Book Review: “The Best Team Money Can Buy”

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Former ESPN reporter Molly Knight’s new book, The Best Team Money Can Buy, covers baseball’s most polarizing and entertaining franchise of recent years, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in a retrospective piece made easier without the pressure of newspaper reporting deadlines.

“How does the “The Best Team Money Can Buy” compare to Moneyball?” I was asked by a librarian at the Duluth Public Library after I had checked out the book.

I explained my excitement. “Basically, this book is about baseball, but you do not have to be a fan to understand it. From what I have read in some of the reviews, it’s an extremely behind-the-scenes look at the Los Angeles Dodgers as they transition from a bankrupt owner embroiled in the midst of a divorce, to a team with a $200 million payroll and $2 billion cable TV contract.”

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While at ESPN, Knight covered then-Dodger owner Frank McCourt’s divorce, and in the first chapter uncovers the nooks and crannies of the Dodger auction including, for example, McCourt’s chess moves of filing for bankruptcy, and the machinations of selling the team. The Guggenheim Group owns the team today. Los Angeles Laker legend Magic Johnson serves as the face of the franchise, but operations are headed up by experienced Major League Baseball executive Stan Kasten.  Knight uses as her sources on the transition such insiders as former Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti and current Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman.

In the Best Team Money Can Buy, Knight was not present for any closed door meetings, but she deftly utilized her sources to attend them virtually. She was also allowed extensive one-on-one  interviews with Dodgers players. By contrast, Moneyball author Michael Lewis was present at and recorded every meeting in and outside of the Oakland A’s front office.

This book reminds me of Moneyball in several ways.

  • Both writers had experience in other industries that translated well to their work on their current books. Knight’s main career objective was not to write this book. She had been on the pre-med track at Stanford University before she realized it was not the career for her. She moved to New York, where she bartended at night while writing during the day. Lewis earned his degree in Art History from Princeton and worked with a New York art dealer before completing his MA at the London School of Economics.
  • Reading Lewis’s book, I was able to visualize Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane pumping his fist in the air as some other team drafted an overvalued high school pitcher. In Knight’s book, I can see Zack Greinke standing up in a players’ only meeting and declaring, “all players are not flushing after taking a ‘number two’ in the men’s locker room”.
  • Both Lewis and Knight explain how and why each person arrived in each organization and how they fit strategically into the marathon regular season and crapshoot postseason. Due to the smaller sample size of games, the failure in the playoffs by both the Dodgers and the A’s stands in stark contrast to their regular season triumphs.
  • Lewis profiles Scott Hatteberg as he transitions from washed up backup catcher with the Boston Red Sox to starting first basemen for the Oakland, where he batted .280/.374/.433.
  • Knight shows how a struggling player, the aforementioned Greinke, overcomes his social anxiety, finds his personality, and overcomes the whispers of the naysayers to win the American League Cy Young Award.
  • While reading this book, readers will feel the excitement as the Dodgers or Athletics win.

I would put The Best Team Money Can Buy up with other baseball literature classics Moneyball, Jonathan Eig’s Luckiest Man: the Life and Death of Lou Gehrig, John Helyar’s Lords of the Realm, and Robert Creamer’s Babe: The Legend Comes to Life.  Many, if not all, of these classics are probably available at your own public library. But what some taxpayers may be unaware of is that the library may also be able to order new books upon patron request. This helps with updating the collection and, of course, with circulation. The Duluth Library ordered this book for me, and I will look forward to returning it so it can be available for the next patron.

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