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The Unbearable Brightness of Beane A best-seller made A's G.M. Billy Beane look like a genius. Will it also make him a pariah?

June 30, 2003
June 30, 2003

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June 30, 2003

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The Unbearable Brightness of Beane A best-seller made A's G.M. Billy Beane look like a genius. Will it also make him a pariah?

The book Moneyball has made A's general manager Billy Beane as
famous as any of his players. Author Michael Lewis depicts the
41-year-old Beane as the Tchaikovsky of trades, a man who relies
on the statistical art of sabermetrics to create masterpiece
deals while most other G.M.'s make rather less enlightened
swaps. In Moneyball, Beane is seen working his magic on general
managers such as the Expos' Omar Minaya and the Giants' Brian
Sabean. The book has been excerpted in SI (May 12) and praised by
critics; last week it was No. 2 on The New York Times best-seller
list. Even though the A's were 5 1/2 games out of first place on
Monday, Beane, a man of no small ego, would appear to be having a
very good year.

This is an article from the June 30, 2003 issue Original Layout

But has Beane, by sitting for such a flattering portrait,
overplayed his hand? Moneyball has been discussed in front
offices from Seattle to Miami, and there the reviews have not
been so favorable. "What was the point?" asks a National League
G.M., speaking of the unprecedented access that Beane gave Lewis
last season. "All of us have our quirks and ways of doing things.
It's presumptuous to think you do it better. If I were his owner,
I'd be concerned. It goes beyond self-serving." Adds Grady Fuson,
the Rangers' assistant G.M. and the former A's scouting director
who is severely criticized by Beane in the book, "He has to be
held accountable for what was written.... There's no way you can
make me believe he was [mis]quoted for 258 pages."

Could this ill will hamper Beane's ability to make deals in the
peak trading month of July? Who's going to return his phone
calls? Beane wasn't available for comment on this subject, but
there is at least one reason for other G.M.'s to keep trading
with him: To get what he wants, Beane surrenders a lot of real
talent. In December 2001, Beane sent third baseman Eric Hinske,
last season's Rookie of the Year, to Toronto for closer Billy
Koch; to obtain lefthander Ted Lilly in a three-way deal last
July, Beane gave the Tigers righthander Jeremy Bonderman, first
baseman Carlos Pena and righthander Franklyn German, all Detroit
regulars. Says an American League source, "It's not like Billy's
shopping crap, because they don't have crap to begin with."

Getting value, though, requires matching Beane's skills; less
savvy G.M.'s such as the Royals' Allard Baird, who in separate
deals handed Beane Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye in return for
second-tier players, are still apt to get snookered. And history
shows that Beane's canniest moves of the year are yet to come.

Among the less gossipy--but highly salient--details in Moneyball
is the observation that Oakland has become baseball's best
second-half team. In Beane's five seasons as G.M., the A's have
gone 180-99 after the July 31 trade deadline (a .645 winning
percentage and the best in baseball over that time) compared with
277-253 (.523) before it. "As spring turned to summer," Lewis
writes, "the market allowed Beane to do things that he could do
at no other time of the year. The bad teams lost hope. With the
loss of hope came a desire to cut costs. With the desire to cut
costs came the dumping of players. As the supply of players rose,
their prices fell. Beane was able to acquire players he could
never have afforded at the start of the season."

The roster of players Beane has added via July trades--including
outfielder Terrence Long and pitchers Kevin Appier and Jason
Isringhausen in '99, outfielder Dye in '01 and second baseman
Ray Durham in '02--is staggering, and goes a long way toward
bolstering Lewis's representation of Beane as a shark swimming
with guppies. Now even G.M.'s who don't object to Moneyball must
weigh the possibility of getting pickpocketed by someone whom
even the casual fan sees as a master. As this year's trading
season begins, the question isn't who's forgiven Beane his
hubris, but rather, who's still man enough to step up to the
table with him?
--Daniel G. Habib

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER
"The most amazing aspect of Hewitt's loss was how little anyone
cared." --CHAMP TO CHUMP, PAGE 20