A Review of Evan Drellich’s Book “Winning Fixes Everything”

Drellich tells the story of what went wrong with the Houston Astros.

“Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess”

Evan Drellich

Harper, 368 pages

The first time I entered an MLB press box, I understood that Coors Field (or any baseball park) was actually a big office. Sure, the business was baseball, but the press box was one office of many housed in the massive structure. I would understood, too, that the players are employees with offices in a different part of the building, and that there are parts of the business (e.g., the much of the organizational personnel) that I would probably never see, all working away in their respective offices.

In that moment, I shifted to understanding baseball as a series of power relationships like the ones I navigate in my job as a college English professor. The primary difference between myself and others sharing the Coors Field workspace was a matter of skills, training, and employment history.

All of this was on my mind when reading Evan Drellich’s “Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess.” In November of 2019, Drellich and Ken Rosenthal broke the story of the Houston Astros cheating scandal. The ramifications would be substantial, resulting in firings, suspensions, and public humiliations.

Drellich tells the story of how it all came together. As he writes:

“This is a book about what happens when business leaders decide that the bottom-line result is all that matters, in a setting many MBAs only dream to occupy. About what happens when a baseball team believes that no matter how great a mess it creates, a championship parade can erase all sins.”

He was perfectly positioned to cover the story given that he covered the Astros for the Houston Chronicle from late 2013 through 2016 when he left for Boston to cover the Red Sox. (He now writes for The Athletic.)

At the center of Drellich’s story is Jeff Luhnow a fantasy baseball enthusiast with an MBA, as well as degrees in economics and engineering, and a career with McKinsey Consulting. Although Luhnow had developed the kind of résumé that would allow him to do almost anything, what he really wanted was to get into a baseball front office and see if he could take Billy Beane’s work with the Oakland Athletics, immortalized in Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” to the next level.

Drellich traces Luhnow’s career through his baseball beginnings with the St. Louis Cardinals to his becoming the Astros’ general manager. When Luhnow asks owner Jim Crane to outline any constraints he’ll be operating under, Crane hands his new employee a blank sheet of paper, effectively giving him carte blanche over the organization. With that settled, Luhnow gets to work with a focus on making the Astros a more efficient and winning organization.

In Drellich’s reporting, Luhnow reveals himself to be a ruthless executive, firing those he saw as problematic or unproductive and bringing in a staff he trusted, including Sig Mejdal, Mike Elias, Brandon Taubman, Pete Putila, and Mike Fast.

From there, Drellich details how the Astros began pushing the envelope of what was legal. Although there was evidence of cheating by the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, the Astros went all in. What began as the “Codebreaker” Excel sheet designed to catalog and facilitate prediction of a catcher’s signs evolved into placing a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park, which zoomed in on the catcher when he was putting down the signs. The video feed, then, was played on a monitor in the dugout tunnel. Depending on the situation, players would bang on a trash can, relaying the type of pitch to the hitter. (As Drellich explains, some players were more enthusiastic adopters — such as Carlos Beltrán, “the godfather of the whole program” — than others.)

Luhnow denies being aware of the cheating, but the Commissioner’s Report (2020) suggests that was unlikely.

“Winning Fixes Everything” builds on Rosenthal and Drellich’s 2019 story as well as reporting about the Astros’ culture Drellich had done as early as 2014. It’s a balanced and comprehensive accounting of one of baseball’s most successful teams in the 2010’s and its eventual downfall.

Gone are any hints of baseball romance; rather, the focus is on a team’s decision to be innovative, cost effective, and competitive while asking at what cost?

In short, it is an important book.

That said, Drellich makes, I think, a key misreading in “Winning Fixes Everything.” For him, this is an example of corporate culture “without guardrails,” a phrase he uses when describing what happened. For example, he asks Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt if the organization considered “best practices in change management” when implementing Luhow’s suggestions. (DeWitt says they did not.) Later in “Winning Fixes Everything,” Drellich cites an article from the “Harvard Business Review” as well as a business ethicist to illustrate his points. The advice is the stuff of a standard business leadership textbook.

For Drellich, this suggests Luhnow failed to adhere to best practices — and he repeatedly makes reference to Luhnow’s poor communication (e.g., not answering emails or texts, not sharing his plans widely) that led to organizational chaos. “Luhnow’s greatest weakness was his communication outside his inner circle,” Drellich writes.

But wasn’t that the point? Take, for example, this anecdote:

“Gene Coleman was the Astros’ head strength coach. Coleman helped Luhnow work out one day, and then twenty minutes later, after they were done, Luhnow called Coleman and let him go. “Gene calls me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this s***,’” remembered former Astros athletic trainer Nate Lucero. “I said, ‘What’s that?’”
“I just got fired,” Coleman said.
“Shut the f*** up,” Lucero said.
“I swear to God, I just got fired.”
“Gene, you just were working out with him—when did it happen?”
“He called me on my way home.”

This was, in short, a communication of raw power on Luhnow’s part with a clear message he knew would be shared throughout the Astros organization: You could be next — and I do not care.

Luhnow’s failure to answer emails and texts seems less the result of an overflowing inbox and more a deliberate exercise in information brokering. After all, what better way for a boss to empower themself than to keep co-workers from knowing the whole picture?

Yes, of course, Luhnow wanted to win, but he also wanted to see what he could do, how far he could push things because that’s how power works. And how power works is not a subject the “Harvard Business Review” is not much interested in exploring. Its readers don’t want to interrogate power: They want to know how to wield it discreetly and effectively.

It was the culture Jeff Luhnow wanted — and built — at the Houston Astros, and that culture permeated the front office and trickled down to the players.

In an October 2019 article on the Astros’ culture with a focus on the Brandon Taubman firing, Drellich concluded with this sentence: “The Astros know how to win games. They don’t have a grasp on people.”

Actually, I would argue, they did.

Oddly enough, after I’d finished reading “Winning Fixes Everything,” I found myself not exactly sympathetic to the Astros players but more understanding of the choices they’d made as well as MLB’s decision not to punish them in exchange for their cooperation in the investigation.

“I was in my first year, man,” Astros pitcher Joe Musgrove, a rookie in 2017, said in an interview on MLB Network years later, according to Drellich. “Along with [Alex] Bregman and a lot of those guys, and in your first year in the big leagues you’re around guys like Beltrán and McCann, some big names. And I’m not going to be the pitcher to walk up and tell ’em to knock it off.”

They were, after all, employees in a business, and the leadership had built a culture of winning (and exerting power) at all costs. As Beltrán would tell the YES Network in 2022, “We felt in our hearts that we were being more efficient and smarter than any team out there . . . . That’s how we felt.”

Ask yourself — really ask yourself — if you could have done it. If you were a player on the 2017 Houston Astros, would you have been willing to risk ending your career to expose the cheating? That’s where the players found themselves. (And shoutout to Mike Fiers, who did go on the record and detail what had happened.)

Rob Manfred was right:  George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Carlos Beltrán, and the others, for the rest of their lives, they have to wear this scandal. It’s part of their legacy.

In telling this story, Drellich has written what will be a foundational piece in the history of the Houston Astros.

That accomplishment is no small feat — and it is a reminder of the power wielded by good journalists when they are allowed to do their jobs.


Renee Dechert

Renee Dechert writes about baseball and fandom, often with a focus on the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks. (She's also an English professor, but the baseball is more interesting.) Follow her on Twitter (@ReneeDechert) or Bluesky (@ReneeDechert.com).

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