Damage Control and Billy Beane

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Athletics manager Bob Melvin convinced his friend Chili Davis to take the job as hitting coach—ESPN Story.

Melvin’s a good manager.

Davis is a respected hitting coach and man.

But, but…doesn’t this render obsolete a sacrosanct tenet of the Moneyball story?

In what world does the manager have any say whatsoever about anything?

Perhaps this is Billy Beane‘s attempt—in a geniusy sort of way—to prop his manager’s credibility and put forth the concept that he’s letting Melvin influence a hire to make it appear as if he’s not a middle-managing functionary and faceless automaton whose mandate is to carry out orders from the front office.

It could be a brilliantly devised diversionary tactic.

Or Moneyball could be a fantasy filled with exaggerations and outright lies designed to come to the conclusion that Beane is something other than what he is.

And what that is is an overhyped and slightly above-average GM who took great advantage of the onrush of fame that came his way for allowing Michael Lewis to document his strategies when they were working and for Lewis having the motivation and writing skill to frame them in such a way that they were salable to the masses.

It’s laughable how the media uses Beane’s supposed cleverness as a shield for everything; as the basis for a story that will accrue them webhits for the simple reason that Beane’s name is mentioned.

Just this past week it was said that Beane accompanied Athletics owner Lew Wolff to the meeting with Bud Selig regarding a potential A’s move to San Jose.

Yeah?

So?

What does Beane’s presence imply? Was the power of his big brain going to hypnotize Selig to ignore the viability of the Giants territorial rights just because Beane was there?

Peter Gammons later suggested that Beane might end up as the GM of the Dodgers once the sale of the team is completed.

Never mind that the Dodgers already have a competent GM in Ned Colletti and that MLB needs an industrial machete to hack through the jungle vines of legalities in selling the franchise and divvying up the bounty between everyone who has a claim on Frank McCourt’s litigious massacre—no one knows who’s going to own the team!! So how is it possible to speculate on whom the GM is going to be? If the great and powerful “Hollywood” buys the Dodgers, I guess Brad Pitt playing Beane is a possibility as GM, but not Beane himself.

There’s always an excuse with this guy and the media is more than willing to lap it up as if it’s gospel.

He fired Bob Geren because the attention being paid to his situation was a distraction to the team.

He accompanied Wolff because the stadium issue is influencing the team’s off-season planning.

He has options like the Dodgers.

Blah, blah, blah.

It’s the stuff of a damage control-centric public relations firm hired specifically to put their clients in the best possible light regardless of reality and circumstances.

Geren did a bad job as manager; had he been treated as Beane callously and subjectively did his prior managers, he would’ve been fired after his second year on the job.

Beane’s name falsely lends credence to any kind of endeavor for those who still believe the Moneyball myth, but his attendance at the meeting with Selig was window dressing to garner attention to the story. The Giants are fools if they relinquish their territorial rights.

Beane has no options. He wanted the Cubs job and his mininons were tossing his name into the ring with such paraphrased, between-the-lines inanities as, “Billy would listen and Lew wouldn’t stand in his way.”

But the Cubs didn’t want him. They wanted Theo Epstein.

He’s trapped with the Athletics. Because of the stadium problems, the foundation is laid for another housecleaning and rebuilding phase due to finances, thereby absolving Beane of all responsibility again. Before, when he dealt away his stars, it was because of some grand scheme he’d concocted along with the Ivy League-educated acolytes of his revolution; now he doesn’t have any money so he has to listen to offers on his stars.

It’s garbage.

The team is terrible; his genius was never genius at all; and the informercial-style opacity of his tale is coming clearer and clearer as an increasing number of observers open up the box and see that the gadgets don’t work.

Return the gadgets.

Ask for a refund.

Or stop purchasing them to begin with.

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MLB September Stories To Watch, Part I

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Justin Verlander‘s MVP candidacy.

I went into the reasons why Verlander is a worthy candidate here.

Jon Heyman of Sports Illustrated also believes pitchers should be eligible in this piece while saying Verlander’s not his pick now. In August. Why Heyman’s writing who his MVP is in August is a mystery aside from screaming, “I dunno what else to write about so I’ll write about the MVP in August!!”

While I’m unsure of whom should actually be the MVP in the American League yet, I don’t know how even the greatest holdout that pitchers shouldn’t win the MVP can deny Verlander serious thought if he wins 26 games and leads the league in ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched and the Tigers win a division that they wouldn’t have come close to winning without him.

I still might say Adrian Gonzalez is the MVP, but it’s simple arrogance to completely exclude Verlander because of self-inflicted parameters that aren’t in the mandate of who’s eligible for the award and who’s not.

What the Yankees will do with A.J. Burnett.

Burnett has the right arm of an ace and the results of a pitcher with the right arm of an ace who decided he’d pitch with his left hand.

And he’s not ambidextrous.

I’m not even convinced Burnett is capable of tying his own shoes.

He’s going to stay in the starting rotation for the next 10 days or so because of the number of make-up games the Yankees have to play, but by mid-September, they’re going to have to come to a conclusion of what to do with him.

They could take him out of the rotation, stick him in the bullpen or just sit him down completely.

All are possible.

All are viable.

Planting the seeds for Billy Beane‘s departure from Oakland.

Already there are whispers that sound more like preparatory statements for Beane to leave the Athletics.

The time is right. Moneyball is at his conclusion (at least with people believing that nonsense); the movie’s coming out in three weeks; Beane’s reputation is pretty much shot with only those holdouts who cling to his fictional genius, trying to justify it with alibi-laden columns and statements as to how what’s happened with the A’s is the fault of Northern California because the evil politicos won’t let the A’s build a stadium.

Yeah. The A’s are going to lose 90 games because of the stadium.

Nothing’s Billy’s fault.

Interesting that the stadium wasn’t an issue when there were so many experts picking the A’s to win the AL West this year.

What happened?

The skids are being greased and the nuggets are popping up from “those close” to Beane saying he might be tired of tilting at windmills with no money and no stadium revenue; that A’s owner Lew Wolff would let Beane talk to other teams that might be interested in him.

Blah, blah, blah.

I say he’s going to the Cubs. The only question is how it’s framed when he does.

LoMo and the Twitter and the mouth and the batting average.

The Marlins demotion of Logan Morrison was a warning shot that lasted a week. They brought Morrison back quickly in the hopes that he’ll learn his lesson that he’s not a veteran; he’s not a megastar who can say whatever he wants; that he’s an employee held at the whims of his bosses for the foreseeable future.

Will he understand?

Yes.

Will he listen?

I’m not convinced.

The Marlins don’t tolerate a lot of crap; don’t be surprised to see Morrison showcased by batting fourth for all of September as they hope he has a big month and then listen to offers for him. The price would be steep because he’s cheap, young and good, but the Marlins wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and trade him.

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Billy Beane And The Cubs Are A Match Made In _________

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It’s a match made in blank because we don’t know.

How will a Billy Beane with money at his disposal function differently than the Billy Beane with creative non-fiction bolstering everything he does as the touch of a deity?

We’ll see.

Everyone is on the same playing field now and with clubs like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets using some semblance of the stat-based techniques in building their franchises, Beane’s not doing something different with obscure numbers that few are even aware of anymore.

What he was doing with the Athletics wasn’t the work of a genius, but the filling of a gap and utilization of weapons that hadn’t been widely discovered or implemented yet.

It’s opportunistic and smart, but hardly the work of a “genius”.

We’ll never know what would’ve happened had Beane followed through on his agreement to take over as the GM of the Red Sox after the 2002 season. What we do know is that the moves he had planned would’ve been retrospectively disastrous.

Under Beane’s Red Sox regime, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and Jason Varitek were all part of an alternate universe in Red Sox history—a universe that Red Sox fans are undoubtedly pleased is embedded in a reality that can’t be found in Moneyball—in print or on screen.

Could it have worked with the blueprint Beane had in mind for the Red Sox?

Possibly.

But given the notorious impatience of Red Sox fans and the expectations accompanying Beane’s arrival, griping from the media and fans would’ve started immediately. Add in that the team had yet to break the “curse” and it was a recipe for disaster.

Even in a storybook sense, it’s difficult to imagine that Beane’s Red Sox could’ve been more successful than that which has been built under John Henry with Larry Lucchino and Theo Epstein calling the shots.

Much of what happens is determined by luck and timing. Had Epstein not resigned in his gorilla-suit encased snit after the 2005 season, the Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell acquisitions wouldn’t have taken place. Would they have been better with Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez? Again, possibly. But no Lowell and Beckett make a repeat plot of the 2007 championship impossible. And the only reason they took Lowell was because the Marlins forced them to take his contract to get Beckett. Lowell was a key player in 2007.

The groundwork for Billy Beane’s departure from the Athletics is being laid as we speak.

The combination of next months’s release of the movie version of Moneyball; the way the Athletics have crumbled to an embarrassing irrelevance as anything other than a running gag verifying the absurdity of Beane’s supposed “genius”; the gridlocked stadium situation; that owner Lew Wolff has said he wouldn’t stop Beane from leaving; and the old “those close to Beane saying he’s frustrated” sham being planted in the media, all adds up to an exit strategy and golden parachute for a stagnated boss.

There was a suggestion that the Dodgers might be a viable situation for Beane. I don’t see that happening. They’ve been there, done that with Paul DePodesta and it didn’t work. Why do it again? If Ned Colletti leaves and MLB and the McCourts are still wrestling for control of the club, Kim Ng is a perfect choice. Her hiring gives positive public relations to all involved; she seems to know what she’s doing; she’s working for MLB now; was in Los Angeles before as Colletti’s assistant; and she’s agreeable to both sides.

Forget Beane in LA. We’re about to see his Hollywood foray and it’s about as realistic as the cooking school in Tuscany attended by all chefs at Olive Garden. In other words, it doesn’t exist. Beane’s movie fantasy has him being played by Brad Pitt and there will not be a sequel unless the real Beane turns a bigger trick than making everyone think he’s a genius in a setting vastly different than the one in the first story.

If Beane jumps ship, he’s landing on the North Side of Chicago to take over the Cubs.

And it’s going to happen.

Remember you read it here that Beane is going to be the next Cubs GM.

Maybe it’ll have a better ending than spin-doctoring and excuses to justify a farce.

But it is the Cubs after all. They’re sort of the Tropic Thunder of the baseball world.

Keep that in mind before thinking Beane’s walking in to save the day.

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Call The Cops

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It’s punishable by 8 years in prison to allow Orioles closer Kevin Gregg to record a save with a 1-2-3 inning.

Rightfully so.

The Athletics committed this egregious act twice in three days in full view of thousands of live witnesses and hundreds of thousands—presumably millions—watching at home.

Where are we as a society if this brand of criminality occurs right before our very eyes?

Will someone step forward and take action to prevent this type of breakdown of law and order?

Actually, I’m kidding.

Sort of.

While there isn’t a “Gregg Law” on the books, there should be. But that’s neither here nor there.

This is about the Athletics.

I’ll get into their circumstances more as the season wears on and in this case, the word “wear” is perfectly appropriate with multiple connotations.

There’s only one way manager Bob Geren survives this tailspin of 9 straight losses and it’s not due to his friendship with Billy Beane; it’s because Beane is so invested in his image as an all-seeing, all-knowing “genius”—in connection to the ridiculous movie coming out in September—that he’ll be intentionally contrary and refuse to dismiss his manager.

It might come down to owner Lew Wolff telling Beane to do it over the GM’s self-interested, arbitrary objections.

There’s been talk about a possible sell-off of the A’s marketable veterans with Grant Balfour; Hideki Matsui (my speculation—back to the Yankees if they drop Jorge Posada?); and Josh Willingham (whom the Braves could really use).

Here’s my question (and I’ll ask it again after Geren’s gone): how many times does Beane get to put a team together; have it called a “contender”; watch it stagger around into the summer; and then tear it down to start all over again?

How many times before someone finally looks at Beane himself—not in a perfunctory “the buck stops with me” bit of subterfuge—but with a truly discerning eye and realistic examination of the job he’s done along with an objectively analytical conclusion as to whether the absurd Moneyball is saving Beane himself from the executioner’s axe?

When?

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Fast And Loose

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Ken Rosenthal writes about the Oakland Athletics and their manager Bob Geren in this column on Foxsports.com.

Within the piece it’s implied that Geren—for the first time in his tenure—could be replaced if the team doesn’t perform up to expectations; that because the Athletics have some talent to work with, Geren is responsible for the results.

This is another example of the “Billy Beane” character moving to the forefront and taking precedence over reality. Beane the GM has played fast and loose with his supposed belief systems when it’s been advantageous for him to do so.

Rosenthal casually mentions the 2009 season when the Athletics made a series of bold maneuvers to try and vault into contention. They traded for Matt Holliday; signed Jason Giambi and Orlando Cabrera to contracts to bolster a young pitching staff. Holliday got off to a slow start and seemed unhappy in the American League amid the vast dimensions of the Oakland Coliseum; Giambi looked finished and was released; and Cabrera got off to an atrocious start before being traded to the Twins.

The team finished at 75-87.

Beane didn’t fire Geren.

I’m not suggesting he should’ve fired Geren on his own merits; I don’t hold the manager responsible for the Athletics poor showings in the won/lost column with Geren as the manager; but if Beane is so desperately determined to stick to his public portrayal of a ruthless corporate assassin, then Geren had to go.

Rosenthal points out the Moneyball model in which Beane runs the club from the front office; told Art Howe where and how to stand in the dugout; dismissed Ken Macha for daring to lose in the ALCS; and that the final tally of A’s success or failure lands at the desk of the GM.

But if Beane were consistent in his dealings—or at least honest—he’d have said that Geren is still the manager, in part, because the two are close friends. Beane fired Macha for literally no reason other than the oft-proffered and unquantifiable old standby, “lack of communication”.

I’d like to have a manager with a lack of communication achieve a record of 368-280 in his tenure.

I wondered at the time if Beane would’ve used his “objectivity” to fire Macha had the manager won four more games in 2006 and gotten to the World Series; or eight more and won a championship. The absence of communication was such a problem that it shouldn’t have mattered and he should’ve been canned regardless, right?

I’m no fan of Macha as a manager, but the firing and self-serving justifications were ridiculous.

I’m not begrudging Beane’s right to fire his managers—I’m fully on-board with making a managerial change sooner rather than later and don’t believe a GM or owner has to give a reason other than, “I felt like it.”

But that doesn’t fit the Beane caricature. Everything Beane does is supposed to be steeped in reasoning, objective analysis, logic and the bottom line.

Of course it’s nonsense.

If that were the case, would Geren—who I happen to think is a competent manager—still be in the A’s dugout?

No.

Geren could very well be in trouble if the A’s underachieve again and it won’t be because of anything he does wrong, but because Beane himself will be under fire from a disgusted fan base, impatient owner and skeptical public tired of the moniker of “genius” that has yet to bear fruit anywhere aside from print and, soon, a movie theater near you.

When he’s cornered, Beane won’t take the blame.

He’ll use his “best friend” as a human shield and fling him to the flocking and angry crowd by means of sacrifice, thereby saving himself and his unjustified reputation—with a segment of the believers anyway.

He can fire whomever he wants, whyever he wants; but to make it anything more than an act of self-preservation for a desperate executive trying to cling to the last vestiges of an increasingly tarnished and questionable reputation and storyline of success is the height of hypocrisy and fits right into the fable of Billy Beane.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

I published a full excerpt of my book here.

It’s available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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