You know who REALLY broke the Curse of the Bambino? Billy Beane (and the 25 Red Sox players in 2004).
Only 4 GMs in the history of baseball have been elected into the Hall of Fame. 2 of them were innovators, Branch Rickey and Larry MacPhail. Rickey invented the minor leagues and the utilization of baseball statistics. MacPhail invited baseball to be played at night by installing lights at ballparks, starting in Cincinnati at Crosley Field in 1935. Nothing this drastic can be done to improve baseball. Billy Beane however has had a huge impact on the game, and will be recognized for his contributions.
A’s General Manager Billy Beane has revolutionized the game of baseball since taking over as GM in Oakland in 1997. He has taken a low-budget, small-market team and made them a contender in nearly every year of his tenure. When the steroid era was at its peak, and ‘Chicks were digging the long ball,’ Beane focused on pitching and defense. He does this by finding value in the undervalued. Turning coal into a diamond. Rumpelstiltskin and the whole straw into gold ordeal. That’s enough analogies.
Early in his tenure, he rebuilt the team through the draft, and was carried by the core of Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Eric Chavez. Miguel Tejada and Jason Giambi were already in the organization when he took over.
When this core group of players couldn’t get the job done in the playoffs, Beane saw his window closing with his current squad, and traded Mulder and Hudson at their peaks in 2004. This was after he had already lost Giambi to the Yankees and Miguel Tejada to the Orioles via free agency. The Hudson deal was a nice exchange, but the Mulder deal brought back Brett Anderson (turned into Drew Pomeranz this offseason), Chris Carter (turned into Jed Lowrie last offseason) and Carlos Gonzalez. Wow was that a steal. Granted, CAR-GO was also involved in quite possibly the worst trade in recent history, when the A’s sent Huston Street and Gonzalez to the Rockies for half a year of Matt Holliday.
This is the nature of the beast in Oakland. You win some, you lose some. This series of trades shows the brilliance of Billy Beane and his scouting team, and also the pressure they are under to compete year after year. The A’s don’t have the luxury of letting players develop as fully in the minors as most teams do. They need their players to turn over every few years because the Major League team needs to stay competitive. There will always be a player, like Yoenis Cespedes that is coveted league-wide. Once their contract is up, they are as good as gone.
But Jason, he hasn’t won ANY Championships and has only advanced past the ALDS ONCE (2006). This is very true. Sadly true for us A’s fans. But again, GMs that win a lot don’t make the Hall of Fame. GMs that revolutionize the game do. Every team now does at least a little of what Beane does. Most teams try to find value in those that are undervalued. Some use his tactics but also have bigger payrolls, and throw enormous sums at big-name free agents. Take the Boston Red Sox for instance. They knew Billy Beane was on to something in Oakland and offered him a job at the end of Moneyball. I mean, 2002. They have won 3 World Series titles in the past 10 years using Sabermetrics.
The Red Sox aren’t the only team Billy Beane has directly influenced. Take the Tampa Bay Rays. They build their team almost exclusively through the draft, focusing on starting pitching, and never overpay for a free agent. Their payroll is always towards the bottom of the list, and yet they remain competitive in the AL East, a monstrous division. I’ll even give credit to Beane for the resurgent Pittsburg Pirates recent success. They built their team through the draft, focused on pitching and defense, and last year finally made the playoffs after a 20 year absence from the postseason.
The A’s don’t have a lucrative TV deal that brings in money like the Yankees or Dodgers. Disadvantage.
(There was a movie about the A’s GM though)
The A’s don’t have a true star. Disadvantage.
(This team is built as a unit. Everyone does their part, everyone shares in the rewards. No distractions, a la A-Rod)
The A’s can’t get a new ballpark. Disadvantage.
(They play in a pitcher-friendly park that gets loud, no matter how many people show up.)
The A’s have Billy Beane. ADVANTAGE.
Billy Beane has leveled the playing field in baseball. He has shown the baseball world that you can compete no matter what your payroll, whether or not you have stars, or a flashy new ballpark that isn’t shared with an NFL team. He has changed his methods from drafting smart, to integrate trades and key free agent signings. He has had to adapt his methods as other GMs caught on. Billy Beane is always one step ahead, and has set himself apart from any GM in today’s game, and possibly since Rickey and MacPhail.
Over the duration of his GM career, Billy Beane WILL win some World Series titles. When he does, he will solidify his place among the greats in Cooperstown.