New book combines sports, economics in fascinating way

Published: Saturday, Jan. 22 2011 5:00 p.m. MST

"SCORECASTING," by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, Crown Publishing, Jan. 25, 2011, 288 pages

The new book "Scorecasting" (Crown Publishing, $26, Jan. 25) is a must-read for all aficionados of sports or economics because of the refreshingly unique way it analyzes the former through the lens of the latter.

Per its subtitle, "Scorecasting" examines "the hidden influences behind how sports are played and games are won." This includes fascinating analyses and explanations for why it's widely considered much worse for a referee to make a bad call than to miss making a good call, what the real source of home-field advantage is, and why the Pittsburgh Steelers can perennially be so good while the Pittsburgh Pirates remain mired in perpetual putridity.

The two coauthors of "Scorecasting" — University of Chicago behavioral economist Tobias Moskowitz and Sports Illustrated writer Jon Wertheim — each contribute a wealth of field-specific expertise to their collaboration. That Moskowitz and Wertheim work so well together is no surprise because they're childhood friends; "Scorecasting" actually begins with an anecdotal recounting of the summer-camp softball team they both played for as 12-year-olds.

If the pairing of a Chicago economist and a professional journalist to write a book challenging common beliefs and assumptions sounds familiar, it's because you've heard of "Freakonomics." In 2005, University of Chicago economics professor Steven Levitt and New York Times writer Stephen Dubner combined to produce a best-selling tome that "explores the hidden side of everything."

"Scorecasting" eagerly embraces the comparison to "Freakonomics." In fact, at the top of the "Scorecasting" front cover is a conspicuous quotation from Levitt proclaiming the new book to be "the closest thing to 'Freakonomics' I've seen since the original."

In summary, the brilliance of "Scorecasting" lies in its ability to transform even the most know-it-all sports fan back into a bright-eyed prepubescent boy with an insatiable curiosity and thirst for learning everything about his favorite sport. That's precisely what happened to this writer, a grizzled sports enthusiast, upon discovering that better explanations exist for what happens on the field of play than the same old conventional wisdom or cliché du jour.

e-mail: jaskar@desnews.com

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