball is written as a narrative story. Michael Lewis is, above all, an exceptional storyteller, and after spending a long period of time with Billy Beane, he was able to have the reader follow Beane through the emotional roller coaster ride of a season. It's an engaging storyline, which is one of the reasons why it's being turned into a movie.
As Jonah related in a recent podcast, he loves reading nonfiction books. That love showed through in The Extra 2%, as it was one of the most well researched and well presented nonfiction books I've read in a long time. It's an exhaustive look at the history of the Rays franchise, from all the way back in the 1970s until the present day, and it explains how the current front office operates in a way that doesn't require the reader to understand sabermetrics. But in general, I read more fiction books than nonfiction, and I feel Jonah's book is lacking the compelling narrative that made Moneyball such a mainstream success. It reads as a history of the Rays, not a story.
Is this a bad thing? No, of course not, as the book is still brilliant. Jonah has a different writing style than Lewis and he was not given the same level of access, so he took an entirely different focus to The Extra 2%. And anyway, comparing a sportswriter to Michael Lewis is like comparing a baseball player to Willie Mays: there may be better out there, but they are darn rare.
So if you are a fan of the Rays, whether you have been a fan for one season or twelve, this is a must-read book. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable fan, but there were many facts and stories in the book that I had never heard before (the Namoli anecdotes are out of this world), and it made me appreciate the current state of the Rays all the more. There were also plenty of amusing anecdotes in the book that made me smile, including the fact that Andrew Friedman is apparently addicted to RBI Baseball.
Also, if you are a new fan of the Rays and are confused about how the Rays run their team, you could not ask for a better primer. Friedman and Sternberg may not have given Jonah extended, special access, but that does not mean Jonah's descriptions of their "process" is wrong. On the contrary, it just means Jonah had to try harder to compile that information (again, 175 interviews!).
The Extra 2% is, in many ways, a celebration of the Rays and a celebration of progressive thought. I really don't have much else to add except....enjoy!
You can find The Extra 2% on Amazon.com, and Jonah will be providing sneak peeks and such over at Extra2Percent.com all day. Thanks Jonah!