A Walk in Billy Beane’s Shoes

by Brandon Preece

Sports movies have always been some of my absolute favorites throughout the years. It never mattered what sport it was about. Never mattered if sports are the story (Miracle, Hoosiers, Bull Durham) or if sports provided an easily identifiable backdrop for a story about a person or relationship (Field of Dreams, Million Dollar Baby, Invincible).  Recently Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman starred in Moneyball, which received positives reviews for the most part.  The movie was based on a book by Michael Lewis. The book was based on the General Manager of the Oakland A’s, Billy Beane. Billy Beane, now according to society, is based on numbers.

Beane’s legacy will be forever be connected to his attempts to build a championship caliber team through the use of unique film study, budgeting, and most importantly – formulas that could be run on any professional player that would identify undervalued talent that a small market team like Oakland could afford.  Beane had to look at the game in a new way to try and compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, whose payrolls were astronomical compared to Oakland’s.  He compiled a team using these sabermetrics and careful scouting that competed strongly for several seasons. But here is the real question:

If you are Billy Beane, do you keep your formulas, ideas, and strategies hidden away so that only your team can employ them in an attempt to win a coveted World Series Championship?

-or-

Do you open your doors, and allow Michael Lewis to write a bestseller about you and your methods, watch it become a blockbuster movie, and go down in history as the man who changed baseball forever?

The movie seems determined to paint a picture that Beane is a man driven by only one goal: to win the World Series. This is almost certainly not a unique trait if one were to compare General Managers. But if that is the case, wouldn’t allowing Lewis to come into your everyday operations and document all of the procedures compromise that? By agreeing to give Lewis access to once private meetings, Beane, in essence, allowed every front office in baseball to pull up a chair to his desk to see what he was working on. You might think a person who has endured such a catastrophic failure as a player would be even hungrier to devote everything else he had left to winning as manager.

Some might argue that these two ideas of becoming the face of the new era of baseball and winning a championship are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps. Perhaps Beane can tell everyone in the world how much they should pay for Gio Gonzalez,

but can still put together a team that could make the leap in to the Fall Classic. Randy Johnson could tell you he was going to throw you a fastball and still make you miss. Maybe Beane was just ready for someone to tell his story. His life had been somewhat of a rollercoaster, and now that he had sustained some level of success, he wanted to show people that there was another way. I think it might be easy to say you would keep those formulas close to vest in order to gain some sort of competitive advantage against the American League monsters. However, when you think about his legacy – what he will be remembered for – would it be one title in Oakland, or would it be the champion of Bill James’ statistic driven, upside-down way of creating a baseball team that forever will change the way teams are run?

A decision most likely not made overnight.

As a sports romantic I feel like I would cling to my best hope of winning in a town that had been championship deprived for a number of years. I really don’t know what its like to win the last game of the year, but I have to believe it’s a feeling that has a good chance of never being surpassed in my mind as long as I live. But we all know how the story turns out. Beane turned down the largest contract offer ever made to a General Manager at that point to stay with Oakland. Boston, the team that offered him the position, won the World Series just two years after they offered him a job. Beane is still seeking his title, but now he does it with a little more recognition, appreciation, and competition because everyone in baseball now uses Moneyball-type strategies to find an edge.

So I pose the question once more: What would you do if you were Billy Beane?  

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One response to “A Walk in Billy Beane’s Shoes

  1. Sadly, MLB is about free agency, $$$, and who will spend the most to buy a World Series. There is more interest in who the next $300 million contract goes to, than who wins a title.
    No so sadly, winning a World Series is still about throwing strikes, advancing the baserunner, and hitting the freaking cutoff man. Sabermetrics skims off the BS of “professional” baseball, and objectively measures “good baseball”. It’s the hope of all small market teams.

    “You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains.”

    And Nuke….. it’s “connoisseur” not “conissuer”

    Regards,
    C. Davis

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