FROM BENCH TO BLEACHERS The A's Billy Beane quit playing to be a scout
The Toronto SkyDome is nearly empty on this May afternoon. While
concessionaires busily prepare their stands, a dark-haired young man
dressed in a gray sport coat and navy-blue trousers sits in the first
row of seats with his legs crossed. The Seattle Mariners trickle out
of the visitors' dugout for batting practice, and several players
notice the young man, who is reading a green notebook that bears the
insignia of the Oakland Athletics.
Dave Cochrane, a utility infielder, looks over, squinting.
''Beanie, is that you?'' he asks, concealing a smile with his
fielder's glove. ''Ni-ice jacket. And what are those? Loafers,
Beanie? And that hair, it's all preppy.''
Beanie is the nickname of Billy Beane, baseball's youngest advance
scout. He retired from the playing field earlier this year at 28, an
age at which most pros are just reaching their prime. Players such as
Cochrane, who rode the buses with Beane during his playing career,
can't figure out what he is doing in such stylish clothes.
''People don't believe me,'' Beane says, ''but I'm happier
scouting than I ever was playing.''
An advance scout is the chief spy in a baseball team's
intelligence network. He is the man sent out to gather information on
his club's next opponent and pass on his discoveries to the coaching
staff and the players. No team in baseball has a network quite like
that of the A's, nor do many teams put as much time and effort into
major league scouting as the A's.
Ron Schueler, Oakland's special assistant to the vice-president of
baseball operations, was the main brain of its major league network
during the A's championship season of '89. Among baseball people, he
is regarded as the game's best advance scout. The A's also know him
to be a sound judge of young talent, so in an effort to give Schueler
more time to work on the '90 spring draft (the A's had seven picks
in the first two rounds) as well as his other duties, they decided to
bring in another advance man.
Beane, a first-round draft pick of the New York Mets in 1980,
spent the better part of four months in the big leagues with the A's
last year after signing as a minor league free agent. He filled in
for the injured Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, in the outfield and at
first, respectively, and also made his first major league appearances
at catcher and third base. His contributions on the field were not
large (.241, 11 RBIs), but he made such an impact in the clubhouse
and the dugout that it led to his current position.
''He was incredible,'' says A's shortstop Walt Weiss. ''Every time
we faced a young, unfamiliar pitcher, Tony ((A's manager La Russa))
would turn to Billy and ask, 'Do you know this guy?' He knew
everybody. He'd tell us what a pitcher's tendencies were and what we
could look for on certain counts.''
Beane relished his role on the Athletics' bench. Ten years of
discipline and attentiveness in places like Portland, Ore.; Toledo;
and Tidewater had not gone to waste. ''I couldn't help but study
every opponent; it was my favorite part of the game,'' he says. ''I
think I was just too much of a fan to be a great player, though. I
remember facing Tom Seaver in an exhibition game and thinking, -- --
, will you look at the way he dips and drives! How was I supposed to
At one time, the Mets envisioned Beane as one of the cornerstones
of their outfield, opposite another '80 first-rounder, Darryl
Strawberry. ''Billy Beane can do just about anything,'' Strawberry
said in 1985 when Beane was at Tidewater hitting .284 with 19 home
runs and 77 RBIs. Beane was tabbed by the New York media as a
replacement in leftfield for the Mets' aging George Foster, but Beane
was sent to Minnesota early the following year as part of a trade
for Tim Teufel. He spent the next three seasons bouncing back and
forth between the big leagues and the minors. In August '89, when
Beane's wife Cathy told him they would be having their first child,
Beane's perspective on his baseball career changed.
''I had been thinking about getting into some front-office work
after I retired,'' Beane says. ''But when this opportunity came up, I
figured, why wait?'' His advance scout's salary won't approach the
$150,000 he made last year as a big leaguer, and the travel can be
grueling, but Cathy and their baby girl, Casey, now have a permanent
home in Rancho Bernardo, Calif.
For four or more days each week Beane scrutinizes the next team on
Oakland's schedule, marking the idiosyncrasies of each player on his
intricately detailed charts. He is especially mindful of any
weaknesses that the A's might be able to exploit in an upcoming
series. On the day Oakland is to meet the scouted opponent, Beane
usually takes an hour and a half to deliver his report to La Russa
and the A's coaching staff, either in person or via a telephone
''He has a very analytical mind,'' says La Russa of Beane. ''He
knows what to look for, and he's not afraid to have an opinion.''
Says Beane, ''I know they wouldn't have hired me if they thought I
was just going to tell them to throw everybody hard stuff in and
breaking stuff away. Anybody could tell them that. I'm an opinionated
guy, not a yes-man. They knew that when they hired me.''
One of baseball's senior advance scouts, Baltimore's 77-year-old
Birdie Tebbetts, believes that Beane's young scouting eyes are an
asset. ''Sometimes, when a veteran gets up, all the older scouts
start talking about supermarket prices,'' Tebbetts says. ''And the
kid will notice something that we all missed.''
But the most difficult part of Beane's job is scouting rookies,
the players with no major league history. That's when it's up to the
scout to find the weaknesses in a batter's strike zone or to break
down an opposing pitcher's repertoire. Beane is aware that his report
on a newcomer is the only information the A's will have on that
player before a game. ''Tony and Dunc ((Dave Duncan, the A's pitching
coach)) are more confident going into a game against Roger Clemens or
Mark Langston than they are facing some wild- eyed kid just up from
Double A,'' says Beane.
Still, though there is pressure in the job, there is also reward.
''Probably the biggest thrill is that Tony La Russa calls me up to
talk baseball, to ask me my opinion,'' says Beane. ''As a player, I
always wanted to just sit down with him and pick his brain. Now I do
that all the time, and I'm getting paid for it!''