The Billy Beane I Know: The Man Behind the Moneyball Myth

I'm sure it won't be news to any of you that I loved the movie Moneyball. It's a pretty loose adaptation of Michael Lewis' book that was, in part, responsible for me starting blog (and thus SB Nation) back in 2003. And yet it also captures a Billy Beane that I've had the distinct pleasure of getting to know.

What I enjoyed about the movie more than anything else is that it paints a picture of Billy beyond the stereotype that many have come to know, in part, because of Lewis' book. Mention Beane to an A's fan and often times, you get people talking about the hyper-competitive guy who throws chairs, has little respect for managers and doesn't care for old school scouts. But I've come to know Beane well outside the confines of that image, thanks to Billy's reaction to my fledgling site six years ago.

I've been interviewed often about SB Nation and how it grew into this huge force for change in the online sports space. I usually give credit where it is due and say, "It's two things, technology and caring for quality." We wanted to have technology that brought the fan's voice to the forefront (at the time it was the Scoop platform which allowed for diaries - now called Fanposts) and it was important to find the best talent to lead these communities so that a powerful voice was helping captain the ship of informed and intelligent fans. Thankfully there were people like Grant Brisbee, Jeff Sullivan and Al Yellon out there to jump on board and buy into the grand vision of a new sports media. And we've also since added some of the greatest tech minds in the industry to take our platform to entirely new heights.

But one person who was also watching closely was Billy Beane and he became a big reason for SB Nation's success too. Yeah, that same guy who wound up being the subject of a book and a major motion picture. He was watching so closely that I remember he called me on my cell phone when my nephew Ben was visiting us and I missed the call. We were on a ferry over to visit Alcatraz with Ben when I realized I had a message from the 510 area code. I listened and nearly dropped my phone when I heard the message from Beane. Billy had become a mythical figure to me at that point. I'd read Moneyball. I loved the A's and he was the one who was going to keep my franchise competitive despite the competitive inequalities in baseball. I remember playing the voicemail for Ben and being barely able to contain my excitement. Ben, as many of you know, passed away in 2010 at the age of 20 but he was so very excited for me to the point that he read AN on a daily basis despite never being an A's fan.

It was partially that moment that connected me emotionally with Billy. I obviously didn't realize it at the time, but that's one of my fondest and most lasting memories of my nephew. I knew how special he was already but just seeing how happy he was for me made me realize that he wasn't a typical apathetic teenager.

The first interview with Billy was in Sacramento as Beane had come to watch the Rivercats in person. I met with him in the home team's dugout. Before we sat down, he told me, "Tyler, I really only have about 20 minutes to talk." I made sure I came prepared with at least an hour's worth of questions just to make sure that we had everything covered. Once we sat down, the discussion was free and easy and went on for close to an hour and a half. I struck a fantastic rapport with him almost immediately. My belief is that he knew my approach to covering the team was different than any media he'd ever dealt with before. I was an A's fan so my coverage would always be biased. More than that, I'd become a huge Beane fan so I would always make the assumption that whatever he did, he had a very specific reason for doing it. I wanted to understand what that reason was, rather than jumping to the conclusion that Beane was an idiot for making any given move.

As the years have passed, Beane and I have conducted about 10 lengthy interviews. Each time, I've grown a little bit closer to the man behind the Moneyball myth. One thing about Billy is that despite how busy he is, he always carves out a big chunk of time for me. And before the recorder is going and after it stops, we always sit and discuss our families, life, soccer, politics and music. In essence, my fandom for the A's has completely changed because of the relationship I've developed with Beane. My friendship with Beane has, at times, made it tough for me to participate at AN because I can only view things through his prism. This is a man who has offered me advice on raising children, running a business and handling relationships. He visited not one, but two AN Days at the Coliseum and took questions from the audience. I know this isn't something he does for everyone.

And that's what brings me back to the movie Moneyball. The reason I loved it was because that passion illustrated in the film is the man that I've come to know over the years. Sure he's the guy that loves winning so much he'll kill office furniture to try and get it done. But he's also that caring, loving father you see in the movie. He's also a dedicated friend who helped establish Athletics Nation as a dominant force in the baseball blogosphere. He helped lay the foundation upon which the rest of SB Nation would be built by validating this new media approach to sports: that wearing your heart on your sleeve was not only acceptable, but was to be embraced by intelligent, innovative personalities in sports management.

Not only did Billy help SB Nation become the media giant it is today, but in the process, he became someone I would call a friend.  Thus my fandom for the A's is now in large part because I want to see my friend win that championship and get that elusive ring. Sure I still bleed the green and gold that I did back on November 6, 2003 when I started this blog but it's become much more personal for me, so personal that I can't be rational about it. I guess that's why it's a good thing that Nico, Christy and the rest of the front page crew guide this ship now. Despite all the factual inaccuracies and bending of the truth of the Moneyball movie, one thing they nailed was the Billy Beane I know, and hopefully more than a few people have also become fans of the man behind the Moneyball myth.

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