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The Big Three Get the Book Treatment

Moneyball was a revelation in chronicling the behind-the-scenes reality of the Oakland Athletics upper management, and to an extent the personality and drive of Billy Beane. If Beane is the number one reason the A's have been ultra-competitive over the past four years, there is no denying that a close second place on that list is The Big Three of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito.

Well, thanks to MLB.com Athletics beat writer Mychael Urban, The Big Three are about to become stars of their own book.

The following is a description of the book from the book's publisher, John Wiley & Sons:

"Next spring we will be publishing Mychael Urban's book ACES, which will chronicle the A's 2004 season through the eyes and minds of the Big Three to explore their varying approaches to the craft of pitching. Billy Beane will write a foreword.

Zito, Mulder and Hudson are three of the best pitchers in baseball and the real key to the team's continual success. In the vein of Roger Angell's A Pitcher's Story and Roger Kahn's The Head Game, Urban, who covers the A's for MLB.com, will follow them through the 2004 season (potentially a championship season) and show the craft of pitching from inside their three very different minds. We'll see the thought processes behind the pitchers' most significant games. We'll also see the game through the eyes of their catcher and pitching coach, as well as their former catcher. And we'll see what their lives are like in the locker room and off the field, as three very different men approach the same incredible task."

So, Athletics Nation recently had the chance to ask Mychael some questions about his upcoming book ACES, life around The Big Three and general questions about the A's beat coverage.

Below are those question and answers. We hope to check in with Urban along the way on his progress. I know I can't wait to get a hold of a copy.

Athletics Nation (AN): Where did the idea for the book ACES originate? Was it a tough sell to book publishers or did the success of Moneyball help facilitate the process?

Urban: I have to give credit where it's due. I was thinking of writing a biography about Barry Zito a couple of years ago when Josh Suchon, who wrote a book about Barry Bonds' 2002 home-run chase titled "This Gracious Season" and is now covering the A's for the Oakland Tribune, suggested that a book on The Big Three might make more sense. The more I thought about how different the three guys are personally and how similar their career arcs have been, the more I realized how right Josh was, and I'll forever be thankful for his advice. There will be a time when a book on Z alone makes sense, and I hope to be the one to write it, but he's too young to be the subject of a book on his life at age 25. ... As far as the book being a tough sell, that's a tough question to answer because my agent handled that end of it. I'm just grateful that my publisher, Wiley and Sons, which published my favorite baseball book of all-time ("Ball Four" by Jim Bouton), recognized that The Big Three have national apeal. Nobody doubts that the book will succeed among A's fans, but Wiley saw that if it's done right, it can appeal to baseball fans everywhere. ... Did the success of "Moneyball" help sell my book? I have to believe that it did, if only because it put the A's in the national spotlight. And the fact that the subject of the book, Billy Beane, is going to write the foreword to mine certainly didn't hurt.

AN: What made you decide that the 2004 season was the season to chronicle the Big Three's year?

Urban: That was the idea of my editor at Wiley, Stephen Power. I hesitated at first, but I wanted to work with Wiley so badly that it took me about eight seconds to change my mind. It's a great idea, really, because this is such an intriguing year for the A's and their aces. From the loss of Miguel Tejada and the Eric Chavez signing, which might affect the future of the aces in Oakland, to the addition of a new pitching coach and new catcher, to the sense of urgency about getting back to the postseason and getting that first-round monkey off their backs, it's going to be fascinating.

AN: How much have the pitchers changed in the time that you've known them, both personally and as pitchers?

Urban: They changed in very subtle ways. They're all very consistent personality-wise, but Z is always looking to expand his horizons, so he's probably changed the most. Daily, it sometimes seems. Professionally, the biggest changes I've seen are in the way Mark and Barry handle the media. I think Z is tiring of all the attention he gets for things not related to baseball, and I think Mark is making more of an effort to be himself in front of reporters. Huddy has become more vocal among his teammates, and thus more of a leader, and I think fatherhood has forced him to take life a little more seriously than he might have earlier in his career.

AN: Do you have the book outlined right now? Or is it something you're going to let play out in front of you? How much are you going to delve into the pitcher's mind in big situations?

Urban: There is an outline, but the season will dictate much of what's written in the book. That said, there are some elements you can count on, such as a look at how each guy was raised, what they do in the offseason and away from the field, and what they think about each other and the future of the A's. ... As for delving into their minds in big situations, yes, that will be a significant part of the book. Ideally, it will be a combination of a three-headed biography and a study of the art of pitching from three very different perspectives.

AN: Have you asked them how they feel about the switch to pitching coach Curt Young and having a new catcher in Damian Miller?

Urban: I have, but not to the extent that I will. I kind of lucked into two things with this year's team. One is that Curt is so different than Rick Peterson, and the other is that Damian has a wealth of experience catching All-Star pitchers. They'll both be featured in their own chapters, in fact, with plenty of input from the aces.

AN: Will the book take us into the pitcher's personal lives or remain strictly as an on-the-field view?

Urban: Their personal lives -- and personalities -- are what I think makes their story so interesting, so yes, that will be a big part of it. That's why I think the book will appeal to both kinds of fans. The seamheads will get into the pitching aspect of it, and the casual fans will love being taken places with the aces that they wouldn't be able to otherwise go.

AN: Who has the best sense of humor of the three? Have any of them played any practical jokes on you or have you been present for any?

Urban: They're all very funny guys in different ways. Huddy has the sharpest wit, Z sees humor in the strangest places, and Mark has a big-brotherish quality that finds a weakness in someone and good-naturedly exploits it. I haven't been the subject of any of their practical jokes, and most of them take place behind closed doors, but I do know of a few hilarious episodes that will definitely be detailed somewhere in the book.

AN: Since you've been around other major league teams, talk about what it's like to be around our Oakland Athletics on a daily basis compared to other MLB teams. What are they like when they let their guard down?

Urban: The A's are an amazingly easy team to cover. Billy Beane has a knack for bringing in great guys with very little ego. There are a few other teams that I really enjoy dealing with -- the Twins, Angels and Devil Rays jump immediately to mind -- but the A's are the best. They're real people, if you know what I mean, and they genuinely seem to understand how lucky they are to be playing a child's game for very grown-up money. It's been a pleasure dealing with them, and I can't thank the aces enough for the access they've given me to get this book done.

AN: And lastly, since you know Barry, have you asked him why on earth he would consider that Bachelor show?

Urban: I don't think he ever seriously considered it, despite what he's said. I think he was just being polite. It makes sense for Jesse Palmer to do, because the show could turn him into a star. Z's already a star, and like I said, tiring of it a tad.

MYCHAEL URBAN'S BIO:

Urban has been a sportswriter since 1991, shortly after graduating from the University of San Francisco, where he was a lefty relief pitcher on the baseball team. He worked for several newspapers before moving over to the Internet, and was a writer/editor for NBCOlympics.com, NBC's golf.com and the NCAA's FinalFour.net before joining MLB.com as the A's beat writer in 2001. Mychael covered the A's exclusively in 2001 and 2002, then moved into a national role for 2003 and returned to the A's beat for this season.