He gives lectures to Deutsche Bank executives. He’s rubbed shoulders with billionaire investor Warren Buffett. And he’s been offered millions to ply his trade elsewhere. So, what the heck is Oakland A’s General Manager billy beane still doing in the East Bay?
Photograph by Thomas Broening
(page 1 of 5)
Billy Beane does not exactly fit the image of a best-seller-inspiring, globe-trotting business guru. The A’s general manager often wears shorts and sandals to work, for heaven’s sake. Now picture Beane, in those shorts and sandals, completing a phone call with a player agent or rival general manager, and launching his broad-shouldered, six-foot-four-inch frame into an impromptu victory dance, right there next to the desk in his office.
David Forst, the A’s assistant GM, whose own office is across the hall, has occasionally witnessed Beane’s “shimmy” when he gets what he wants out of a phone conversation. The dance is about the ambitious Beane getting his way, of course, but it’s also about his hyperactive energy and uncommon style, traits that help explain the A’s improbable success over the past decade—and shed light on why the franchise and its marquee executive are such an enduring match.
Beane, 46, counts as a fixture on the East Bay sports scene. He marked his 10-year anniversary as Oakland’s general manager last October (unusual longevity in the sports world) and will reach 20 years with the organization in November, dating from his arrival as a free agent outfielder in 1988. The A’s have made the playoffs five times during his tenure and entered 2008 with the fourth-best record in the Major Leagues since he took charge.
His signature mode of operation—making bold, splashy trades and squeezing sparkling results out of a meager budget—has gained the attention of companies outside baseball and could have vaulted him to any number of more prestigious teams (with deeper resources) by now. That he’s still here is surprising. “I really can’t imagine working for somebody else in a similar capacity,” Beane says. “My DNA now has Oakland A’s embedded in it.”
That sure seems to be the case, yet what about working for the A’s meshes so deeply with Beane’s personal motivations? It may be that in many ways the A’s, and the Bay Area, let Billy Beane be Billy Beane.
Beane might have attended a military academy if he hadn’t turned into a terrific athlete at Mt. Carmel High in San Diego. His father was a naval officer who moved the family west from Florida when Beane was six. By the time he was 18, Beane was tall and strapping, weighing 180 pounds. He was coveted by Stanford as a quarterback and selected by the New York Mets in the first round of the 1980 amateur baseball draft. He signed with the Mets and launched what became a profoundly disappointing career.
His numbers on the field—a .219 batting average and only three home runs in six Major League seasons—provided the roots of his front-office success. Beane found a lesson in his own struggles, in the disparity between grand expectations and scant production.
“There were a lot of guys who maybe weren’t the natural athlete I was, but they were much better baseball players,” he says. “I was sort of misjudged—they were measuring the wrong things, like running speed and strength, and they were undervaluing guys who actually did things (such as get on base and score runs) that contributed to winning games.”