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"Moneyball" backlash?

OAFC BBS - All Topics: Archive: "Moneyball" backlash?
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of pageLink to this message   By eyleenn on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 08:56 pm:

From ESPN Insider, re DePodesta:

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
All quiet on DePodesta front

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By Jerry Crasnick
ESPN Insider

Paul DePodesta, Billy Beane's Oakland assistant, makes his first appearance in "Moneyball" at the bottom of page 17. He's carrying a laptop computer, and as author Michael Lewis points out, he's a Harvard graduate.
"Paul wasn't the sort of person who typically rises to power inside a big league organization, and yet he had," Lewis writes later in the book. "He was an outsider who had found a way to enter a place designed to keep outsiders out."

That "outsider" tag is debatable, considering that Mark Shapiro (Princeton), Theo Epstein (Yale), Michael Hill and David Forst (Harvard), Josh Byrnes and Thad Levine (Haverford), Neal Huntington (Amherst), Chris Antonetti (Georgetown) and Larry Beinfest (Cal-Berkeley) are among the young executives with degrees from elite universities and no big-league playing experience populating baseball front offices. A strong academic background is more a prerequisite for career advancement than a reason for scorn these days.

But DePodesta is the only one who's been publicly labeled in a New York Times best-seller as surgically attached to a modem and statistically-obsessed. He spends so much time in front of a keyboard in Lewis' book, he should have "Dell" stamped on his forehead.

As baseball's 2003 winter job market shakes out, here's a question to ponder: Is DePodesta the victim of a "Moneyball" backlash?

The hot new executive Flavor of the Month club is often a function of mysterious buzz and/or media hype and generally varies from one year to the next. In the early 1990s, names like Randy Smith, Kevin Malone, Jim Bowden and Dan Duquette topped the list.

Last year, at the baseball general managers' meetings in Arizona, Alan Schwarz of Baseball America and ESPN.com polled 50 executives and asked them to pick the best untapped GM candidates. DePodesta and New York Mets assistant Jim Duquette led the voting, followed closely by Philadelphia's Mike Arbuckle and Houston's Tim Purpura.

There are only three GM openings this winter -- in New York, Cincinnati and Seattle -- and DePodesta and Arbuckle haven't interviewed for any of them yet. Purpura failed to make the final three candidates in Cincinnati. The Mets appear to be on the verge of giving Duquette the job officially but only after owner Fred Wilpon and his son Jeff threw out plenty of feelers to big-name executives. If Duquette had a big ego, he might be offended by the parade of Gerry Hunsickers and John Schuerholzes popping up in newspaper speculation. Fortunately, he doesn't.

It's unrealistic to think the Mets would hire DePodesta, because of his lack of GM experience, and there are mixed reports on whether DePodesta was even interested in the Cincinnati job. Seattle is a different story, but that process is still playing it.

DePodesta prefers not to discuss his portrayal in "Moneyball," but he did address the dangers of being typecast in an interview with Baseball Insider.

"Labels are mental shortcuts," DePodesta said, "and when we label things, generally we tend to focus on the label and disregard the substance. I'm sure I've been labeled other things at different parts of my life. When you're a two-sport athlete at an Ivy League school, most of your classmates probably think of you as a dumb jock."

Just because Epstein is running the Red Sox at 29, it doesn't necessarily follow that DePodesta is past his prime at 30. One front-office executive, who declined to be identified, said DePodesta biggest handicap might be that he's so indispensable to Beane. DePodesta took the job as Beane's assistant at age 25 and never had the opportunity to run a department and manage people as, say, a farm director. "I think if you talk to owners, that's more of an issue than his reputation in 'Moneyball,' " the executive said.

But several of DePodesta's colleagues insist he'll be running a team -- and soon. "He's one of the brightest young guys I've come across in the game," said Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro. "He's creative, energetic and extremely intellectual."

And, while youthful, he's not as one-dimensional as his reputation. DePodesta played baseball and football at Harvard and took jobs with the Canadian Football League and American Hockey League out of college because he wanted to see how sports organizations worked.

Colorado's Dan O'Dowd was with Cleveland in the 1990s when he hired Josh Byrnes and DePodesta for front-office positions. Part of their job description was to watch baseball games -- more than 200 a season each between the Indians and their opponents -- and give scouting breakdowns to manager Mike Hargrove and his staff.

"Paul is not a computer geek in any sense of the word," O'Dowd said. "That doesn't mean he can't get in front of a computer and do statistical analysis with the best of them. But that's just a small part of what this guy brings to the party."

DePodesta nearly landed the GM job in Toronto two years ago before backing out for personal reasons and bad timing. He was about to get married and was hesitant to ask his wife, a native of Mexico, to move to Toronto. He was also torn about leaving Oakland. The Blue Jays eventually hired J.P. Ricciardi away from the Athletics, but not before DePodesta made a positive impression on Toronto management.

"We were dazzled by him," said Blue Jays President Paul Godfrey. "Anybody who gets misled by 'Moneyball' is doing an injustice to him, and probably to the team they're representing."

DePodesta's strongest endorsement comes from his boss. Beane routinely jokes that DePodesta, with his Harvard economics degree and cum laude resume, is "slumming" in baseball and could be earning five times as much working for an investment bank.

"He's without a doubt the smartest individual I've ever been around," Beane said. "I always tell Paul that an owner is going to hire him and within one year say, 'I'm wasting my time having this guy run my baseball team. He should be running my corporation.' "

Beane, whose relationship with Oakland owner Steve Schott is strained, might ultimately pave the way for DePodesta to advance. He's been mentioned as a candidate in Los Angeles (if Dan Evans doesn't survive the ownership change) and Seattle. Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln is already acquainted with Beane from having spoken with him in 1999, before Seattle hired Pat Gillick as general manager.

Will the Mariners pursue Beane? That's an interesting call. Gillick, who still plays an active role in the organization as a consultant, has his heart in scouting rather than the statistical-analysis approach favored by Beane and the Athletics. The Mariners will have to suck it up to hire a guy whose team has finished ahead of them in the standings the last two years with a significantly smaller payroll.

If Beane does leave Oakland, Schott won't have to look far for his replacement. For all the talk about different openings in different cities and the negative fallout from "Moneyball," DePodesta might find his breakthrough is just an office away.


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