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Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball's Brightest Minds Created Sports' Biggest Mess

de Evan Drellich

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2011,053,512 (4.33)6
"The reporter who broke the Houston Astros' cheating scandal reveals how a baseball team could so dramatically descend into corruption, with never-before-told details of a broken management culture, the once-revered leaders who enabled it and the scandal itself." -- inside front jacket flap. "A book reporting on the rise and fall of the Houston Astros"--… (mais)

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The rise and fall of the post-rebuild Astros. A blow-by-blow account of the consultancy strikes back. To the (lack of) surprise of any decent person, going out of your way to create toxic work environments leads to terrible results.

Told well, very readable, greatly enjoyed. ( )
  kcshankd | Mar 19, 2023 |
15. Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess by Evan Drellich
reader: Mike Chamberlain
published: February 14, 2023
format: 13:07 audible audiobook (272-pages in hardcover)
acquired: February 20 listened: Feb 20 – Mar 4
rating: 4
genre/style: Baseball/Journalism theme: random audio
locations: Houston
about the author: an American sports journalist and author based in New York City

A book for baseball fans, a pretty good one. The Houston Astros won the World Series in 2017. After the 2019 season two reporters broke a story on how the Astros cheated during that pennant season, using cameras to read other teams pitching signs and relaying that to their batters in real time by banging on a trashcan. The last part is especially ironic as, until they were caught, the Astros had a reputation as being the most technically advanced team in the sport, leading the league in the collection and application of data analytics. And yet they banged a trashcan.

Evan Drellich was one of the reporters who broke the story, along with Ken Rosenthal. Here he writes the whole story about that Astros team, focusing on the "toxic" culture that built it, and problems within that culture that allowed this cheating and other issues. It's really the story of the Astros owner, Jim Crane, who bought the team in 2011, and especially the rise and fall of his wiz-general manager, Jeff Luhnow. When the cheating scandal broke, Crane dumped all the blame on Luhnow, how was fired and is out of baseball, likely permanently. About everyone else involved feels bad for being caught, and has otherwise carried on, including the team itself, which has continued to win, and won the 2022 World Series (with only 5 players left from the 2017 season).

Baseball fans have a lot to gain here because of the insight into the Astros management, into baseball's corporate culture, and because this is the story of how the Astros built a great team, the technology they used, and the decisions, good and bad, that they made. (Why, for example, they infamously traded away prospect Josh Hader in 2015, who became a dominant reliever for the Brewers.) But the focus is the Astros management culture.

----I get a little carried away beginning here---

So, I'm a big baseball fan, and I've followed the Houston Astros since I moved to Houston in 1998. When the Astros were sold, I was pretty content with new ownership, and with the first four terrible seasons as the team intentionally tanked in order to push through a complete rebuilding effort. I loved this team they created and loved this genius GM Luhnow. I was ecstatic when they won the 2017 World Series. It was a dramatic series, with a surreal classic back-and-forth game 5. (A game in which the Astros used their cheating system). When the story broke, I admittedly wasn't that upset about it. It seemed so unsophisticated that I couldn't imagine they used it that much, and I could imagine my favorite players could be very dependent on it. I figured the manager mishandled some clubhouse nonsense. What I actually was upset about was that the Astros genius GM, Jeff Luhnow, was fired and no longer leading team. So, this is a disclosure. These are not reactions to be proud of.

Turns out the Astros corporate culture was really polluted and poisonous under Luhnow, toxic. I mean, keep in mind that no matter how bad or acrimonious or stressful the experience was, everyone working there still will all look back and remember this either as the best fun they had in any job in their lives, or, if they stay in baseball, as part of that baseball experience. And this was an innovative team doing stuff no other teams were doing, in non-traditional ways, and even with non-baseball people. Luhnow was a business guy, a Wharton graduate who got obsessed with fantasy baseball. Brandom Taubman*, at one time Luhnow's main assistant, was an investment banker. Sig Mejdal, a key analytics expert, was a NASA engineer. It was an unusual group. And that poison created a really great team. But it was pretty ugly. Cut-throat & ruthless, and far more "corporate" than any other baseball team. There was no warmth in the front office, no support and no principals. The technology used to evaluate players was also used to mathematically come up with ways to limit players' salaries and to determine how many scouts to fire (a lot). But the biggest problem was Luhnow. Insecure and a poor communicator, he created a culture of damaged communication, and with no ability for anyone to effectively question or challenge his own bad decisions. Complaining was a way to get fired.

So I learned a few lessons. First, the cheating was really a big deal. The Astros stole the championship. Second, while Luhnow didn't come up with the cheating concept or initiate it, he encouraged it and pushed it hard from up top. He was really deeply responsible. He comes across as really an unpleasant guy, and, after having read this book, I'm glad to see him go from the sport. On the other hand, the Astros field manager, AJ Hinch, the one I personally initially blamed, comes off really well and likable. This was someone trapped by this system, driven by a lunatic GM, and pushed by problematic coaches. I think he had two choices, complain and get fired or try to manage it. He made the wrong decision, but it wasn't an easy one. Of everyone with any responsibility, he comes out easily the best.

Two other less surprising lessons:

Astros owner Jim Crane got off scot-free from all this. Crane still owns the team, a team worth 3x what he paid for it (his collection of investors paid ~$680,000,000), and he faced no disciplinary action or criticism. The book highlights he has a track record of this, with companies he owned getting pressed with obscenely extreme racist hiring practices and with war profiteering, things that got people in big trouble, but not the company owner, Crane. Which makes him ethically very repulsive and also ethically about average among the major sport franchise owners.

And, no surprise to baseball fans, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is truly incompetent when it comes to handling major problems in the sport - whether steroids, cheating with technology or the sticky stuff most pitchers use today. It's not your imagination.


Anyway, if you want to learn about any of this, or about the collection of the main influencers in the creation of the Astros championship teams, in the good and bad scouting perspectives and decisions regarding various key players, in why the Astros were successful, or how Jim Crane made them more corporate-like than other baseball teams, or about anything above, this book is a good place to start. It's not perfect, or genius or mind-altering, but it's effective and well written.

---- notes----

*So Brandon Taubman is also out of baseball. He was fired by Luhnow in 2019 before the cheating story broke. He was fired for yelling drunkenly at female sports reporter, bragging about an Astros player who had once been charged for severely beating up a girlfriend**. He then lied about it, and claimed another female reporter, who witnessed the event and reported it, was reporting falsely.

**That player is Roberto Osuna, a talented pitcher. After being accused of beating up his girlfriend, his team, the Toronto Blue Jays, wanted to get rid of him at any cost. When Jeff Luhnow traded for him, he overrode the entire Astros management and scouting staff. The staff was universally against it, according to this book. After the trade, three key members of the Astros management, people who helped design the system that created the current team, left because of this decision (analytics gurus Mike Fast, Mike Elias, & Sig Mejdal)

https://www.librarything.com/topic/348551#8085737 ( )
1 vote dchaikin | Mar 4, 2023 |
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Evan Drellichautor principaltodas as ediçõescalculado
Chamberlain, MikeNarradorautor secundárioalgumas ediçõesconfirmado
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"The reporter who broke the Houston Astros' cheating scandal reveals how a baseball team could so dramatically descend into corruption, with never-before-told details of a broken management culture, the once-revered leaders who enabled it and the scandal itself." -- inside front jacket flap. "A book reporting on the rise and fall of the Houston Astros"--

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