If we pull this off, we change the game.  We change the game for good.

As a baseball player, Billy Beane was a bust.  As a baseball executive, he changed the game forever.

A first-round draft choice of the New York Mets in 1980, Beane was projected as a star.  But in a six-year big-league career in which he played for four teams, he disappointed.  Beane appeared in only 148 MLB games, batting .219 with three homers and 29 RBI.  After spending the bulk of his decade-long playing career bouncing around in the minors, the former high school hot-shot landed in the front office of the Oakland Athletics in 1990.

Considered one of the most progressive and talented executives in the game, Beane has had a profound impact on how baseball is played today.  Currently the executive vice president of baseball operations for the A’s, he has been named Executive of the Year three times by The Sporting News and has twice received that honor from Baseball America.  Additionally, Major League Baseball recognized Beane as the league’s Executive of the Year in both 2012 and 2018.

The subject of Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Beane has built the A’s into one of the most successful franchises in baseball despite its low payroll.  The book is required reading at most business schools, making Beane an icon in boardrooms and greatly in demand on the corporate public-speaking circuit.  The 2011 film, Moneyball, was based on the book and starred Brad Pitt as Beane.  During his playing career, the 6’4”, 195-pound right-hander studied economics at the University of California-San Diego during off-seasons.  Beane has used sabermetric principles – applying statistical analysis to evaluate and compare the performance of players —  to run his team in a cost-effective way.

Baseball has changed dramatically in Billy Beane’s two decades running the Athletics.  Hitters who were once measured by batting average, home runs, and runs batted in are now gauged by Weighted Runs Created Plus and On Base Percentage Plus.  Pitchers were formerly held to the standard of wins, innings pitched and earned run average.  Today, managers quantify pitchers’ performance with Runs Allowed per Nine Innings Pitched.  Errors and fielding percentage has been replaced with Defensive Runs Saved.  And the most important metric for all players is WAR – an acronym for Wins Above Replacement.

The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams, and there are poor teams.  Then there’s 50 feet of crap.  And then there’s us.  It’s an unfair game.

Beane is not afraid to make unpopular decisions.  In 2008, he traded 26-year-old Rich Harden, who had a 2.34 lifetime ERA and was going to be a free-agent at the end of the season, to the Cubs.  Within three years, the oft-injured right-hander was out of baseball.  After the 2011 season, Beane moved three All-Stars, including 2009 Rookie of the Year, Andrew Bailey.  He was crucified by the media, who boldly predicted the A’s would finish last in the league the following year.  Instead, Oakland went on to win its division the following two seasons and qualified for the postseason as a Wild Card in 2014.

Under Billy Beane’s watch, the A’s have compiled the fourth-best record in the American League over the past 19 years, and the eighth-best in all of baseball during that period.  Beane has shepherded the Athletics to eight postseason appearances since 2000.  Only the Yankees, Cardinals and Braves have more.  Two of Beane’s signees – Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada – have been named AL MVP.  Barry Zito won the 2002 AL Cy Young Award, while Bobby Crosby, Huston Street and Andrew Bailey have all garnered AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Born in Orlando March 29, 1962, William Lamer Beane III grew up in a military family.  His father, a naval officer, taught his son to pitch as a young boy.  The family moved to San Diego, where Beane was a standout in football, basketball, and baseball at Mount Carmel High School in suburban Rancho Bernardo.  After hitting over .500 as both as sophomore and junior, Beane gave up football for fear of injury.

A coveted prep prospect, Stanford offered Beane a football-baseball scholarship to replace John Elway.  The New York Mets had three first-round picks in the 1980 Major League Baseball Draft.  They used the first to select Darryl Strawberry and their second on Beane, who was taken 23rd overall – one spot behind University of Arizona outfielder Terry Francona.  Beane decided to sign with the Mets for a $125,000 signing bonus.  He later called his decision to join the Mets instead of going to Stanford as the only [and final] decision he would ever make in his life about money.

Beane spent his first two professional seasons in Class A.  In 1982, he was promoted to the Mets Double-A affiliate in the Texas League, where he batted .220 while Strawberry was named the league’s MVP.  Beane played five games with the Mets as a September call-up in 1984, returned to AAA, then returned to the big club for eight games in 1985.

The 24-year-old outfielder was dealt to the Minnesota Twins in 1986 and spent most of the next two years in Triple-A.  Beane was traded to the Detroit Tigers during spring training in 1988 but only appeared in six games with the big club.  He signed with the Oakland A’s as a free agent in 1989, hitting .241 in 79 at bats.  While the A’s went on to win the 1989 World Series, Beane was not on their postseason roster.

Your goal shouldn’t be to buy players.  Your goal should be to buy wins.  In order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.

After being sent down to the minors at the end of spring training in 1990, Beane retired as a player and joined the Athletics front office as an advance scout.  Three years later, he was promoted to assistant general manager, tasked with scouting minor league players.  Beane took over as general manager after the 1997 season.  In October 2015, he was promoted to his current position as executive vice president of baseball operations.

Moneyball opened the eyes of not just sports executives but business leaders throughout the country.  Steve Zabilski is Executive Director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Phoenix.  It is the organization’s largest operation in the U.S.   Zabilski has applied Moneyball principles to running SVDP.  “Beane’s management approach of identifying and using undervalued assets to create and sustain a competitive edge is brilliant,” said Zabilski.  “Its application is limitless, and can be incorporated into any operation, from running a sports team to an educational system to a Fortune 500 company or non-profit organization like St. Vincent de Paul.”

In November 2001, Beane was named to Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal’s “40 Under 40” list, honoring the nation’s top 40 sports executives under the age of 40.  In 2008, he collaborated with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Sen. John Kerry to co-author an article for The New York Times offering possible remedies for the U.S. health-care crisis.  Valued for his ability to combine facts with instincts, he sits on the board of several companies, including ProTrade and NetSuite, Inc.

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Comments

  1. I had the chance to meet Billy a few years ago in Phoenix. He was a very kind man – interested in what we were doing at St. Vincent de Paul attempting to incorporate his insights into running our organization.

    Billy not only changed baseball, he changed the business world. The explosive growth of data analytics throughout universities and board rooms around the world can be attributed to his keen insights on how a game that was played essentially the same for more than a hundred years could in fact be revolutionized. His impact reaches far, far beyond baseball, and even sports, and cannot be overstated. It’s impressive that he has stayed with the Oakland A’s all these years.

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