NEW ALBANY — His style of stockpiling the Oakland Athletics’ roster with underestimated talent has been the subject of a best-selling book and major motion picture, but Billy Beane still is reluctant to tip his hand when it comes to his secrets of the trade.
When one man asked Beane what the primary statistic lines he tracks during his rigid Sabermetrics approach to personnel decisions, the A’s general manager likened the question to one that might be proposed during a “Saturday Night Live” skit.
“General, if there’s something you don’t want the Iraqis to know, what would it be,” Beane mused, as the crowd that gathered at Indiana University Southeast Tuesday to hear him speak erupted with laughter.
A former Major League outfielder, Beane climbed the front office ranks following his career before becoming the A’s general manager following the 1997 season.
Marred by losing records, sagging revenue and a small payroll, Beane decided to use what at the time was considered a revolutionary methodology to filling the A’s roster.
Beane used what he described as objective, statistics-based analysis to determine what players the club would sign. While haughty home-run numbers were grabbing headlines, Beane and his staff sought players who could draw walks and simply find a way to get on base.
His approach worked, as the A’s would make the playoffs each season from 2000 to 2003. Last year, the A’s went on a torrid late-season run to best the deep pockets of the Texas Rangers for the American League West Division crown.
Beane’s style of compiling players was the focus of the 2003 Michael Lewis book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.”
The book and Beane’s character would be portrayed in the 2011 movie “Moneyball” which featured actor Brad Pitt playing the role of Beane.
When he took the stage as part of the Sanders Speaker Series at IU Southeast, Beane joked that he hoped he hadn’t disappointed a crowd expecting Pitt instead of him.
He spoke about the last time he saw “Moneyball” which was during its premier at the Toronto Film Festival.
“It seems like a normal Brad Pitt movie, then you hear your name,” Beane said. “It’s a little surreal to say the least.”
Beane, age 50, said his favorite baseball movie is the 1942 hit “The Pride of the Yankees” which is based on the life of former New York Yankee first baseman Lou Gehrig.
Beane answered questions from the host of the event, Marty Rosen, as well as from the audience. He spoke at length about how he absorbed business information and practices while he was establishing himself as the A’s GM, as Beane said Warren Buffett’s opinions had a great influence on his style.
Professionally, Beane credited former A’s General Manager Sandy Alderson as being his biggest influence. Alderson hired Beane into the organization as a scout in 1990, and Beane garnered knowledge of running a team and an introduction to Sabermetrics from Alderson.
As alluded to in the movie, Beane said he doesn’t watch the A’s games. He said he’s more emotionally stable and a “more pleasant husband” when he’s not hanging onto every pitch of a 162-game season.
“It doesn’t make sense for me to get emotional over every single game,” he said.
But Beane quickly added his lack of watching baseball games doesn’t mean he’s not competitive. Beane said he hates losing and is driven by success and the responsibility that comes with it.
Admittedly a very hands-on general manager, Beane said he never forgets that if he makes a bad decision on a utility infielder, it could cost an employee their job somewhere in the organization.
But as much as he likes to win, Beane said baseball will never trump his main passion.
“I’ve never wanted my professional life to be my self esteem,” he said. “For me, it’s always about my children.”
As for the book, Beane said he and then-A’s Assistant General Manager Paul DePodesta were not allowed to have input on Lewis’ work.
Instead, Beane said he was initially led to believe Lewis was writing a piece on the A’s rise to success for a newspaper. Only after months of interviews was he let in on the fact that Lewis was writing a book that would be reference material for business leaders and baseball executives alike.
“He even admits now how sneaky he was when he embedded himself,” Beane said with a smile in reference to Lewis.
As for this season, Beane said he likes his club. But he admitted the Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be challenging foes to deal with.
“I don’t think we’re going to sneak up on them this year,” Beane said.
About the Sanders Series
The Sanders Speaker Series launched in 2008 when Judge Carlton Sanders and his wife Sue Sanders donated $300,000 to IUS to bring well-known speakers to the university.
The couple has donated $560,000 to the IU Southeast Business School, and established the Sanders Chair of the department.
“The Sanders are tremendous supporters of IU Southeast,” said IU Southeast Chancellor Sandra Patterson-Randles. “We appreciate their selflessness and their commitment to higher education.”