Stop Enabling Billy Beane

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Just stop it.

It’s enough already.

The latest set of alibis for Billy Beane and Moneyball comes from Tyler Kepner in today’s NY Times and—in the greatest insult to our collective baseball intelligence yet—they’e being utilized in the same way to excuse his mediocrity as they were to build the foundation for his myth of genius.

He didn’t have any money and had to figure out a different way to compete; he doesn’t have any money now so that’s why he’s losing.

He was in a small, relatively unappealing market where players wouldn’t go unless they had no other choice; he can’t get players to come to Oakland.

He didn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities; he doesn’t have a state-of-the-art ballpark with modern amenities.

There were stupid people in baseball; the stupid people have suddenly gotten smart and are using his innovations.

What’s next? Mediocre reviews of the film or a lack of connectivity between book and movie are turning players away from joining a club that partakes in such dramatic license in the interests of propping up a story? The old ballplayer line of rejecting a job based on cinematic liberties?

Why is there this investment from the media in trying to salvage what’s left of the farce that was the appellation of “genius” on the part of Beane?

Beane’s justifications are taking on the ludicrous nature the type you’d hear from a bust on To Catch a Predator.

“I just came to talk to her.”

“I wanted to explain that she shouldn’t be meeting men on the internet.”

“She needs to do well in school, study hard and get into a good college.”

It’s not believable; in fact, it’s nonsense.

This isn’t to imply the issues of revenue, venue and increased knowledge from his counterparts aren’t hindering Beane’s efforts to maintain a competitive team—of course they are—but you can’t use the same arguments to create the illusion of brilliance as you do when explaining away mistakes. It doesn’t work that way.

The biggest irony is the “kinder, gentler Billy” persona that Beane—quite the actor himself—is putting forth.

It’s laughable that the same character who ranted, raved, cussed, broke things and bullied subordinates is now a cerebral, down-to-earth, somewhat resigned caricature who’s using those ridiculed excuses from above as a protective cloak to shield himself from all criticism; what makes it worse it how he’s being willfully assisted by the sycophants in the media and his remaining apologists whose agenda is clearly in line with their so-called “stat revolution” that was supposed to turn every Major League Baseball front office into something resembling a combination Star Trek convention and Ivy League school reunion.

I’ll bet that the “Billy Beane” in the film, played by the likable Brad Pitt, won’t be smashing any chairs on-screen. The Beane in the book is not likable at all. The character in the book was tearing into conventional baseball wisdom and running roughshod over the old-school scouts and antiquated thinkers who were invested in their own version of running a team; the movie person will be more palatable to the mainstream audience it’s seeking to attract.

Is the objective reality that so often referenced as to why Beane did what he did?

Beane was supposedly too smart and too much of an analyst to make it as a player, so he transferred his self-destructive intensity into the front office and turned it into a positive while simultaneously flipping the world of baseball upside down; but now he’s finding the same varied list of whys to maintain the veneer that his terrible team is not his fault.

Whose fault is it?

Beane had his chance to go to a big market club when he agreed to take over as GM of the Red Sox and backed out.

I’ve repeatedly stated how much of a disaster that would’ve been as his plans included trading Jason Varitek and signing someone named Mark Johnson to replace him; moving Manny Ramirez to permanent DH, precluding the signing of David Ortiz; signing Edgardo Alfonzo who was near the end of the line; and sending Kevin Youkilis to the Athletics as compensation for Beane joining the Red Sox.

Luckily for the Red Sox, Beane walked away from the deal and chose to stay in Oakand. Michael Lewis’s story was that Beane finally had a monetary value placed on his work with the Red Sox offer—documented evidence of what he could get were he to auction his stud services to the highest bidder. That was enough for him and he returned to the A’s. Family considerations played a part in Beane’s decision to remain with the A’s, but there were other, unsaid factors.

Isn’t it easier to stay somewhere where the expectations are muted and you’re treated as a demagogue? Where you’re about to be given a portion of a billion dollar business all as a result of this concept of being a genius? Where there are always ways to stickhandle around any missteps with the financial/ballpark/venue/competitive problems? Of existing in a vacuum?

If I hired a “genius”, I’d expect the miraculous. I’d expect him to figure it out regardless of what obstacles stand in his way.

Beane isn’t, nor was he ever, a genius. He filled a gap and exposed a market that was rife for exploitation. Once everyone else figured out what he was doing and started using the same techniques he did, he was right back where he started from. Genius is innovation and in that sense, there was a shred of “genius” in what Beane did; but he’s no innovator in that he created something new. He found a weapon and used it like some megalomaniacal James Bond villain.

He’s been able to gloss over repeated rebuilding projects where he traded away the likes of Nick Swisher, Dan Haren, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder for returns that have been weak or abject failures. He’s dispatched managers for shady reasons—but if the managers don’t get credit for the wins, nor should they be saddled with the losses. His “card-counting in the casino” approach to the draft was the stupidest thing in the book and has been proven to be an utter absurdity with continually terrible drafts. His pitchers have gotten injured over and over; wouldn’t a “genius” find a series of preventative measures to keep his players healthy apart from referring to the idiotic Verducci Effect—which Beane says he does?

How long is this going to last?

Is it going to last until the movie is in and out of theaters when the bloom is off a rose that’s existed far too long and has been protected from reality in the interests of selfish motivations? Will others join me in stating the obvious? Will Beane finally be seen for what he is?

Or will there still be pockets of protest trying to refurbish the crumbling facade of Moneyball?

Moneyball lives, but in a different form; it’s a shape-shifter; a chameleon bent on survival at whatever cost.

I tend to think, as the A’s stumble to a 90 loss season, there will be other voices saying the same thing I do.

But I said it first.

Beane’s corporate terminology and sudden reliance on the reviled “subjectivity” to protect his legacy and fairy tale status has failed in theory and practice.

No one’s buying it anymore.

They’re just waiting until after the film to admit it.

And that only makes the subterfuge and self-indulgence worse and those documenting it less and less credible.


5 thoughts on “Stop Enabling Billy Beane

  1. The Haren and Swisher trades are actually far from what you claim as “weak or abject failures.” You should do some fact checking before you make such absurd accusations.

    1. He got Gio Gonzalez in the Swisher deal. He got Haren for Mulder when his main prize there was Daric Barton, who’s done absolutely nothing this season; he got Carlos Gonzalez for Haren…then traded CarGo for Matt Holliday in a misplaced attempt to win in 2009—similar to the moves he made this year to try and win with Matsui; Willingham; DeJesus; Balfour; and Fuentes.
      That’s worked really well.
      So if you want to debate absurdity, maybe you should look at Beane’s supposed “genius” before parsing something I said and picking and choosing to defend the indefensible.

  2. Its been a while since my initial comment, but I still want to respond as I have stumbled upon this piece again. You still never explained as to why the Nick Swisher trade was a failure. Beane netted a stud of a prospect at that time in Gio, Fautino De Los Santos (who looks to have a bright future as a closer/set-up man) and Ryan Sweeney. The Mulder trade was probably even better than the Swisher trade. Barton did nothing last season because he was hurt with a shoulder injury that he kept secret, and is only 1 year removed form a 5 WAR season. Then when he traded Haren for Car Go, he also received other players to. Bret Anderson ring a bell?

    The problem with your article and your response is you continue to avoid looking at all the pieces in the trades. I will most definitely admit that the Cargo trade for Holliday, and the eventual trade for Michael Taylor are one of Beane’s worst moves ever. And the A’s acquisition of Willingham ultimately nets the A’s 2 draft picks that can be huge to their rebuilding effort.
    So don’t say that I should look at Beane’s “genius” when it is clear that you haven’t even bothered to look at your accusation how terrible the Haren ans Swisher trades were. It is clear form your many articles on Billy Beane that you have some sort of bias towards him. This is perfectly fine, but when you aim to criticize him without looking at the whole picture of the trades that you accused him of, you look quite unprofessional in what you have to say. Anybody can make blind statements without any facts.

    1. Frankly, I don’t need analysis of my professionalism or lack thereof from readers. If you don’t like what I have to say or are implementing biases of your own in defense of Beane, you don’t have to read me.
      As for the Gonzalez/Sweeney/Swisher trade, you’re right. It was a poor example of a “failure”. But in the context of a continuous rebuild when the team was still good enough to contend (something he’s doing now in rebuild number 4? 5? I forget.) it was a strange thing to do and was again protected by his fictional portrayal of always knowing what he’s doing.
      The entire point of my constant writings about Beane isn’t due to a personal bias. It’s not personal whether you believe that or not. He’s acquired this reputation of infallibility based on a book and a movie that provide him with cover to maintain the veneer of “genius” no matter what he does.
      This signing of Cespedes is the latest example.
      Had Dan Duquette or some other reviled GM in stat guy circles made this maneuver, he’d have been roasted. No one—apart from me—said one negative word about Beane making this bizarre deal in conjunction with the other deals he made this winter.
      I know Beane’s deals inside and out; I know Moneyball from cover-to-cover and saw the movie through the eye of reality and not within the dramatic license and accompanying propaganda.
      They’re not “blind statements without any facts”. His deals involving Hudson and Holliday along with the absurd free agent signings of the likes of Esteban Loaiza and desperation shots in the dark at Ben Sheets are indicative of a GM who’s in the muck with every other GM but is still considered “above” them based on nothing other than creative non-fiction and the money and status people have achieved because of Moneyball.

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