The Oakland A’s have 10 players up for free agency this winter, but there might be an even bigger name on the way out.
Executive vice president and longtime general manager Billy Beane is “set to leave baseball behind,” reports the Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall). The move is pending a merger between RedBall Acquisition Group, of which Beane is a part, and Fenway Sports Group owned by John Henry, which includes the Boston Red Sox.
If completed, the deal would give Beane a financial interest in the Red Sox, presenting a conflict of interest with his job with the A’s and his minority stake in the club. The WSJ report says he would resolve this by leaving baseball entirely and not working in the front office for either team, and instead focusing more on other sports ventures such as European soccer. Henry’s group owns the Liverpool Football Club, one of the “big six” English Premier League teams.
Nothing is official yet, but Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle reports from an anonymous source that, if the merger does go through (possibly by the end of 2020), then “Beane is indeed prepared to step away” from the A’s.
Beane joined the A’s as a player in 1989, and after hanging up his spikes he took a job as a scout for Oakland. He rose the ranks of the front office until becoming GM after the 1997 season, a job he held until passing the reins to his assistant David Forst after the 2015 campaign. Since then, Beane has been the Executive VP of Baseball Operations.
His tenure with the A’s has been marked by boldness and innovation, leading to enormous regular season success despite one of the lowest payrolls in the majors. However, his teams have not won anything notable in 11 trips to the postseason, a small-sample tournament which he famously refers to as a crapshoot. His legacy is immortalized in the best-selling book Moneyball and its Oscar-nominated movie adaptation, as well as in strategic trends he helped pioneer that have caught on around the league.
If he were to leave, it would be the end of an era in Oakland. Even now that others are more involved with the day-to-day operations of the club, Beane is still by far the face of the franchise, in a way usually reserved for a star player. For the last couple decades fans have rooted for the laundry while a turnstile of top players have come and gone, with the one constant being Beane’s zigging and zagging to unearth the next wave of cheap and unexpected talent.
Perhaps that model wouldn’t change much, with some of his disciples still running the show and the payroll still low until a new ballpark can be opened, but still it’s been a long time since we’ve seen an A’s team that didn’t involve Beane. This 2020 year just keeps getting weirder.