On his Birthday, Here's a Look at the People Who Have Helped Define the A's Billy Beane
Today, March 29, is Billy Beane’s birthday. He’s been the Oakland A’s guiding light, first as general manager and now as executive vice president, since 1997.
It’s a good bet that in all that time, Beane has never had so little he could do on his birthday than today.
Like everyone else in this age of COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, he’s not out and about. He certainly did not spend his birthday at the Coliseum, where the A’s had been scheduled to play the Minnesota Twins in the final game of a season-opening series Sunday. Baseball, like much of American life, is shut down.
Friends and colleagues mostly took to mobile phones and social media to wish Beane well on his day; getting a group of people together to celebrate anyone’s birthday is a seriously bad idea.
So, we thought we’d look at 10 of the people, in mostly chronological order, who have helped defined Beane, a man who is as well-known as any sports executive in the game.
1—Sandy Alderson. It was in April of 1990 that Beane, who’d played in 37 games for the A’s in 1989, enough to earn a World Series ring, was reassigned to the minor league camp. The former first-round draft pick by the Mets who opted not to sign with Stanford and jump right from high school to the pro game, decided he’d had enough and asked Alderson if there was something else he could do.
Alderson gave him a job as an advance scout. Three years later, Alderson brought into his inner circle as assistant general manager. Having had to slash payroll after the death of longtime owner Walter A. Haas Jr., Alderson adopted sabermetrics as a general rule and leaned on Beane to help run the sabermetric ship in Oakland. Four years later, Alderson became the A’s president and handed the GM job to Beane. The rest, as they say, is history.
2—Paul DePodesta. If everything you know about “Moneyball,” is the movie, you may never have heard of DePodesta, hired by Beane as the assistant GM in 1998. He’d been a one-time football player at Harvard when he wasn’t studying economics. He believed in numbers, and as Beane did, too, they meshed well.
But when the movie came out, DePodesta didn’t want someone else portraying him, so the Jonah Hill character you see on screen is a loose fictionalization of DePodesta, who in real life would go on to become GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
3—David Forst. A shortstop and team captain of the Harvard baseball team, he hit up all 30 big league teams looking for a job once he was done playing. The A’s brought him on as a scout in 2000. In 2004 he was elevated to succeed DePodesta as assistant GM. And in 2015, when Beane was named executive vice president, Forst took over as general manager.
Forst and Beane are tight and both believe strongly in the sabermetrics that are behind Moneyball. Once, when Beane was being courted by another big-league club to take over as general manager, Beane told them he wanted to bring Forst along as his top lieutenant.
4—Lew Wolff. When he took over as managing general partner of the A’s in 2005, he could have brought in his own hires. He looked at the club and decided the A’s front office was fine just as it was. To make sure he kept it intact, Wolff gave Beane a 4% ownership stake in the club.
The practical meaning of that move locks Beane in Oakland indefinitely. If Beane was to work someplace else in MLB, he’d likely have to sell that stake, the value of which is well north of $20 million. That value has a chance to skyrocket if/when the A’s get a new stadium and ditch the half-century old (and showing it) Oakland Coliseum
5--Michael Lewis. The author and Berkeley resident profiled Beane and the A’s organization in 2003’s book Moneyball” The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. He explored how Beane and Co. focused on analytics to people its roster.
In the long run, the book and the subsequent 2011 movie may have undercut Beane’s success for a time by popularizing his philosophies so that they were mimicked by many others in baseball.
6. Art Howe. Hired in 1996 while Alderson was still the general manager, Howe was the first manager to clash with Beane over the divide between the jobs of manager and general manager. Beane liked to make lineup calls, and Howe, a baseball traditionalist, didn’t care for that.
It’s been an ongoing battle between Beane and his managers, and it still continues today, although current manager Bob Melvin deals with it somewhat less than predecessors Howe, Ken Macha and Bob Geren.
7—Brad Pitt. To the wider world, Beane is best known for the portrayal of him put down on film by Pitt in “Moneyball,” although it was a little bit of a stretch physically for the 5-foot-11 Pitt to stand in for the 6-4 Beane.
But it was Pitt who helped shepherd the project through eight years of production stops and starts. The film became a classic – Beane and his family were in the Hollywood audience with the film up for 2012 Oscar awards – but only after it ran through three directors.
8--Bob Geren. Beane and Geren were longtime friends, and when Beane went looking for a manager to replace Ken Macha, he brought Geren on board. Macha, like Howe, said that Beane was too intrusive, and Geren, who had been the best man at Beane’s first wedding, didn’t have a problem with that.
But Beane makes mistakes, and Geren was one. Under a manager who didn’t push back and challenge the boss, the A’s didn’t have a winning season, although they did break even at 81-81 in 2010. But after a 27-36 start to 2011, Geren was gone.
9—Bob Melvin. Beane has often said that he’s found his perfect manager in Melvin, who had previous managerial stops in Seattle and Arizona. A former catcher, Melvin is both traditionalist and progressive, a combination that seems to work well.
Brought aboard mid-2011, Melvin’s teams have won 88 or more games five times in his eight full seasons to date. Reports suggest that Beane and Forst on the one side and Melvin on the other have some arguments, but both sides are willing to downplay that because they generally like and respect the other. And they’ve made it work, including 97-win seasons each of the last two years.
10—Robert Eenhoorn. If you’ve never heard of Eenhoorn, you’re not alone. After playing four forgettable (37 games, 67 at-bats) years, mostly with the Yankees, the Dutch-born Eenhoorn returned to The Netherlands, first concentrating on baseball before becoming the general director of the Dutch football club AZ Alkmaar in 2014. A year later, he hired Beane as an advisor.
Two years later, Beane, a longtime football/soccer enthusiast, became part of an ownership group that purchased the second-tier English football league team Barnsley Football Club.