To mark the release of the movie version of Moneyball, I thought I’d gather up some items on Billy Beane in his first year as A’s gm, at a time when very few people were paying much attention to him.
Here, from a Sacramento Bee story on October 18, 1997, are, mostly, some comments from Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane on Beane taking over at the A’s general manager:
“I’m very proud of what Billy has done as a player, a scout and as my assistant,” Alderson said. “He has demonstrated all of the qualities and capabilities of filling the job. He will bring energy and insight to the position.”
At 35, Beane will be among the youngest general managers in baseball. Beane said he’s ready to accept the responsibility.
“This is something I’ve looked forward to doing since I was 18,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to run a ballclub. It’s been a great situation here as a player and a scout. To be around people like Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan and then segue to the front office with Alderson, who I believe is the best in the business, has been a great training ground.
“I feel totally prepared. But as you well know, there’s a lot of work to do.”
Beane will oversee a continuing rebuilding process in Oakland , which has seen the A’s rush through young talent and lose established veterans en route to three straight second-division finishes in the American League West.
Alderson, who guided the A’s to the World Series in 1988-90, said, “the demolition phase is over,” in referring to the losses of such veterans as Dennis Eckersley, Terry Steinbach, Mike Bordick, Mark McGwire and Geronimo Berroa over the last two seasons.
“Now, we can be aggressive and can concentrate on rebuilding. We need someone devoting full attention to the acquisition of players. And with the other duties of my job, I couldn’t do that any longer.”
“We need starting pitching,” [Beane] said. “We’ve got kids who showed last season they can be – like (Jimmy) Haynes and (Brad) Rigby. But they need to be put in a position in the tail-end of rotation.
“We need starters who have had success and shown durability, to carry the load and take pressure off the young guys.”
By trading Berroa and McGwire, the A’s ended up with a 1997 payroll of slightly more than $14.3 [million], the second-lowest in baseball. Beane also said it is “highly unlikely” that Jose Canseco will be back in 1998, which will free up an additional $5 million for next season.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go in a process that started a couple of years ago,” Beane said. “I see a bright future on the field in the next couple of years.
“This will be the first winter in the last four we can actually look to add players instead of worrying about who’s next to leave.”
The next February, in 1998, Beane talked in a San Francisco Chronicle article about how his job was the fruition of a longtime goal:
“It was two weeks into my playing career, when I was 18. Frank Cashen was general manager of the Mets at the time, and he came up to see us minor- league players. He came in with his bow tie and monogrammed shirt and talked to us.
“Everybody was trying to impress our manager. And I said, `You got it wrong. This is the guy you want to be, right there.’ It was just the aura he had.”
“I was always a fan of the game. And this is the greatest outlet as far as being a fan. You are getting paid for being in a rotisserie league. This is a passion of mine, and now I’m looking at it as a passion I get paid for.”
Beane added that growing up in San Diego, he and his friends “were doing that sort of thing [fantasy baseball] before rotisserie became the rage. We were drafting players, getting points on how they did.
“I like evaluating players. I like the idea of putting together pieces and making your mark on the organization.”
Beane said of his baseball career: “I was always probably a better athlete than I was a baseball player. There are a lot of things from a skills standpoint that kept me from being a better player. I was a better athlete than most of the players, but wasn’t as good (at baseball) as they were.
“I’m a hyperactive guy, and I don’t handle failure real well. It’s a worn-out line, but it’s true that the best hitters fail 70 percent of the time. I couldn’t deal with that. I was much too reactive and high-strung. I would have one bad game, and that would stretch into three or four.”
He explained how he became an A’s advance scout in 1990: “The A’s were looking for an advance scout to free Ron Schueler up for other things. “He suggested that I might be interested in doing that job someday. The next day I said, `How about now?'”
“I was real lucky as a player. The GMs I was under — Cashen, Andy MacPhail, Bill Lajoie and Sandy — each was one of the most successful of his era. And all those guys had different personalities and different approaches.
“I was never afforded the opportunity to see the wrong way to do it. Every one of those guys rebuilt a franchise from the bottom up.”
And here are excerpts from a Sacramento Bee article in late March of ’98 previewing the A’s and Beane’s work as gm:
“This is the greatest job in the world,” he said. “It’s like getting paid for being in a rotisserie league.”
[In 1997] the A’s finished 32 games under .500, giving the 35-year-old Beane nowhere to go but up. And he started constructing.
With McGwire and Berroa gone, Beane continued to slice salaries, trading Scott Brosius to the Yankees and cutting loose expensive Jose Canseco.
When the cupboard was bare, he went to work in all areas. Between free agents and trades, he added starters Kenny Rogers and Tom Candiotti, relievers Mike Fetters and Doug Bochtler, infielders Kurt Abbott and Mike Blowers, outfielders Rickey Henderson and Shane Mack, catcher Damon Berryhill and potential designated hitter Kevin Mitchell.
Much as Brian Sabean did with the Giants in ’97, Beane has ended up with a collage of medium-priced veterans who have been through the wars. He’s banking on them to pass on their vast experience to the next generation.
“This reminds me of when I came up in ’79,” the 39-year-old Henderson said. “After all those great teams of the ’70s, they were rebuilding. I was one of the young guys then, just trying to earn a job. Now, the shoe’s on the other foot.
“When I go out there now, I hope the young guys look at me. I want them to do what I did. I want them to ask questions about what it takes to be a winning ballclub and a winning player. I want them to know what it takes to be successful.”
It’s that youth working in the bullpen, around second base and behind home plate that will determine the direction the A’s franchise will take under Beane.
Kids like Ben Grieve, A.J. Hinch, Scott Spiezio, Miguel Tejada, Brad Rigby and Jimmy Haynes. They’re the future, and the A’s recognize it. Beane did his part by bringing in veteran players to help ease the growing pains and to provide guidance. Howe and his coaching staff took great measures to remove as much pressure as they could all spring.
When the 21-year-old Tejada is ready, the A’s feel their double-play combination will be set for years to come. And it may come sooner than expected.
Spiezio, the lead singer for his garage band Spastic Dysphonia, removed all notions about the A’s needing a second baseman. In his rookie year, he made the transformation from third base by leading the A.L. in fielding while hitting 14 home runs.
In a 26-game September call-up, Tejada showed glimpses of the future. Though he batted just .202, he showed he could hit in the clutch and showcased such a powerful throwing arm that first baseman Jason Giambi was tempted to wear a batting helmet in the field.
“In a perfect world, we’d like to give him a full year at Triple-A,” Howe said. Kurt Abbott, who grew up in the A’s system, figures to keep the job warm only until Tejada is ready.
Not since Will Clark hit town over a decade ago has the Bay Area seen as sweet a left-handed swing as Grieve’s.
He knocked in 160 runs in 151 games last year and batted .312 in September in Oakland. Though he’s still only 21, he already carries himself with that confident swagger that accompanies pure hitters. The A’s have a hard time not blubbering when his name comes up.
“With Ben, you have to watch yourself,” Beane said. “I can get carried away sometimes myself. I’d be a liar if I said it’s not difficult to temper some of the things I say about him. But from the first time I saw him, I always felt there was something special about him.”
Grieve is a dream pupil to hitting instructor Denny Walling.
“He’s a natural, a picture hitter,” Walling said. “The thing is that he doesn’t swing at bad pitches. He gives himself a chance to be successful because he knows his strike zone better than most guys who’ve been in the league four to five years.
“He wants to work. As good as he is, he wants to be better. He’s just a great kid.”
In his fourth incarnation with the A’s, even the crotchety Henderson has been swept up by the kids. As his career winds down, he says now he wants to help the next generation the way he was helped coming up.
“All I can do is share what I know,” he said. “Then, all you can do is hope they catch on to the things they are capable of doing.”
Key young members of the ’98 A’s included Tejada, Jason Giambi, and Eric Chavez, who played in 16 games. Ben Grieve had a decent season too, and the A’s went 74-88.
On the other hand, the team also had Mike Macfarlane, Dave Magadan, Bip Roberts, Shane Mack, Ed Sprague, Kevin Mitchell, Henderson, Tom Candiotti, and a 36-year-old closer named Billy Taylor.