GAMBIER — Oakland Athletics vice president and general manager Billy Beane spoke to a packed house at Kenyon College on Tuesday morning. A Major League veteran of six seasons, Beane spoke of his playing days, the transition he made into the front office and how he has managed to find success at the helm of a small-market team.
Beane, who was drafted by the New York Mets in the first round in 1980 along with Darryl Strawberry and John Gibbons, was the subject of the book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis. He gave the crowd some background into the book, which originally started as an article for the New York Times.
“Playing, for me, was a means to an end,” said Beane. “I looked like a baseball player — I was 6-foot-4 and 180 pounds when I graduated high school. I turned down an offer from Stanford and signed with the Mets in 1980. I was an overvalued player because I looked great, but I couldn’t meet those expectations. Lenny Dykstra, who was my first roommate, was an undervalued player. He was 5-foot-10, but played like a major leaguer. It took 10 years for the game to figure out that skill level does matter and it doesn’t matter what you look like.
“I played for some great teams — the 1986 Mets, the 1987 Minnesota Twins and the 1989 Oakland Athletics, all of which won the World Series — and after the 1989 season, I decided to hang it up and began my career as an advance scout for Oakland. Then, in 1993, I was promoted to assistant general manager under Sandy Alderson.”
Beane eventually worked his way up to general manager and, over the last 10 years, has become one of the game’s top GMs in a small market. He referred to himself as a “baseball lifer,” who surrounded himself with smart people. He learned the idea of sabermetrics from Alderson and began to apply it. As a result, in 2006, the A’s had one of baseball’s lowest payrolls (24th out of 30), but one of its best records (fifth best overall).
“I began to look at baseball completely different,” Beane said. “The data had been around for 150 years, but it was not utilized. Branch Rickey utilized some of it, but no one had completely understood it.”
Beane went on to talk about the idea of “regressive analysis” and how his team was able to apply it to baseball. He also spoke of the new model for GMs — diverse, bright young men and women. He also spoke about the technology explosion and how it is impacting baseball before opening it up the floor for questions.
Among those raised were: How do you know who to trade?; Is a salary cap good or bad; Who is the most overvalued and undervalued players in the game today?; Should there be an international draft?; As a general manager, how much emphasis do you place on intangibles?; and What is baseball’s antitrust law future?