Since baseball’s going on a three or four day vacation starting Monday, I figured I’d run my interview with Billy Beane I did back in January, during a press event at the Oakland Coliseum for an already-forgotten video game called MLB Front Office Manager, which features Beane on the cover.
Yes, this is a REAL interview, not one of the fake ones we’ve done a lot of around here, although not too often lately (you know, it might be time to do some sort of fake-dialogue between “Life of” and Barry Zito, or check in with Samurai Mike and Vernon Davis…choices, choices).
After some perfunctory questions about the video game, and what it’s like to be on the cover, and blah, blah, blah (I did that mostly to make 2K Sports happy, since I didn’t want them knowing I was there only to eat free food, check out the owner’s suite and meet a man who — at the time, anyway — was considered one of the best general managers in Bay Area history…not to do press for their game). We talked about Matt Holliday, how things have changed since Moneyball, trading players via email and how Beane uses his power within the organization to scare the hell out of young new employees.
Bay Area Sports Guy: How much actual business goes on via email?
Billy Beane: A lot now, yeah. Me and Kenny Williams (General Manager of the Chicago White Sox) basically made the Swisher trade vis-a-vis email while watching the bowl games. We’re both college football fans. Yeah, some GMs more than others you’ll use email with. Jim Bowden (former Nationals GM) likes to use it a lot. Me and Josh Byrnes (D-Backs GM), we talk, we’re friends, a lot. It depends on the general manager but me and Kenny have done a number of emails, a number of deals. Ultimately you call when you’re finalizing it…
BASG: Make sure it’s actually him on the other side of the email.
BB: (Laughs) Yeah, well, that’s happened too. I actually took, it was a year or two, year and a half ago, I took … this is a funny story, I won’t make it too long. Our assistant scouting director, basically out of college, I actually took his Blackberry and started emailing my assistant general manager, David (Forst), as if I were Sam (Geaney), the young guy. And there’s a whole trail of emails — understand, David is his supervisor — and David’s like second to me. And this is Sam’s first month on the job; I was emailing (David) and it was coming from Sam’s Blackberry. David didn’t even know I was there, I was at a game at USF. David was like across the country. And I’m getting all cocky, like, “When are you gonna leave, David? I want your office.” Things like that. David was going, “Who the hell are you, college boy?” And so, it went on forever and ever. And Sam’s the nicest kid in the world.
BASG: ‘I could do your job better than you.”
BB: (Laughing) Basically. It was more subtle. It was building up to the point where David’s going, “Hey smartass! Who the hell are you? I just hired you out of college!” And Sam’s dying, cause he knows I’m doing this, but he doesn’t want to tell me “David’s going to be mad at me.” We actually saved those emails. That tomfoolery exists, too.
BASG: Seeing Holliday downstairs, it surprised some people when you made that trade, especially after last year, when it seemed like a lot of players moving off the team. Holliday has one year left, doesn’t he? Is there a long view of this trade, or is it to boost the team this year and then whatever happens, happens?
BB: Well first, you know, he’s one of the best players in the game. So he’s going to command a contract, one of the highest contracts in the game, too. Would we love to have Matt Holliday for the next five, six, seven years? Absolutely. But we also have to be realistic and have to realize this guy is a premium, premium player, and when he becomes a free agent there’s going to be a lot of people who are interested in his services for a lot of money. Does that mean we don’t want to keep him? No. We’d love to have him here. But it’s not a unilateral decision. So that is something we’ll have to deal with at the end of the year. Hopefully after a very successful year and Matt being a part of it.
BASG: Obviously signing Giambi was a happy day for you it looked like, in the press conference you guys were both palling around…
BASG: Is he going to play more at first, or his going to DH?
BB: Probably both. He’ll DH and he’ll play first. Hard to say where he’s going to play more at this point but he’ll definitely do both. The idea is that Daric Barton is going to play first. We haven’t given up on Daric. And Jack (Cust) is going to play some outfield. They’re all going to be rotating amongst themselves.
BASG: Moneyball was written by Michael Lewis, and that was based, not just on you obviously, but you were a central character. There’s supposed to be a movie made about Moneyball.
BB: They’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s always a possibility, but making a movie from a book is a long process, takes a lot of time. So, when and if they may make it, they’ve been saying it for six years, though…
BASG: Since Moneyball, obviously you’re not going to have the same style every year. What’s changed for you since Moneyball in terms of your approach?
BB: Well, I think the guys running baseball teams now, each year they’re getting smarter and smarter. To do some of the things maybe some organizations would do six, seven years ago, it’s getting tougher and tougher because the guys running teams are guys who also have a lot of resources. Take a guy like Theo Epstein, brilliant general manager. And, by the way, he’s also got a lot of resources. And he’s brilliant, you know? Brian Cashman. 15, 20 years ago maybe some guys were successful only because they had money. Now you have teams that have money and very, very bright people running them. Most of the guys running teams these days are pretty sharp guys. It’s getting more competitive.
BASG: I was downstairs (playing the game), and I was trying to sign free agents and I was getting denied all the way around.
BB: Welcome to our world (laughs)!
BASG: Chipper Jones is 36 or 37 and he took a 7-year deal worth $24 million a year (Ed. Note: MLB Front Office Manager is not a particularly good game). I’m thinking to myself, with the economy right now, last off-season it didn’t look like a contract that large would occur. How has the economy changed this off-season across the board? It seems like arbitration guys are getting what they want for the most part, but some free agents are getting paid and some aren’t.
BB: Some, but Mark Teixeira just signed for $180 million, so…
BASG: Pat Burrell only got two years.
BB: Yeah, but you know, once again some guys, there’s a lot of reasons. But a guy like Teixeira still got his money. Derek Lowe at 36 still got his. I think that part of the way GMs are starting to evaluate players, too, is different. Each team has their own way of how they evaluate players (Ed. note: I think what Billy was trying to tell me was something like “You guys in the media all think Pat Burrell’s good, but he really sucks.”). But it’s changed significantly. And some of the guys who are … some of the great players who got more than they probably thought they were going to get and there’s some guys that maybe didn’t get as much. But there’s also different ways people look at players and how they evaluate them. To each team his own, but there’s still plenty of guys getting money out there. Also, some teams are having to take a look at the bottom line. Everyone’s a little bit fearful about this next year, ’09. Nobody from a macro standpoint seems to be overly optimistic. Not just baseball, but overall. So I think everybody is looking forward with a little bit of concern. But once again, there’s been plenty of guys getting plenty of money this year, so the idea that it’s not happening, I don’t know if that would be completely accurate either.
And there you have it, as my voice recorder ran out of memory at this point. After that question he told me that Brian Sabean wouldn’t know a good free agent if one bit him on his nipple, then he ranted about how ugly Mount Davis is, followed by a five-minute expletive-laden tirade about how Eric Chavez’s hypochondriacal tendencies make him a worse team cancer than “Milton Effing Bradley.” Just kidding. I think we talked about him going on the Razor and Mr. T the next afternoon. Which he did. And no, he didn’t tell the story about stealing the new kid’s Blackberry.