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In Billy We Trust: Billy Beane Visits Athletics Nation Part Two

Yesterday, Billy Beane discussed the current state of the A's.

Here is the second of my three-part interview with Billy Beane:

Blez: How do you feel now about the whole Moneyball controversy? Now that you've had some time to step back and really gain some perspective on what a bomb it became for baseball.

BB: Well, it must've had some serious impact because a year and a half later, some people can't get enough of it.

Blez: Care to name names?

BB: (Laughing) Well, you know when Michael wrote the book it was really a business book. I'm not sure a lot of people really grasped that.

Blez: That was a big part of my conversation with Michael. We were fascinated by how many people misunderstood it.

BB: It was a lot of people in the game. It's threatening to some people. It threatens the foundation of what some people have built their entire knowledge on. For every criticism in the game, there's been three people outside the game who love it. The fact that it's been on the bestseller list and people talk about it a year and a half later, even the critics, it must be their way of admitting that they can't discount it. Because if it has no merits, it becomes like Al Capone's vault. But people still talk about it and them talking about it says that you can't discount it.

Blez: It's good for Michael, too.

BB: Michael's a great writer and he's a friend. I'm going to probably shatter his journalistic integrity at this point, but he's a friend and it's created a lot of opportunities for me outside the game.

Blez: I was going to ask you about that because Michael had mentioned that he felt like the book helped liberate you in some ways from baseball. In a full-circle kind of way, baseball had sucked you in by getting you to sign that first pro contract instead of going to college, but Moneyball worked to free you.

BB: I definitely think there's something to that. I love baseball and I love what I'm doing. I'm proud of it. But I do have other interests and other aspirations. The people that I've met in the last year have been staggering. I couldn't be happier. People outside the industry are constantly trying to get me to distance myself (from the book) but why would I want to? I'm not afraid of a few critics. Particularly, the people that I respect and that I consider very intelligent really understand it and really grasp it. It's been a great experience and Michael is right. It's liberated me. When you are a business executive, whether in baseball or anything else, but particularly in sports where people make decisions based on a small portion of what the media think, if you no longer care what they say, at that point you're making sound decisions and unemotional decisions. Not based on what other people think, which is especially the way you want to run a business and a franchise.

Blez: How proud are you of what you've created here in Oakland?

BB: Well, that isn't an "I" question, this truly is a we. We've got so much continuity here. We've got the best farm director in the game. Period. Keith Liepmann. He's been here since the 70's. He is unbelievable. The things he's accomplished in implementing the philosophies that we have here in the organization. I've had some incredible assistants. I currently have one in David Forst. The thing I'm personally most responsible for, and I don't want people to sort of point at my ego on this, but it's the one that I'm most proud of, is Paul (DePodesta) down in Los Angeles; J.P. (Ricciardi) is in Toronto and Texas came after Grady (Fuson). To me that's the greatest validation of what you're doing.

Blez: Since you brought him up, let me talk about Paul for a second. Do you ever look at what Paul is doing in L.A. and feel budget-envy?

BB: (Laughing) You know every time he's stuck in traffic and I'm wearing my shorts and bringing the dog to the office, I'm not envious at all. What's interesting is that Paul's and my personality are both the same and different. I'm not uncomfortable in front of the media at all, but I like being in Oakland, I like the small market that I'm in, I like the casualness that comes with it. Paul really enjoys that part of being in Los Angeles. It's sort of counterintuitive if you know us. People always assume that there were certain jobs for me that were my dream jobs, and maybe for him as well, and I think what people thought and what reality is are two different things. I'm very happy in a small market, I don't necessarily like being in a big city and all the things that come with it.

Blez: And that's part of the reason why you decided not to go to Boston.

BB: Yeah, absolutely and my daughter is also here. But for Paul, that's a great job for him, and we still talk every day. If anything, I miss him and J.P. I miss their camaraderie. I miss the things they brought to the table for me. But I also view it as an opportunity. I feel like I've got another future general manager in David. I'm very, very fortunate. People can be critical and say whatever they want, but the one thing I have done is pick some darn good assistants. It's good to see them getting out and getting jobs and it's something I'm very proud of. And that's what Sandy (Alderson) did a great job of.

Blez: When you and Paul have those daily discussions, do you ever kick around the idea of the Dodgers and the A's possibly meeting in the World Series, which would likely make Joe Morgan spontaneously combust?

BB: (Laughing) I'm not sure I'd be there to listen to him spontaneously combust. You know, we haven't talked about it. What's interesting about it is that we truly are great friends. I'll be honest with you, when I'm dealing with Paul, I want to help him out. When I'm dealing with J.P., I want to help him out. When we're playing each other, it's hard to win those games. It truly is. I know J.P. felt like that when we played them in Toronto. The good thing is that we don't play Paul. As far as meeting in the Series, that would be great. Once again, there couldn't be any greater validation for what we do for them to see that. I'd be happy for Paul. He's in his first year as a general manager and he's done a marvelous job. Obviously they are in first place. He's made some great trades and trades that we would've done in Oakland. When I see guys that I'm very close to have success, it makes me feel great for them. It sounds crazy, and you'd want to win that match up, but there wouldn't be any loser. That's the way I look at it.

Blez: How does a team like Oakland continue to stay competitive? The book talks a lot about OBP and my personal perception, and in talking to Michael Lewis, was that the A's have evolved beyond that into defense and other things.

BB: That's what's interesting when you talk about critics. We've never really sat down with any of these guys and explained to them what we're doing. They assumed they know what we're doing, which is great because they're out there blasting on the airwaves and they don't really have a clue what we're doing. But the closest thing I can say is that we're in a finite market and we're always trying to take advantage of <u>any</u> inefficiencies. Right now, you take on-base percentage and it's en vogue. It wasn't 10 years ago. We could get guys like Matt Stairs and Geronimo Berroa.

Blez: And guys like Scott Hatteberg.

BB: Exactly, guys like Scottie Hatteberg. Now people are recognizing the value of that and they're paying for it. And if we're in a bidding war, we're going to lose that. So we have evolved. If you look at some of our first playoff teams, the `99 team that won 87 games, it was a power, on-base team. Now we're tops in the league in defense and pitching. For us, it's all about filling in on the backend and figuring out what people are undervaluing. You know, one day we're going to have a team with guys who steal 50 bases because people aren't paying for it. But it's all about wins. That's all that matters.

Blez: And that was the point of the book.

BB: Yes, <u>we</u> know that, but other people are always trying to point the finger and say, "They do this, they don't do this." We just want to win and whatever somebody gives us, we're going to take. In many cases and over the course of time, it's up to us to discover what people aren't paying for and what they are under and overvaluing. That's really the art for us. The challenge for us in Oakland will be with really smart guys out there running teams, guys like Paul and Theo (Epstein) and J.P., there are some very, very bright guys out there running teams. The challenge will be competing with those guys for the same type of players.

Blez: How would you grade the A's minor league system at this point? You started to change things with the 2002 draft. Do you feel like the guys you've brought into the system since that point have upgraded the organization as a whole?

BB: It might take too long to explain, but we take a lot of college kids which has been well documented, but you take the Sacramento team and it's the youngest team in the league. It seems like, how can that be? The point for us is to get a return on our assets as quickly as possible. We want to take as much risk out of it as possible. The amateur draft certainly isn't a risk-free business. If we're just a little bit better than the next guy, you take the aggregate result of that over a number of years and you could get a big gap. It may be a small gap one year, but in three years, it could be a big gap. You look at the draft of 2002, and Michael knows this but it was never really plainly written, for us it was, we're going to try something different. If it doesn't work, it can't be any worse than the other way. That's the way we looked at it. We've refined it even since then, how we go about evaluating amateur players. So looking at that draft of 2002, and there may be more now because this was six weeks ago, there were 14 players from that draft in Double-A or Triple-A. That's unbelievable in two years and the third round pick in that draft had been traded for Mark Redman who was a 15-game winner, who was then traded for Finley as well. So you're talking about a third-round pick who was traded for Finley and has been involved in two major league deals. Mark Teahen, who was a comp pick in that draft, was then traded for a closer for us. So the draft is not only about creating major league players, but also creating assets who you can then turn into less risky assets. Mark Teahen was a marvelous young prospect who was already at Triple-A, but we were able to take him and turn him into an immediate need and he was just drafted two years ago. It's a little easier to do that when you've got guys who can come into the pro game and are performing and have success right away.

Blez: What does Billy Beane turn to once this is all over? You seem like the type of guy who is always projecting ahead and ahead and ahead. Do you go work at a VC firm? What do you do?

BB: (Laughing) Well, there are certainly some things I'd like to do and I don't mean that in an arrogant sense. I mean it in stimulating sense. I'd like to think that I have a restless mind and one that is constantly looking for new challenges, not that this one isn't challenging. I can assure that is not the point. It varies from wanting to get completely out of baseball and taking some other challenges to fly fishing in Oregon for six months to living in the South of France and writing my own book. The point is that I am so lucky to have this job. I love this job, and that's probably what keeps me doing it is that I love it. I like wearing shorts to the park and flip flops. It's also a job that's very fun to come into the office every day. But you know I went this last offseason to speak in front of the Stanford graduate school and talk for two hours. Being around bright young minds like that is really stimulating for me and I've thought about other sports.

Blez: Michael Lewis mentioned that you and Paul had mentioned perhaps getting back together one day and all three running a team.

BB: I've whispered about wanting to get involved in an ownership situation. I don't think that's that big a secret. The biggest thing for me is that I'm very picky and I want to stay on the West Coast if I possibly can. Particularly at this stage in my life. My daughter and my parents are down in Southern California. Once again, this shouldn't be taken arrogantly, I would like to be trying to do something else if only for my own personal growth. What that is, well some of those are private thoughts. The one thing you have to be careful of is that restlessness can be a chronic condition. That's one thing that the last year has taught me. I'm happy with what I'm doing. I'm not unhappy. There is this idea that if you want to do other things other than what you're doing, it means you're unhappy, but that is definitely not the case with me. I am so extremely fortunate to be doing this job and I love it. If the day ever comes that I'm not doing it, particularly with the Oakland A's, it will be a sad day for me.

Blez: And a sad day for us.

BB: Well something incredible will have to come along for me to do that. I really am very happy doing this. I'm very content doing this.

Blez: How do the A's finally get over that first round hump? I know it's been a sore spot for you. Believe me, it's a very sore spot for A's fans. Then again you look at the other teams out there like the Pirates and you'd think people would be thankful with what has happened with the A's, which are always competitive and challenging for first place. But that knock continues to remain.

BB: We make sure that's the case so it gives the critics something to talk about. (Laughs) The fact is that if we keep going there year after year, we're going to. I promise you that if it continues to happen year after year, we're going to win it all one of these years. The great thing about the playoffs is that in our situation, and there's no one who is going to talk me out of believing this until they prove it to me, there is a randomness that goes with the playoffs and the results. That being said, the best team is not always going to win it. The best team over the course of the season hasn't won it the last couple of years, the hottest team has won it. They've been very, very good teams. The great thing about baseball is that there are no Cinderellas that get to the postseason. They all deserve to be there. But the tough thing is that sometimes the best team doesn't win it because a team can get hot. That being said, more often than not when we enter the playoffs, because of our market we're not going to be the best team in there. But one of these years, we're going to win it when there was a team that was better. I take comfort in that. But the one thing that isn't talked about and we don't really say it here, but the fact is that we've gone to game five in every one of these series and in two cases, I think, we've had the tying and go ahead runs on second base with two outs remaining. The critics will say, "Oh they can't get past the first round, their philosophy doesn't work." I find it hard to believe that it gets you all the way to the fifth game and in some cases to the last out, but that's where it stops. That's just absolutely asinine. We've never played with a full deck in the postseason. Mulder has missed two of those four series. The fact that we made the playoffs after losing him in August is remarkable within itself in my opinion. We didn't have him the first year we went in. Hudson last year throws 11 pitches and then is out. The hip was bothering him in the first game and he comes out after 11 pitches in game four. Is it an excuse? No. But it was there. You lose a guy like that and it's going to have an impact. Does that mean we would've won? Not necessarily. But listen, Mulder and Hudson out in one series? Against a club like Boston? I'll also go on record with you right now and be honest and say, Boston was a better team than us last year.

Blez: Really??

BB: They were a better team than us in my opinion. They were a better team. Not much better, but better. You extract Hudson and Mulder out of it and the fact is that I would've felt really good about beating Boston last year. Even with our full team. The best team that we've had here and the one that was the most disappointing, and this is going to sound crazy, but it was the 2001 team. I thought that was a great, great team. It had everything. It was a dynamic club, it had speed, it had defense, it had everything you'd want in that kind of a situation. But it was only together for one year. I sound like I'm making excuses, but what the heck, I've got a full forum, you interviewed me and this is my chance. This is an A's Web log, so I can say whatever the heck I want. This team has reinvented itself every year. This isn't the same team for four years. We go to the playoffs this year and you're talking about a whole new group of guys who have no idea about the last four years. So the idea that these are the same members of the same team that have not gotten past the first round would just not be accurate. I've looked at the field on certain games this season and at times we've had seven different starters than we had all last year, if you put certain guys on the field. That's a pretty incredible turnover. And if you talk to those seven guys, not one of them was around for any of those experiences. In fairness, each team needs to be judged (individually). None of them got past (the first round), but they were different players, different teams and different personalities.

Next up in the finale of In Billy We Trust...where the 2004 team ranks in Billy's mind, how Billy feels about the current state of the pen and his perspective on clubhouse chemistry.