Oakland A's GM Billy Beane, Post-Moneyball, Visits Athletics Nation - Part II

Yesterday was the first part of the Billy Beane exclusive for Athletics Nation. Today you get part 2 where Billy delves into Moneyball, the minor league system and where he actually was for that mammoth 20th consecutive win.

Remember the conclusion hits Friday morning. 

Tyler Bleszinski:  If you were to grade each aspect of the team in 2011, how would they do - from bullpen to starting pitching, from the offense to the defense?

Billy Beane:  Oh heavens Tyler, you don't expect me to answer that? That's what the pundits do at the end of the year, there's no sense in us chiming in. I think the sum of the parts, for some of the reasons we talked about earlier, wasn't what anyone would have wanted it to be. But if you look at individual performances, some have been what you would have hoped or expected. Just talking about some of the individuals, a guy like Josh Willingham, as we stand now 28 homers (29 now), close to 100 RBIs, I think that was certainly as much or more than we expected when we brought him over here. Brandon McCarthy has been a real find for us as he's been outstanding. I think Grant Balfour has been outstanding. He's done everything we've expected him to do after Brian (Fuentes) had a tough go there for a couple of weeks, but he sort of settled down and pitched very well. So the sum didn't work; some individual parts exceeded expectations. Understand that there were some significant changes when you look at Daric's year, not only the start he had but missing the rest of the year due to the injury. And Jemile (Weeks) coming up, I'm pleasantly surprised and while we all recognized his talent, I'm pleasantly surprised at how quickly he's adapted from an offensive standpoint. He truly has a chance to be a very, very exciting player in this league and for him to be doing what he's doing when I think that everybody expected him to spend the whole year at Triple-A, has been a very, very pleasant surprise. You know Sizemore wasn't exactly an expected acquire, but we were happy to get him and he's made the transition to third and still going through the growing pains, essentially his rookie year playing every day. But I think there is some hope there. But at the risk of going on about every single guy, I think that there have been some individual things that have been very good and as expected, but the sum of the parts because of some reason or another didn't work.

TB:  You seem to have an ability, and I don't know whether it's strictly you or the organization as a whole, but regardless of how, the A's have an ability and maybe it's the ballpark that you guys pitch in, as well, but you seem to have an ability to put together a quality young pitching staff and bring in guys that are quality. Why do you think you guys have been able to be successful in repeatedly seemingly re-stocking great starting pitching? I mean you lose Hudson, Mulder, Zito, and now you've got an assortment of Cahill, Anderson, Gio, Dallas, you seem to be able to replenish that much more easily than the bats have been able to come. Why do you think you guys are so good at identifying starting pitching and getting them in there?

BB:  If you do this job long enough, you end up being good at one thing and bad at another, and then it flip flops. When I first took this job, and I've said this many times, we hadn't developed a starting pitcher since Curt Young, so I do think you do run through some streaks in the organization. One of the things we realized with pitching - it sounds redundant - is you can never have too much pitching, but it's actually true. And we've lost some guys through injury; some of our best prospects have fallen to injury, significant injury. Certainly Brett and Dallas, but if you go down to the minor leagues, our best pitching prospects, Josh Outman we lost for a year, Joey Devine we lost for a year, Michael Inoa we lost for a year, as well. Even though we have some good ones, we should have more. And we didn't lose them for a month or two. But as to why we've had more pitching than another aspect of the team, some of it is just that we did focus on pitching when we made some trades because we realized that in this marketplace, you're going to have to draft or trade for it. But the idea that you're going to bring in a sort of veteran free-agent pitchers to put together a competitive staff is just probably not going to happen. You look at the small market teams that have had success; they've all built their pitching internally. Tampa Bay is a very recent example of that. Once again, I think it's in streaks. We focused on position players in the first round the last couple of years, save for this year when we took Sonny Gray, who we thought was the best player on the board. We feel very good about the progress of Grant (Green), Michael Choice and Jemile Weeks.

TB:  How do you feel about the (minor league) system right now?

BB:  There are some individuals that I think are good. I do believe injuries have had an impact. There are some very, very good pitching prospects we lost for a long time. The good thing is that they are a year off surgery so they should have an impact soon. We saw Josh come back this year after two years and I think he's just now getting his feet underneath him and he's starting to pitch like he did before he was hurt. Once again, you add those guys to the system. Michael Choice had a phenomenal year, I think we're all very, very pleased with what he did. Listen, I don't think we're at the spot we probably would like to be and we're probably not in a spot that's going to be able to sustain creating a group of players that are going to put you in a division race within the next year or two. We still have a long way to go is the quickest way of saying it.

TB:  How do you feel about 2012 right now? Especially with the offense - I mean, the pitching seems like it's going to be there again in 2012 outside of missing a talent like Brett Anderson for probably, well, who knows at this point? I don't want to speculate. But how do you feel about the year, because the pitching should still be there? How challenging will it be for you to get an offense to support the pitching?

BB:  We know how challenging it would be because we've tried it in years past to attract players and it's not just the compensation, its other factors involved as well. So, I think the answer we need to get in terms of where we're going will dictate what direction we go to. If I look at the teams in the division, Texas is very, very good and it's no surprise to be honest with you because they have spent a long time investing in their infrastructure going back six or seven years ago, where they bit the bullet and invested in Latin America significantly, invested in the draft at a higher rate than the rest of us. And right now, you're seeing the results of that. So, if we're ultimately going to compete with them on a year-by-year basis, we're going to have to do the same. And that means continuing - which we've done at a higher rate, but probably not the rate we need to - investing internationally. It means investing more money in the draft because that's where we're going to create a team that has a chance to win year after year, as opposed to putting something together that when one domino falls, the rest fall as well.  In the early part of the decade, we could lose a guy due to an injury because there was so much talent around, and it was young talent that was going to be there year after year. We're not in that position now. I think, to get to that position, we're going to have to invest in those areas as opposed to investing in major league free agents who are going to be here a year or two at the age of 30 something. But if you're standing at one spot you might take a different approach. If you're staying here, then you might take it year by year and do things differently. Which is it's so critical to get a decision as to what we're going to be doing here in the next couple of years.

TB:  It sounds like from what you're saying and somebody wrote this - I forget where, it was maybe the Mercury News - but somebody basically said that if you guys decide to go to San Jose, that the decision has already been made, and I don't know whether he had inside information from you or what...

BB:  I'm not really big on sourcing, Tyler. But one thing about us is that we have a pretty tight-lipped group. The source thing usually isn't accurate.

TB:  He speculated that if you guys get the decision that you're going to move to San Jose, you will immediately basically have a fire sale, get rid of all your more expensive talent and build toward 2015, or whenever it is, but if you're staying in Oakland you're obviously going to try to be competitive year to year until you guys can get a stadium there. Does that seem like an accurate representation?

BB:  Yeah, although probably a little dramatic on the fire sale part. But once again, probably the simplest way I can put it is if you're going down South, you're certainly going to take a different approach than if you're staying here. Once again, I think it's important for us to get a decision because until we do, it doesn't make much sense to commit either way.

TB:  You've probably have never been in the news as much as you have this month. You obviously have Moneyball out, so there's a whole new audience of people that have probably never heard of you before that are going to suddenly learn who Billy Beane is. There also happens to be a lot of rumors right now that you're the frontrunner to become the new general manager for the Chicago Cubs. Is it a little strange for you to be kind of thrust into the national spotlight this way?

BB:  Well, that's the good thing about not reading the news a lot, as this is all news to me. Every GM in all 30 markets, you're in a public position so it's not like it is completely overwhelming or completely foreign to me. But certainly when you combine the movie recently - it certainly puts everything at a higher level. But I think at some point that will subside and sort of go onto the next thing. It wasn't like it just came out of nowhere. So I think myself and everybody around me has had some time to adjust and kind of get used to it. I certainly have gotten some calls and emails from some people that I wouldn't have expected.

TB:  Such as?

BB:  No one individual. Maybe it's just the numbers is probably a better way of saying it.

TB:  There's nobody that would blow you away and would say, "Wow, I wouldn't have expected to hear from this person?"

BB:  Let me think...

TB:  I guess when you're hanging out with Brad Pitt and Tony Blair, probably nobody can blow you away.

BB:  Well, I sort of personally have never been really star struck in a sense that way. I sort of take everyone and everything at face value. So I never really get star struck. I think it's more the number, and people I haven't heard from in years, in a good way. Friends that maybe I grew up with when I was very young or people I played with in the minor leagues, things like that.

TB:  What did you think of the movie?

BB:  It's a little surreal as you can imagine (Editor's note - No, no I can not imagine). I've seen it enough times so that I was de-sensitized and I think as I told Brad, "Hey, if it wasn't about me I would love it!" It was entertaining, but once again when you're watching a Brad Pitt movie and then you hear your name, it kind of snaps you back. I've seen so many different cuts and ultimately seen the final cut so many times that I was able to look at it as it was, which is a movie. And I think the best people around me, including people like yourself, and people who have seen it since it has come out have all seemed to enjoy it and that's a good thing.

TB:  Obviously they took quite a few creative liberties with certain things. Is anything true to life like in the backroom interactions that you see? I'm thinking particularly of the scenes between you and Art Howe. In many people's opinion, Art didn't get a really good representation in the movie. But how true to life were some of those interactions?

BB:  Well, anticipating this question from the very beginning, my response has always been - the parts you liked were true and the parts you didn't like were not true (laughs). The fact of the matter is that it's a movie, you know. It is a movie produced by somebody, directed by somebody, written by somebody, edited by somebody and that somebody wasn't me. But it's a movie. And so if you look at it through the lens of a movie, certainly the term "based on a true story" gives it some attempt at truth, but also remember the word "based." To go over it point-by-point, I don't really see the need nor would I have the time to do that.

TB:  I'm not asking you to do that.

BB:  No, I know and I'm not saying that you're asking. I sort of knew that it would be like pushing a boulder up a hill. You have to recognize that it was a movie based upon a non-fiction book.

TB:  I think it was a tough job turning that into a movie. Michael's book to me didn't tend to lend itself to a movie, but I think they did an excellent job obviously fictionalizing some things. Just curious trying to figure out if anything that happened in the back rooms was kind of like something that was portrayed. I mean, can you at least answer that? Was anything that happened in the back room accurate?

BB:  You answer one, you answer all. I think if anything, they captured the environment, I think is the best way to say it.

TB:  The mentality?

BB:  Yeah. I'm not sure that would be the right word, but the feel of the movie, the feel of the clubhouse, the feel of the meetings, the feel of the conversations you have, is probably the most general way I could say it. I thought they did a good job of doing that. And listen, they're making a movie and I thought they did a good job of taking the subject matter that you mentioned and turning it into something that was entertaining and thoughtful.

TB: Did you get emotional at all watching it? Particularly the 20th win...

BB:  Yes. The first time I saw it, it was very nostalgic and the 20th win - I actually enjoyed the movie version more than the real life version. It wasn't nearly as enjoyable in real life because of the way the Angels were playing. We NEEDED to win every game. So in a sense, I don't think that any of us who were here really appreciated what that team had accomplished. So watching it come out again, it's hard to believe a) it happened and b) I finally did get to enjoy it. So that definitely was part of my reaction. I think every time I see it, I never get tired of seeing the father/daughter scenes, just because that was certainly a part of my life at the time and continues to be.

TB:  What did Casey (Beane's daughter) think of it? Just out of curiosity, did she enjoy it?

BB:  Yes, she did actually. She really did. She was off at college, so the first time for her to see it was actually at the premiere and she really enjoyed it and my brother loved it and it passed my mom's test, which was the most difficult. It was a neat environment at the premiere in Oakland. It was really a unique setting to premiere a movie where you have people that have some emotion invested on what's going on in the screen. I think many of the people I heard from, like some of the actors, said it was by far one of the best premieres they've ever been to.

TB:  Oh, that's great.

BB:  Yeah, it's neat. I had never been to one so I didn't really know what to expect.

TB:   You brought your mom and your daughter?

BB:   Yes, Casey and her roommate from college came out, and my brother flew out and my mother was here. There were a lot of friends and there are a number of people you run into that I've known for a long, long time and that I consider friends.

TB:  How many random interview request have you received since the movie came out? What are maybe some of the strangest ones?

BB:  There's been a lot, to say the least. It was difficult for Bob Rose (A's PR director), even leading up to the movie and you had to be a little bit selfish with your time. And there was no way I was going to fulfill all of them, nor did I really have the desire to. As I said long ago, even to Sony when they started making this thing a couple of years ago, listen my priority is my job and so you're just going to have to work around that. As it related to the interviews, I took the same approach. There was no way I was going to be able to do every interview and every request and at some point Bob had to send them to Sony to handle and screen because it was too much for Bob to handle, as well. Hopefully, that will subside; at least as we speak today, today (Monday after the movie came out on Friday) hasn't really been as bad on that front.

TB:  I can imagine...or maybe not.

BB:  Except for this Athletics Nation thing, which I enjoy doing.

TB:  That guy's totally monopolizing your time.

BB:  The thing is that there's a normal kind of cycle and there's normal people you talk to by virtue of the position I have and I have that responsibility. When you have interviews that you're doing that have nothing to do with your job and really nothing to do with the A's, that's when you start to get a little selfish about your time.

TB:  What? You don't want to chat with Access Hollywood?

BB:  They haven't requested, but I did have to take the approach on many of these that if there is no benefit to me in my job or the Oakland A's, then I'm just not going to do it.

TB:  I'm sure you've gotten this question a couple of times - as a matter of fact, I think I saw it in an article that was written in Athletics magazine - but I would certainly like to know how much you think you have evolved since that time period that Moneyball is based on. From what we were discussing earlier, you still seem like you're the hypercompetitive guy who hates losing. So, do you find that with yourself, and how much have you changed since the time frame of the movie?

BB:  Yeah, I would say that I'm probably a little more patient. But I think that's because one thing that I've always recognized is that when you have a very good, talented team then it's very easy to push and drive, because the self-esteem of everybody is very high because they know they're very good. You have to be careful doing that if you don't have a team that's on the same level, you know what I'm saying? At that point, you probably don't help their self-esteem, if that makes any sense. So you have to make sure that you're very careful and you're productive with your own ambitions and the ambitions you have for the team. You have to be careful that the talent level can match those and so you have to adjust accordingly.

TB:  How do you feel about your team now? You mentioned the strength of the team around you and I think that when I interviewed you a while back, I asked you what the best decision you made was and you said, Paul Depodesta. How do you feel about your team now? The people around you now, compared to the time period of the movie?

BB:  Well, I think it's great because in the baseball operations, the same people that were there then are here now. The exception here and there is those that have gotten promotions and things like that outside of the organization. So no, the same people here in many cases have been through the cycle not just once but a couple of times. We've got a group of people in director's positions that were a part of the ‘89 championship team and a part of the run we had at the early part of this decade. I felt good about them then and I feel great about them now. But you know at some point that group, and every business needs to have something to work with and right now I think we're very much hamstrung by what's going on.

TB:  When is the last time you threw a chair or toppled a desk?

BB:  I've never toppled a desk, that I'll tell you. And any object coming from my hand, it's been a long, long time.

TB:  Good to know. Did you have a chance to chat with Paul Depodesta about things and like, I know Peter Brand was mostly kind of...

BB:  A homogenized character.

TB:  Yeah, really truly not Paul.

BB:  No, it was more of a homogenized character of a type that was coming into the game at that point. But yeah, I talked to Paul, you know we keep in touch; he's with the Mets now. He had just seen the movie for the first time last week and he's been traveling a lot. His new duties require him to do a lot of traveling. He's been commuting back and forth to San Diego, and I don't get to talk to him nearly as much as I used to because of his schedule, but we certainly keep in touch as I do with J.P. (Ricciardi) He's over there, too.

TB:  Do you guys reminisce about that time?

BB:  We said the same thing: both of us thought that you do kind of forget the caliber of the players that were on that team and in many cases, they're still playing today. Which is a real testament to how good they really were and continue to be for a long, long time. Between Johnny Damon and the other guys who left, I mean you're talking about that era, Damon, Giambi, those guys are still playing today, Hudson, and it's a testament to how good they were and are in some cases. I think we both sort of said the same thing, I don't think any of us enjoyed that 20-game win streak the way you think you would because of how well the Angels were playing. It was nice to see it and be relaxed and it's still hard to believe it turned out the way it turned out when you think of Hatte coming in and hitting that homerun after blowing an 11-0 lead.

TB:  Did you actually leave and then come back like the movie illustrated?

BB:  That was a strange night. You have to remember if you could put a GPS on most games with me, you would see this trail everywhere. That night was so long if you recall.  Here's the interesting thing about my workout: when we were hitting a bunch of homeruns and scoring a bunch of runs, my workout would go to a certain point that I would have plenty of time to get ready. When we started leading the league in pitching in the most recent teams and we didn't score any runs, I would really have to rush to get my workout in. But that game was so long. I remember us being done with my workout about the third or fourth inning and not knowing what to do with myself for five innings as it turned out for a long, long time, so I was in a number of spots. And I remember that the final spot where I actually was in the manager's office because there really is nowhere to go. We have a box we can go to but it's not really easy to get to, you have to go through the stands and everything. I don't remember where I was when the game finished to be honest with you, but I remember spending a large portion of the time in the manager's office behind closed doors, just in there watching this whole thing unfold. But when it actually ended, I can't even remember where I was.

TB: Wow.

BB: Yeah, I wasn't really around for the hoopla when we actually won and all this stuff was going on.  I was somewhere. I always try to avoid the hoopla when it's going on anyway.

 

Coming Friday in the thrilling conclusion of this exclusive Athletics Nation interview with Billy Beane: how his job has changed since he became the A's GM, whether the A's will ever get enough offense to support that pitching and what kind of free agent the A's can hope to sign in Oakland (hint - it won't be Pujols).

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