Brian Borawski: When I first read the title of your book, “The Baseball Economist,” I figured that the book was going to deal with a lot of baseball business issues. While it does deal with things like whether baseball is a monopoly or not, it also touches on much more than that. When the book idea was first conceived, what was your overall goal for the book?
J.C. Bradbury: When I first started out, the business of baseball angle was the first topic of the book I planned to cover. In fact, the last three chapters of the book on the weakness of Major League Baseball’s monopoly power were the first chapters I wrote. However, I quickly realized that I wanted to have some more fun with baseball, and concentrate on questions that are relevant to economics but do not have business implications.
There is a big misconception out there that economics and business are the same things. Economics is a social science with a universal theory of human behavior. If you want to understand business, you have to study economics, but there are many other topics that economists study outside of business. For example, I did my graduate work at George Mason University, which is known for its application of economics to politics—a field known as public choice. Naturally, as a baseball fan, I had lots of questions about the game that I thought economics could help answer. And I’m not the first economist to look at the game like this.
This approach is very similar to the approach taken by sabermetricians, which is something I discovered after meeting Doug Drinen while working at The University of the South. Doug is a mathematician with a background in sabermetrics. He grew up buying the Bill James Abstracts, and has contributed several important studies to the sabermetric world. Right now, most of his work is in football over at Pro Football Reference. We would talk baseball quite frequently, and I learned a lot from him. Several of the chapters in the book had their origins in our lunchtime discussions.
My goal of the book became to highlight topics that I thought economic thinking could contribute something to baseball fans seeking to know more about the game. As a secondary motive, I was hoping to teach a little economics through a fun subject so I decided to minimize the business aspects and concentrate on the fun stuff.