OAFC BBS - All Topics: Archive: Beane profile
| By milo on Thursday, February 28, 2002 - 02:46 pm:|
usa today is a lousy paper...but a great sports section...
Beane chooses to see opportunity
By Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY Baseball Weekly
PHOENIX — OAKLAND A'S GENERAL MANAGER Billy Beane, wearing a golf shirt, khaki shorts and sandals, leans back in his chair and props his feet on the desk, the golf clubs almost an arm's length away.
He looks as if he has all the stress of a 21-year-old fraternity kid sipping a Hurricane at Mardi Gras.
The agents have stopped calling. Reporters have quit asking about the latest defection. Not once today has anyone brought up Jason Giambi.
Two hours later he is told that pitcher Tim Hudson severely sprained his ankle, and Beane shrugs it off as if Hudson had a case of the sniffles. After this winter, what's a little three-week injury to your ace pitcher?
Let the A's fans worry all they want about losing Jason Giambi, Jason Isringhausen and Johnny Damon to free agency.
Let the media tell everyone that they should feel sorry for the A's.
Let Bud Selig and the commissioner's office use the A's as Exhibit A for why there should be extensive revenue sharing, assuring that small-market teams will stay in contention.
Whatever you do, though, don't believe for a second that Beane is feeling sorry for himself.
Lean closer, and he'll let you in on a secret.
He loves being the underdog.
You'd better not feel sorry for Beane and the A's, because they sure aren't feeling sorry for themselves.
"We're the Gonzaga of baseball," Beane says, referring to the small Spokane, Wash., college that has garnered a giant-killer reputation in the NCAA basketball tournament. "We enjoy the challenge.
"Sure, there are things that are not the most enjoyable, but we view this as an opportunity instead of a burden. We never took the 'sky is falling' approach. And at no point at all did I ever lose sleep over this. It wasn't like it caught us by surprise.
"People act like we're supposed to have this tremendous depression. That won't happen. And you know what? Regardless of this market size, this is still one of the 30 greatest jobs in the world. This is what I always wanted to do.
"It may sound hokey, but I can honestly say there hasn't been one day since I got this job that I didn't look forward to coming to work.
"You kidding me? They pay me to walk around in shorts and trade baseball cards."
BEANE, WHO PLAYED SIX YEARS in the big leagues, has emerged as one of the finest GMs in baseball. He is beginning just his fifth year on the job as the A's general manager, but his peers will tell you that he's already one of the most respected in the game.
"There's nothing he couldn't do in life," Yankees GM Brian Cashman says. "I have no doubt in my mind that with his intelligence, work ethic, confidence and leadership skills, he could be CEO of any company in any industry. I'm anxious to see what his future entails because, really, I think this guy can do anything he'd ever want in life."
Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi says: "He's such a dynamic guy he could be a great politician, a congressman, or even president for that matter. He's like watching West Wing. There are so many things going on around him, but he solves everything and doesn't let anything bother him. Billy loves to be challenged intellectually."
Don't let Beane's easygoing demeanor fool you. He might look as if he's ready to watch a polo match, but deep inside, he wants to beat you.
You want to see competitive? Just ask those unfortunate souls who have witnessed the metamorphosis in Beane's personality once the game begins.
Beane won't watch the A's games from his GM box. He won't pace the stands. Heck, he's under the stands.
If you want to find Beane during a game, go inside the clubhouse, and you'll find him running on the treadmill, riding a stationary bike or pumping weights.
Beane changes clothes just before the first pitch. He gets on the life cycle and pedals for the next 2 1/2 hours, pausing only long enough to scream at the TV set, throw a towel, or curse. He ends the workout in the bottom of the seventh inning.
"I just can't sit there and watch it," Beane says. "I'm a hard guy to watch a game with. There's too much stress. I've got to find some way to get rid of it during a game. That way I feel like I'm getting something out of the game, even when we lose.
"Since our pitching has gotten a lot better, the workouts are shorter.
"A few years ago, I felt like I was training for a marathon."
You want competitive fire?
Check out Beane and good friend Kevin Towers, GM of the Padres, during Cactus League games.
Do you think it's just a coincidence that the Padres and A's always are sitting atop the Cactus League standings? Nope. Not with these two acting as if every exhibition game is for the pennant instead of their dinner bet.
"Billy sets up his rotation for the spring just to nail us," Towers says. "I'm not kidding. I remember him throwing (Mark) Mulder at us at 8 a.m. in a B game. And he was throwing 96 mph against our minor league kids.
"That's why it's so competitive in the winter when we're looking at minor league free agents. It's like, 'OK, who can help us win that Cactus League game in March?' I really believe he tells (manager) Art Howe that. 'Hey, when you play the Padres, I want our young guns to face them. I don't want to ever lose to those guys.' "
Is Towers serious?
"Let me put it to you this way," Towers says. "He fired his pitching coach, Bob Cluck, one spring after losing to us. That's how serious Billy takes it."
Beane, 39, concedes that he gets carried away at times.
Yes, it probably wasn't necessary for him and Cashman to call one another during their flights two years ago before Game 5 in the Division Series. Beane was angry when the Yankees' team plane touched down 20 minutes before the A's plane.
"I got him going good," Cashman said. "I kept telling him that we were going to have a big advantage that game by getting that 20 extra minutes of sleep."
OK, maybe Beane should have called Cashman this winter and congratulated him for signing Giambi to a seven-year, $120 million contract, even though he cringes at the idea of seeing his former first baseman in pinstripes.
"You're not going to find anyone more competitive than Billy, and I can attest that he has a temper," A's assistant GM Paul DePodesta says. "But you need that passion and energy. He has the perfect blend. He's calm when things aren't going well, and very driven when things are going well."
Now, with some predicting a letdown for the A's without Giambi, look who's got that silly grin on his face. The baseball world could be in for a surprise.
AT 4:30 IN THE MORNING, Beane is wide awake.
It might be just spring training, but this is no time to relax.
He sits in front of his computer and checks the Internet. The A's have seven of the first 36 picks in this year's amateur draft, so he checks collegiate Web sites, looking for stats and updated news. He reads spring training stories from various camps, trying to find out which players might be on the bubble.
As always, he is thinking of potential trades.
Beane talks at least three times a week to Ricciardi, his best friend in baseball. The two, along with Cashman, Towers and Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd, constantly bounce trade proposals off one another. The ideas might be sensible. They might be insane. But Beane has always got something in mind.
"We're always thinking of trades," Ricciardi says. "Sometimes, we'll sit around and say, 'OK, we're starting two teams; you got the first pick in baseball, and I got the second.'
"I think once we traded the whole world. I know that we traded Gorbachev for Reagan a couple of times."
Beane, whose idol is former 49ers coach/GM Bill Walsh ("He's the godfather of sports managers."), engineers more three-way trades than anyone in baseball. If he wants someone, he'll find a way to make it work. He never relents on a deal.
This winter, Beane knew that he needed a replacement for Giambi. Many assumed that the A's simply would go after the next-best free-agent first baseman, Tino Martinez. Sorry, Beane wasn't interested. He instead went after the prospect he coveted all year, Carlos Pena from the Rangers, and got him. Pena might not be in Giambi's class yet, but one day he could make folks forget about him.
"If you lose the best first baseman in baseball," Beane says, "the next best option is you take the best young first baseman coming into the league."
Beane realized, too, that he would need a closer. He could have just turned around and signed a free agent such as Jeff Shaw, or traded for Roberto Hernandez, who was available. Instead he went after Billy Koch of the Blue Jays, and the A's believe they might be better off with Koch than Isringhausen.
In fact, Beane had more on his mind than just Koch. He was seeking to make one of the biggest trades in A's history. Beane was talking to the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Reds and Blue Jays about a deal that would have given him outfielder Gary Sheffield, reliever Mike Trombley and starter Luke Prokopec from the Dodgers; first baseman Erubiel Durazo from the Diamondbacks; and a closer from either the Reds or elsewhere. The deal, which would have sent Koch and Jermaine Dye to the Dodgers, and Prokopec to the Reds, fell apart when the rest of the pieces didn't fit together.
No matter. Beane kept Koch, signed Dye to a four-year extension, traded for David Justice, then grabbed Pena instead of trading for Durazo.
"You'll never hear Billy use anything as an excuse," says Ricciardi, who worked for seven years with Beane before leaving for the Blue Jays. "That's why it shouldn't be surprising what he's done this winter. He's so creative, and he loves a challenge. The worst thing you can do is challenge Billy on something, because he comes through.
"You just watch what that team does. They're going to be good again, and good for a long, long time."
THE A'S STILL HAVE A GREAT FUTURE. No one in the projected starting infield outside second base is older than 25. In the starting trio of Hudson, Mulder and Barry Zito, all are 26 or younger. The Oakland farm system still is loaded.
But if the A's open the season and aren't good enough, Beane will make changes. He has never been afraid to make a move in his life. He loves to prove everyone wrong.
He knew he would be lambasted by the media when he traded the A's ace, Kenny Rogers, to the New York Mets 2 1/2 years ago for an outfield prospect named Terrence Long. Reporters scoffed when he traded for pitcher Cory Lidle and announced that he'd be in the starting rotation. No one's laughing now.
"I remember when we traded Rogers for Terrence Long, I told J.P. (Ricciardi), 'I'm going to get killed,' " Beane says. "J.P. kept saying: 'Trust me. Trust me on this. They are going to hate you for two weeks, but they're going to love you for the next 10 years.'
"I remember that first week, I called up J.P. and said: 'J.P, they're hating me. They're hating me real good right now.'
"But hey, you've got to take chances. Sometimes I feel like I'm playing a game of Risk or Strat-O-Matic with my buddies."
The difference is that Beane and the A's keep winning. They've won at least 87 games each of the past three seasons. They're 75 games above .500 since 1999. They've been to the playoffs the last two years.
All of this despite having one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
"The greatest sign of flattery is imitation," O'Dowd says, "and I'm not embarrassed to say that I'd like to imitate what Billy has done with the A's. That team isn't built for the short term. They're not going to just win now and go away. I don't care about their payroll. They're going to win and keep on winning."
It's only human nature, of course, for Beane to wonder how life would be different if he could double his payroll to $80 million. He can't help but occasionally fantasize what it would be like to have a massive payroll where you can just buy any player you want and hang onto your own prospects.
When GM jobs come open, particularly those that come with an open checkbook, it's impossible not to be curious.
Yet, despite all of the rumblings in Boston, and the talk of GM domino moves this winter, Beane has no interest going anywhere. Sure, he wishes the A's would spend more money. Yeah, it would be nice to be playing in a real baseball park instead of a football stadium.
But Beane, one of the lowest-paid GMs in baseball at $400,000, is staying put. He's on the verge of signing a three-year, $3.3 million contract extension that will keep him with the A's through 2008. There's an out clause if the A's are sold, as expected, but it doesn't mean that he'll leave, either.
"I have a lot of emotional investment in this franchise," Beane says. "I sort of feel like it's an unfinished story. I view Oakland as an opportunity, not a sentence.
"Besides, I'm going to be wearing shorts and sandals no matter how much money I make. What, am I going to wear more expensive flip-flops now?"
BEANE IS A WEST COAST DUDE, raised in San Diego the son of a Navy lieutenant commander. He relishes the fact that he's just a short flight from San Diego so can see his 11-year-old daughter, Casey, every other weekend. He even enjoys the media, listening to the sports talk shows and reading every baseball story he can get his hands on.
Besides, the great thing about the talk shows is that he can jump right in, pretending he's a fan, too. Beane even will call Towers and Cashman, pretending to be a talk show reporter, to see how long it takes them to realize it's him.
Even the innocent can be made to look, well, a little silly. That Angels video coordinator still is red-faced after calling the A's clubhouse wondering how he could improve the reception. Little did he know he was speaking to Beane. By the time the conversation ended, Beane had the video coordinator standing on one foot in front of the TV, with tinfoil wrapped around his finger.
"We've got witnesses," DePodesta says.
Beane says, why not have fun on the job? He has gone full circle. He was with the A's when they were the best team in the AL in the late '80s and early '90s. He was on the A's World Series team in 1989, then went to work for the team a year later. He also was with the A's in 1997 when they were the worst team in baseball, losing 97 games after trading Mark McGwire to St. Louis.
"There was a feeling that this was a mountain that has no top," Beane says. "We went from one of the highest highs to the lowest lows. But we're fine now. We can see that mountaintop.
"Besides, no one ever said it was easy. Economics have always been part of the A's history. Connie Mack sold a few players and dismantled World Series champions. Charles O. Finley sold off players off World Series teams.
"What can you say? We're just following tradition."
| By kevink on Thursday, February 28, 2002 - 03:15 pm:|
That article was in Baseball Weekly actually.
| By fanamy on Friday, March 01, 2002 - 12:32 pm:|
That was a great article..thanks Milo and kevink. I think Billy's one of the best things ever to happen to the A's and baseball, just hope he doesn't one day turn on the fans like Alderson.
>Yeah, it would be nice to be playing in a real baseball park instead of a football stadium.
Way to go, Billy! Right on the money. I'd like it also, as the Alps really ruined the ambiance of the park.