Billy Beane Visits AN: Offseason Edition Part III

This is the final installment of AN's exclusive interview with Billy Beane.

If you happened to miss the first parts, Part I is here and Part II is here.

As I mentioned in the comments in the last part, I asked Billy two questions that completely slipped my mind when I was with him in person.  He answered them via email the second one was about how healthy Dan Meyer is.  Billy responded, "Meyer has been in PT all winter in Arizona working on shoulder flexibilty."

So hopefully, he's been successful and we'll see the prize of the Hudson deal return to form this year in Sacramento.

As for the rest of the interview, here it is.  Enjoy!

Blez:  Was it tough to let (Scott) Hatteberg go and do you think he'll eventually be a part of the front office here?

Beane:  It was tough, the thought of not having Hatte here.  He had some great days here on the playing field, but he was really the glue in that clubhouse.  He had such an impact and he was such a great conduit for everybody from the young players to myself to Kenny.  He was the rock.  He was sort of the mental rock.  He's just a class act, from the first day we had him.  He's probably one of the few agents that I call to keep in touch and will continue to do so.  I just think so highly of him as a person as well as a baseball player.  As far as the front office goes, Scott has the ability to do so much when he's done playing.  He wants to keep playing and I think he will.  But with a guy like Scott, he could probably come in and do anything he wanted to and we'd welcome him in with open arms.

Blez:  Are you pursuing a lefty specialist since (Ricardo) Rincon departed?

Beane:  Not really.  Once again, who is out there?  We want to put ourselves in a position where we give a chance to a guy like (Ron) Flores, who pitched great in the minor leagues and in a limited stint last season.  Part of our success in the past has been to give these guys opportunities, and we've got Joe (Kennedy) there.  We feel comfortable with him there.  We'd also like to give a kid like Flores a chance and be that long-term solution.

Blez:  What about someone like a John Rheinecker?

Beane:  John would certainly fit into that as well.  We do like to preserve opportunities for young guys because it is the foundation for this organization's success.  Those are two guys that I'd love to see get that opportunity and excel.  If they do, then they're here for a number of years and you aren't having to answer that question every year.

Blez:  When you're looking at putting a team together for a season, do you aim directly at division opponents when you are structuring a team to beat other teams?

Beane:  Not really.  We're not really in a position to do that.  We mostly just say, let's put the best team together we can possibly do within our budget.  We've never been in a position to look at what someone else does and react to it.  That doesn't go into our thinking at all.  We just try to put the best possible team on the field.

Blez:  You mentioned the high price of power in the current market in our last interview.  Will power become a dying commodity here in Oakland because of the cost associated with it?

Beane:  Not necessarily.  Like with most any commodity, we're better served to develop it so it's here for a long time.  The two guys last year, Nick hit 21 homers and Dan in a half a season or two thirds of a season hit 15.  We think we've developed two guys who will be 25 to 30 home run guys when it's all said and done.  Stats like power are always going to be expensive for a lot of teams and people are going to pay for it when it's out there because it's the great equalizer.  Our best approach is like anything else in that developing guys ourselves with power, the longer we get to keep them.

Blez:  How tough was it for you to let Andre Ethier go?

Beane:  It was tough.  He was an outstanding prospect.  

Blez:  Where did you see him projecting with you guys?

Beane:  He projects nowhere with us now.  (laughs)  We thought very highly of Andre.  The opportunity to get a player like Milton was there.  And understand, Milton is only 27.  We all hoped a guy like that would become as good as Milton is now.  But it wasn't easy.  We wanted Milton, we felt he was a great fit.  We drafted a player in Travis Buck who was very similar to Andre.  Hopefully, Travis and Danny Putnam as well will fill in that gap.  We have a lot of left-handed hitters in the organization, I mentioned two of them in Putnam and Buck, not to mention Daric Barton as well.  Then you've got Dan Johnson as well.  At some point, you have to be aware that you're going to have an all lefthanded team.  It was necessary to do the deal.  We've never been shy about giving up young talent to get those deals done.  The goal here is to get those young players here, but it's also to use those young players to get players who are in the major leagues.  If you can win, that's really the endgame any way.

Blez:  Is Milton someone you'd like to sign long-term?

Beane:  We haven't really talked long-term contracts with any of our arb(itration) eligibles this year.  It would probably be too early to start considering that.  

Blez:  How tough was it for you to let go of Erubiel Durazo considering that at one point, you tabbed him your holy grail?

Beane:  The tough thing with Ruby is that he had that injury so early in the season and the one thing about Ruby is that when he's healthy, he can hit and he's a good offensive player.  But the injury was basically a year-long injury.  I think we knew a while back that given the nature of the injury that it would be tough for us to retain him.  It's also tough because Ruby is a great guy.  I was very fond of him because he's a real good guy.  I was also very fond of him in the lineup too.  (laughs)

Blez:  You mentioned in several places that you thought the clubhouse was the kind of environment that could absorb any personality.  Do you think that's changed at all this offseason with Hatte being gone?

Beane:  No, not really.  The first reason our clubhouse has been a good environment is that they've been able to come off the field with a lot of wins.  That always helps the clubhouse.  The personalities have changed dramatically over the years going back to 99.  But, by and large, the culture and fabric is still the same despite the changes.  I think that will still be the case now.  Chavy's been here since the beginning, Kots is now a major personality in the clubhouse, and Jason Kendall.  Even Nick from the young guys.  If we continue to win games, which I'm expecting and hoping we do, we'll once again have a great clubhouse.

Blez:  Do you think that Jason (Kendall) will have a bounce-back year offensively?

Beane:  I think so.   Jason, I think more than anything, had a really tough start.  He recovered, but he was really climbing uphill after that start.  Nobody cares more than he does and nobody takes more responsibility for his play than he does.  He's a great presence in that clubhouse.  The play he made in Texas epitomizes this guy's approach all the time, even in the clubhouse and everywhere.  What you see on the field with the grit is what this guy is about.  He's a no-excuse guy.  In the end, I'm glad he's on this team and I'm looking forward to what he does next year.  

Blez:  We had an interesting discussion on AN for a while about Eric Walker and the book he wrote called The Sinister First Baseman.

Beane:  I don't think I've seen that.  Is it new?

Blez:  No, it's much older.

Beane:  Oh, I do think I've read that then.  Eric was a consultant with us here for a number of years.  He was a really fascinating guy with some really interesting stuff.  In fact, he still has a Web site that I go to quite a bit during the season.  Eric had a lot of similar, even though they're different, theories as Bill James through the years.  Certainly different nuances to each guy.  Eric worked with us for a number of years and was a consultant with us.  I loved his stuff and found it fascinating.  He's a very bright man and an interesting guy.  

Blez:  How many of his theories or thoughts were implemented here?

Beane:  You know, there's so much nowadays that's coming from so many different angles.  You get on the Web now and there's so much there.  There are a lot of common threads and tweaks here and there.  To attribute it to one person wouldn't be completely accurate.  Bill James is sort of viewed as the modern-day godfather of the whole analysis way.  And for good reason.  There have been people who've taken that in different directions, but by and large, the core still remains the same.  I haven't seen anything so radical beyond what Bill has written.  I've seen things written, but I don't know if it's that far off from what he's done.

Blez:  When you look at acquire a pitcher like Loaiza, do you take lesser-known stats like batting average on balls in play into account or is the analysis more mainstream like strikeout to walk rate or WHIP?

Beane:  There are a lot of things that come into play.  

Blez:  And with Loaiza, how much do you factor in that big park he pitched in last year?

Beane:  Yeah, but you have ways of creating a neutral ballpark and making it relative.  There are just so many things you can look at.  You weigh a lot of things.  There is the subjective, but there's also the objective.  To say you focus on one specific thing would not be accurate and we don't do that.  We try and get the most information we can and make our decision based on that.

Blez:  I've got to ask you about Bill King.  He passed away this past offseason, leaving a huge void in the franchise.  Do you have any stories to share about Bill or anything that would help people get to know him a little bit better?

Beane:  It's still surreal for me.  The timing of it was such that we're not really all going to miss him until we hear that first game.  And then I think we're all going to have a relapse of how great he was at what he did.  I think, and people who've been close to Bill will tell you this and I've been around him for close to 18 years, the one thing was how smart he was.  He truly was a renaissance man.  You could converse with him on so many subjects beyond baseball.  He was a walking history of basketball, baseball, football.  But to only talk to him about that stuff was to not take advantage of the depth of knowledge he had.  He loved art.  He loved restaurants.  Even Russian history.  I was talking to him about Russian history on a plane ride back, and Russian authors like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.  He was just such a well-rounded guy when it came to his interests.  To only talk sports with him, would be only seeing a small portion of him.  He really was a renaissance man and a fascinating, fascinating guy.  I don't listen to a lot of games on the radio, but I never got tired of hearing Bill's voice.  I think we'll all have a little bit of a relapse when the season rolls around.  

Blez:  You were talking about not listening to games on the radio.  There was a big part in Moneyball about how you deal with games.  How has that changed and evolved?  I see you at a lot more games.

Beane:  Quite frankly, the older you get, the mellower you get to the whole thing.  So I probably see far more games than people would suspect.  At home, I see them all.  When they're on the road, I sometimes turn over to watch someone else's game just as a matter of keeping my mind off of it.  The season is so long that you try to not wrap yourself up in individual games and make decisions based on individual games.

Blez:  That's hard to do with some of the fans on the Internet.

Beane:  True.  But I've learned that there are peaks and valleys to the season.  The purpose of not seeing every inning live and every pitch live is to sort of lend some balance to your evaluation and decision.  I don't want to sound old, but when you've gone through as many seasons as I have, to sit on every pitch or at-bat is not a great way to make decisions.  It's also not a great way to stay sane either.

Blez:  Or help the family life much.

Beane:  The great thing is that it does allow you to separate yourself a bit.  I find myself with diversions when the team is on the East Coast.  It's hard for me to sit there and watch us going into Fenway Park.  It's such a crazy ballpark and they're such a great team.  And at the start of a three or four game series there and emotionally, it isn't the easiest thing to watch.  We all sat in this office and watched two games back-to-back in May last year where two identical home runs were hit against us.  You try to spare yourself those moments.  And if you end up hitting a home run, you can always watch it on ESPN later and get just as excited.

Blez:  Something I've always wanted to talk you about and I've never had a chance to bring up was music.  I know it's one of your big passions.

Beane:  My brother is a musician.  Not professionally.  He's a contractor by trade, but he taught himself guitar.  He taught himself how to play.  I took lessons as a kid and when I left mine at home to go play ball, he just picked it up and like every horror story, figured it out on his own.

Blez:  Did he play punk or what?

Beane:  He sort of evolved as musician.  He played alternative when he was playing in bands.  

Blez:  You mean like 90's alternative, like Soundgarden and that kind of stuff?

Beane:  Yeah, that kind of stuff.  He's run the whole scene.  He did the REM stage and the INXS stage.  What he actually loves to play from a pure playing standpoint is the blues.  Stevie Ray Vaughan and stuff like that.  He eventually gravitated toward a passion for the blues.  I haven't gotten to that point.  I have an appreciation for it.  But my dad was into it.  And my dad was in the military and the one thing military kids had was great stereo systems from overseas.  So, by the time I was 12, I was already burned out on the Led Zeppelin stage.  I'd already been there, done that.  So when the Ramones hit the scene in 75 because the Ramones were a little before the Pistols.  When they came out, they were a new and fresh sound.  And as a kid I was always into the 60's sound.  I really liked a lot of the surf music like Dick Dale when I was young.  The 60's sound and not so much the psychedelia era.   Then when punk came out it was back to the three-minute song and I was into the Ramones and the Pistols and I'd seen the Clash in high school.  The Pistols never made it to San Diego, they decided to break up at Winterland.  It just sort of evolved to a cutting edge alternative.  The great thing about this job is the contacts you have.  You know Rancid?  Lars Frederikson is a huge A's fan.  I'm very good friends with Ken Casey from the Dropkick Murphys.  We saw them about a month ago.  He's a huge Sox fan and I usually get him tickets when we're out there and my daughter is a big fan.  It's just something that's come in the family.

Blez:  Do you like any more modern music?

Beane:  Oh yeah.  Although no one will really consider this modern, but I'm quite a big Oasis fan even though they've been around for quite a while now.  What people sort of consider retro, doesn't seem retro.  I go back to the Stone Roses and Happy Mondays.  But as far as current stuff, when the Libertines were playing, I liked some of their stuff.  A band called Futureheads, some of their stuff.  (My) Chemical Romance.  A friend of mine works for Warner Brothers and they have Chemical Romance.  I like some of the bands when they were coming out like Green Day.  I saw Green Day here in San Francisco.  They weren't as big as they are now, but they've been around for over a decade.  The Raveonettes are good one I really like.  They're from Europe.  I love their sound.  I really like their sound.  I'm trying to think of the most recent concerts I've been to.

Blez:  Have you ever seen Tool?

Beane:  I haven't.

Blez:  Best band I've ever seen live.

Beane:  That's the thing.  You get a different opinion of a band once you see them perform live.

Blez:  I liked them, but their live show just blew me away.

Beane:  I took my daughter to Snow Patrol and my wife.  In fact, we were playing a game that night, but when my daughter comes into town I'll drop everything.  I snuck over to the Warfield and I had a hat on and some flip flops.  Some guy came over to me and said, "Aren't you supposed to be at the game?"  I looked at my daughter Casey and my wife Tara and said sure enough I'm trying to go incognito.  Then I looked over and there's our team photographer who is also supposed to be at the game.  A band that was here while I was at the winter meetings I wanted to see was Echo and the Bunnymen.

Blez:  Great stuff.

Beane:  I was gone for it though.  Social Distortion was also here, but I was gone for that too.  My family has always just been into music.

Blez:  You have one brother?

Beane:  One brother and a sister.

Blez:  Is the sister older or younger?

Beane:  The middle sister.

Blez:  Ah, must've been rough for her to date growing up.

Beane:  Not really.  We were very close in age.  She lives in Alaska.  She's the only sane one.  My brother is a contractor in San Diego.

Blez:  I've always wanted to ask you about it, but I've always been so laser-focused on the baseball stuff, I haven't gotten to it.

Beane:  No problem.  Farhan (Zaidi) is also really into music.  That's what's so great about our front office is that it has always been such a fraternal group.  We all went to Oasis.  Whenever Oasis comes, I go.  I saw them in Berkeley and over at Shoreline.  

Blez:  Have you gone iPod yet?

Beane:  Yeah, pretty much entirely.  I have hundreds of CDs and my wife has insisted that I get rid of them.

Blez:  Do you like any poppy punk like Blink 182?

Beane:  Oh yeah, All-American Rejects, Less Than Jake.  I do enjoy it.  It did all start to blend into one.  My daughter would make these mix CDs and she controls the radio in the car.  A song would come on and I would say, "Is this Less Than Jake or is this Sum 41?"  And she'd say no, so I kind of think they're all now starting to sound alike.  

Blez:  The All-American Rejects are great.  My daughter just loves it.  It's one of the only CDs I put in the car that will just have her transfixed.  The Move Along album is great.

Beane:  That's my claim to fame with my daughter is that we like the same music.  I always bring it up whenever she says I'm too strict.  I just say, listen to the music I have you listen to.

Blez:  Thanks so much for all of your time, Billy.

Beane:  No problem.  It was my pleasure.

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