Blind Side

by Russ Roberts on December 20, 2006

in Books, Seen and Unseen, Sports

Just finished (in half a day) Michael Lewis’s Blind Side, the story of…lots of things—the hidden side of football, race and class in the South, an inner-city kid’s journey, how market forces move things in unexpected ways. It is not as analytical as Moneyball but the underlying story is more dramatic and it’s very well told by Lewis. Along with all of the above, the book captures the poetry of athletic excellence, the sheer magnificence of the outlier—the man playing a boy’s game. It reminds me a bit of The Courting of Marcus Dupree, an under-appreciated gem and the movie The Scout, Albert Brooks’s offbeat portrait of the baseball scout who finds a player too good to be true.

Fans of economics will love the way Lewis talks about the evolution of football and how what fans see and often respect is only part of what is really going on. You’ll also like how Lewis understands and explains how competition in the free agent market makes left tackles on the offensive line the second most highly-paid players in football. Who knew? These themes are the framework for the human drama that Lewis portrays and that makes up most of the book—the tale of an inner-city black kid who finds himself taken under the wing of a rich, white, emphatically Christian, driven, sports-loving family. If you like football at all, you will not be able to put this book down.

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{ 7 comments }

Alan December 20, 2006 at 3:36 pm

As crazy as is sounds, the third highest paid guy in the symphony orchestra is the Principal French hornist. (1st is the concert master, 2nd is the first cello) I heard this from a horn player, though, so beware!

The horn is devilishly difficult, you see . . .

ted Roberts December 20, 2006 at 5:19 pm

Enjoyed russ's blog – I'll buy the book. Also learned a new word, outlier. Never bumped into it before.

Russ Roberts December 20, 2006 at 5:58 pm

An "outlier" is a statistical term to describe something out of the ordinary, seemingly drawn from a different distribution than the rest of the data:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outlier

In this case, Michael Oher, the high school football player who is at the center of the book is the outlier–he's something like 6 foot 5, 345 pounds, but he's fast, nimble and agile. A more everyday phrase (that shows up in the book) is "freak of nature."

When Lewis describes some of the things that Michael Oher can do on a football field (or with a discus for that matter), it gives me a thrill in the same way that I get a thrill when I read about the first time Sherm Lollar caught Sandy Koufax's fast ball or when I watched Vince Young in last year's national championship game. There's an exhilaration at experiencing something rare and masterful. Something akin to hearing Leontyne Price for the first time.

Ray G December 20, 2006 at 7:06 pm

I'll get the book then. A preferred method of picking up new books, is from the handful of blogs that I read.

When I was in high school, I played along side some guys that went pro, and it really is amazing to experience the difference between a good ball player, and a great one. It also helped erase any delusions that I personally held on my own abilities.

lowcountryjoe December 21, 2006 at 9:23 am

I read MoneyBall and thought it was great writing with a message…look for value in places where the rest of your peers are not looking you'll be thought of as innovative and trend-bucking (and simultaneously despised for it).

The one thing that Lewis did do in MoneyBall [and he also did it in another sports related article that I read of his, is that he criticizes people of the Christian faith, making them sound to be irrational. In fact, he seems to bring Christianity up for no other reason than to dismiss it as a crutch in which too many people rely on [read the chapter on Chad Bradford if you don't believe me]. While I do have some sympathies for the argument that too many people rely on their faith to, hopefully, curry favor with the Supreme Being to bestow upon them material things, Lewis' take takes a downright subtle hostility towards them/it.

I'm wondering if Lewis spins off in that same direction again.

alvin December 21, 2006 at 10:03 am

Russ,

Just wanted to say how much I appreciate your podcasts on econtalk. I've listened to every one. They are excellent!

As a suggestion, how about discussing the economics of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) in college football, the tax-exempt status of college football, whether college and athletics should mix (in Europe you join a sponsored sports club at an early age), and the benefits/costs of implementing a playoff system rather than the current BCS, in a future podcast?

Russ Roberts December 21, 2006 at 3:52 pm

Lowcountryjoe,

The Christians in this book come across as extremely good people. You could say that they and their faith are the heroes of the book.

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