Beane's and Geren's friendship gets mentioned a lot on AN. It comes up frequently in game threads and game recap discussion -- especially on days when the A's lose -- but for all the mentions, there's very little real discussion. I think the topic warrants serious thought, and not just the unwarranted assumptions and snide remarks I see in the game threads.For starters, some background information is in order. Everyone knows that Bob Geren was Billy Beane's "best man", but no one seems to know quite when the wedding was or how it aligned with Geren's career. I'd love to provide all the details, but unfortunately my own information is incomplete. I'll fill in what I can, and if anyone out there knows better, I hope you'll enlighten the rest of us.
This article from 2006 says that Geren and Beane were both high school baseball stars at the same time in San Diego. The article also specifies that they weren't friends at the time, though I haven't found another source that specifies exactly when they did become friends.
Geren was a first-round draft pick out of high school in 1979. Beane was selected in the 1980 draft, but he fell to the lower rounds because it was widely assumed he'd choose to attend college. (Stanford was actively recruiting Beane for football, envisioning him as the quarterback who would succeed John Elway when he graduated two years later.) The Mets took a flyer on Beane in the 23rd round and lucked out when Beane decided to skip college and sign after all.
Both Geren and Beane had lackluster careers as players. Geren toiled in the minor leagues for a decade before finally making the show in 1988. Beane, on the other hand, flamed out early, and his final season was 1989. Beane's and Geren's playing careers thus overlapped for only two years, and they didn't play for the same team. (Beane spent time with the Mets, Twins, Tigers, and A's; Geren played for the Yankees and the Padres.)
In 1994, Beane joined the A's as assistant GM under Sandy Alderson and would go on to succeed him as GM in 1988. Geren retired from playing after the 1993 season. In 1995 he got his start as a manager in the Red Sox farm system. Geren was a protegé of Bob Schaefer (whom he would later appoint as bench coach for his first year managing the A's), so when Schaefer left the Red Sox after the 1998 season, Geren was cleaned out with him.
At the start of 2000 Beane needed to hire a manager for his AAA affiliate. Under new ownership the team had relocated from Vancouver to Sacramento renaming itself the River Cats. Geren had a good record in the lower minors for the Red Sox, which presumably made him a plausible candidate. At the same time, their shared history no doubt helped put his name on Billy Beane's radar. Even aside from friends, when selecting players Beane has a history of being particularly attuned to guys from Southern California, and most especially San Diego (or Fullerton).
I wish I had a better sense of exactly how close Beane and Geren were at this time. Following their career paths, I don't see any time they could have been in the same city before 1999. Undoubtedly they were aware of each other and had contact through being in the same business, but it doesn't seem like there was any opportunity for them to become close before that. This is just speculation, but based on the facts I've seen, I'd say the most plausible scenario is that they had some friendly contact prior to this, which helped put Geren to the top of the list for the River Cats job, but then it was only after that hiring, when they were in close proximity and working more closely together that they truly became good friends.
Billy Beane's first marriage was some time in the 1980s. He has a daughter from that marriage who I believe is now in her early 20s. I assume that the wedding where Geren served as best man must have been the one between Billy and his current wife Tara. I can't find any record of when that was, but I have a vague recollection of it being background news some time when I was aware of Beane as the A's GM, in which case it must have been some time after 2000. (If anyone out there remembers when the wedding was, please mention it in the comments.)
Geren managed the River Cats for three seasons, 2000-2002, and had a very good record. Between the latter two years he also managed the Licey Tigres in the Dominican winter league, winning the league championship that year (the same year when Eric Byrnes was the MVP). After that he moved onto the coaching staff in Oakland, rotating through various positions.
One thing that has bothered me a lot in the game threads is the assertion without evidence that Beane's decision to hire Geren in 2007, and more importantly his lack of decision to fire him in 2009, is due primarily or entirely to their friendship. In his "Dear Billy Beane" letter last weekend, Nico called the friendship a "built-in problem" in that if Geren "didn't turn out to be good at his job it would create an awkward situation". Many many others have echoed the idea that the friendship is an obstacle to Geren being fired. Some take that several steps further and insinuate that Beane knows that Geren should be fired but refuses to do it out of personal loyalty to his friend.
One of saner comments on this topic came from ohtobe21likehuston in one of the game threads. He said:
I always tell my friends that I will hire them but they should be ready for me to expect a much stronger effort than I do from other employees because of our friendship.This is exactly right. Anyone who has ever been involved in hiring knows that when you get a friend a job you have to be careful. You have to plan for the possibility that some day you might be involved in your friend losing that job. Business is business and friendship is friendship, so if you want to make sure that one isn't going to ruin the other, you need to talk about it ahead of time and make sure everyone understands. Yes, you want to help out your friend and give him a chance, but at the same time he needs to know that it's his responsibility to prove himself, and he can't expect your friendship to make you back him up when his own work record doesn't. More important, you need to know that if a situation like that does come up, you'll both see it as just business and won't let it ruin the friendship. If you don't have that kind of understanding going in, then you don't hire him in the first place.
This is really pretty basic. So basic that it borders on absurd to assume that any successful business person would somehow neglect to have such a discussion. And yet that's exactly what is implied by Nico's remark about an "awkward situation", not to mention some of the nastier comments.
Does anyone really believe that Beane and Geren didn't consider this when Geren interviewed for the manager's position in fall of 2006? There is little job security in baseball. Even more than in most businesses, if you don't produce, you get sacked. Geren had been managing for six years and playing for 14 years before that. Beane's experience is similar. Both of them have taken part in scores of discussions that go, "nothing personal, but you're not getting the job done, so we're gonna have to let you go," and from both sides of the desk even. They know that's how it goes in baseball.
Of course they are aware of this, and of course they discussed it prior to Geren's hiring. Indeed, they probably discussed it before he was hired for the River Cats, too. Sometimes the right business decision is to give the manager the ax. The possibility always exists that that situation is going to come up for Geren. If Geren is your friend, before you hire him, you make sure that he understands this, so that if you do have to fire him, it doesn't ruin your friendship.
If you want to argue that the team is in a rut, that Geren is part of the problem, and that he therefore needs to be fired, have at it. I would even agree with that argument. (Although I'm not as adamant as many here, and I don't think I have any special insight that Billy Beane lacks, based on what I do know, I would like to see Geren fired and I think it would be good for the team.) If you want to further argue that it's Beane's job as GM to see that Geren needs to be fired, and by failing to actually fire him, Beane is failing at his job, go ahead and make that argument, too.
But unless you're prepared to back it up, don't imply or insinuate that the reason Geren got the job is because he's Billy's "best man" or that the reason Beane hasn't fired Geren yet is he's afraid of losing a friend, because first of all that's probably not true, second you have no way of knowing whether it's true, and third even if it is true, it doesn't matter. If Geren is doing a crappy job as a manager, he's just as crappy whether he's Billy's friend or not. If Beane is failing as a GM because he won't fire Geren, he is failing regardless of whether his reason for not firing has anything to do with the friendship.