Billy Beane’s critics must be squirming, with the A’s playing in the American League Championship Series.
The critics were having fun in the first half of the season when all three of Beane’s big offseason moves seemed to be backfiring. Frank Thomas, who had hardly played for two seasons, was struggling as a DH. Esteban Loaiza, trying to conceal an injury, was awful. And Milton Bradley spent most of the first half on the disabled list.
The second half was much different. Thomas got his swing back and was the engine that drove the revitalized A’s offense. Loaiza was AL Pitcher of the Month in August. And Bradley showed every aspect of his all-round ability. The A’s could not have won the AL West without the three. And they also played a pivotal role in the division series against the Minnesota Twins.
Thomas’ two home runs were the difference in the A’s 3-2 win in Game 1, while Bradley’s home run and terrific throw that cut down Torii Hunter at the plate were significant parts of theGame 3 victory.
I’m an unabashed admirer of Beane’s. But he has many detractors in the media, who accuse him of being an egomaniac. Some even think he was responsible for Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball” portrait, though that book was Lewis’ idea. Beane cooperated with the author but had no control.
Beane certainly is a self-confident man. But successful men — in sports or business — always are. He’s easy to talk to, cooperates with writers and broadcasters and, most importantly, is truthful. If it’s a sensitive subject, he won’t comment. But he won’t try to deceive, as some decision-makers do.
That extends to his off-the-record comments; he told me last November he’d be interested in signing Thomas if the Chicago White Sox released him but he couldn’t go public until that happened.
The animosity toward Beane seems to stem from a dislike for his offensive philosophy. The A’s don’t often try to steal, nor do they often bunt a runner along. Beane
doesn’t believe in giving up outs. That’s not a radical philosophy — it’s been around since at least the 1927 New York Yankees — but a surprising number of media types still believe in “little ball.”
Not just the media. In Hunter’s first at-bat in Friday’s game, Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire had him bunt a runner from second to third, a strategy that would have made sense only late in a close game. The next two hitters couldn’t get the runner home. In his next at-bat, Hunter homered.
Beane is constantly walking a tightrope because of the A’s limited payroll (only $62 million this year). That’s less than a third of the Yankees’ reported $194 million. Oh, and by the way, the Yankees are not in the ALCS. The A’s have lost Jason Giambi and Miguel Tejada to free agency. Beane traded Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson before their contracts expired, and Barry Zito will no doubt walk after this season.
But he hung on to Zito thisyear because he thought Zito would be an important part of the rotation. He kept Jay Payton, despite constant trade rumors, and Payton was an important player down the stretch. He rolled the dice on his other moves, especially the one with the talented but temperamental Bradley.
And now, it is Billy Beane who has the last laugh.