Touring The Bases With…Mark Armour and Dan Levitt
Mark L. Armour is the author of Joe Cronin: A Life in Baseball, the editor of The Great Eight: The 1975 Cincinnati Reds, and a coeditor of Pitching, Defense, and Three-Run Homers: The 1970 Baltimore Orioles, all available from the University of Nebraska Press. Winner of the 2015 Bob Davids Award from the Society of American Baseball Research, Daniel R. Levitt is the author of Ed Barrow: The Bulldog Who Built the Yankees’ First Dynasty (Nebraska, 2008) and The Battle that Forged Modern Baseball: The Federal League Challenge and Its Legacy. He is the coauthor (with Mark L. Armour) of Paths to Glory: How Great Baseball Teams Got That Way.
Their new book, In Pursuit of Pennants: Baseball Operations from Deadball to Moneyball, was released by University of Nebraska Press on April 1, 2015.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
MA & DL: We’ve always been interested in baseball team building—why do some teams succeed and others not over a period of years. From our perspective this has never been fully explored or understood. We explore successful teams over the past century and look for common themes.
Q: Are there common themes?
MA & DL: Yes – successful organizations leverage or create new advantages. In Moneyball, Michael Lewis described the A’s using analytics to find market inefficiencies in the evaluation of players. But this was part of a long line of similar stories. Teams gained an edge by developing the first farm systems in the 1930s, integrating in the 1940s and 1950s, figuring out the amateur draft in the 1960s, understanding free agency in the 1970s, getting a leg up in the Dominican Republic in the 1980s, or generating a financial advantage with a new stadium in the 1990s. Smart teams have led the game’s evolution.
Q: How would you describe front offices today?
MA & DL: Almost all teams today are run by smart, energetic front offices, and have well-capitalized owners. Recent changes to the revenue sharing formulas and amateur bonuses, both for the draft and international signings, have limited the monetary advantage of the large markets. The playing field among the franchises is as level as it has ever been, and all teams are as smart as they have ever been.
Q: What have some of the more successful recent teams introduced?
MA & DL: The Giants integrated advanced video and statistical analytics capabilities into their baseball ops group. The Cardinals meld scouting and analytics better than almost anyone. They also reintroduced the Cardinal Way, a concept whose roots date back to Branch Rickey in the 1920 standardizing training and scouting throughout the organization. Other teams have mimicked this.
Q: How about some of the up and coming teams?
MA & DL: The Houston Astros have completely revamped baseball ops, employing people who are dedicated to the revolution in video information and have become the leader in defensive shifting. The Cubs have poured resources into scouting, development and baseball ops, and have become cutting edge, creating, for example, a mental skills program. The Tampa Bay Rays assembled a non-traditional front office staff tasked, in part, with uncovering market inefficiencies and unearthing new insights.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
MA & DL: The most successful teams, and general managers, are looking at everything—scouting, analytics, instruction, video, medicine—and are looking for new ideas and approaches all the time.
Q: So what’s next for leading edge baseball organizations?
MA & DL: Most of it is proprietary so we can only guess. Injury prevention or reduction is likely the Holy Grail, and the best organizations are surely spending resources in this area.