Getting to Know Billy Beane
Billy Beane was born in 1962. After a childhood full of plenty of sports (including Little League), he studied at the University of California at San Diego before being drafted by the New York Mets at the ripe age of 18. After a few years in the minors, he played six seasons in the Major Leagues for the Mets, the Twins, the Tigers, and the Oakland Athletics.
His professional playing career didn’t produce any standout numbers, but he was part of the 1989 A’s championship roster when they won the World Series.
However, Beane was just getting started in the baseball world by the time his playing days were over. Once he retired as an athlete in 1990, he signed on with the A’s as a baseball scout. After a three-year stint in that role, he was promoted to assistant manager. The organization was so impressed with his work ethic that he was again promoted, this time to general manager (GM) of the A’s. And that’s where his game-changing strategy really bloomed.
Looking over the history of the team over the last 10-plus seasons, it’s easy to see that the A’s performed well despite their relatively tiny opening-day payroll. In 2000, for example, they spent about $32 million and racked up a whopping 91 wins. The rest of the league didn’t fare so well.
Most MLB teams had an average opening-day payroll of $81 million and an average win total of 81. And the 2001 A’s did even better with a slightly bumped-up budget of $33 million. That squad finished up with 102 wins (which was second in the West since Seattle also won 116 games that season). League averages that season? About the same as it was in 2000 – $81 million and 81 wins.
So how did the A’s do it?
It’s no secret that MLB’s lack of a true salary cap has led to teams with big bucks snapping up the best and brightest players simply because they have the funds to do so. But Beane, when faced with filling a roster for a team on a smaller budget, came up with a solution. That solution has become his legacy.
Beane is best known for his team-building strategy: “Moneyball.” Soon after he gained the GM position (which he held from 1998 to 2015), he turned to sabermetrics, a type of baseball research that focuses more on player stats; instead of recent success or a player’s star power, it’s all about crunching numbers. And those numbers directly led to more wins for the A’s despite their inability to sign an $80 million contract with a big-name player.
Beane’s unique strategy and resulting success garnered much attention – and not only on the field. In 2003, a book titled “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” was published. It chronicled Beane’s story and how he was able to use numbers and stats to defy the perceived problem of a small budget. In 2011, Brad Pitt took the screen as a Hollywood version of Billy Beane. The film was nominated for a total of six Academy Awards.
While the Athletics haven’t reached the World Series on Beane’s watch, they have still experienced a ton of success. They’ve reached the postseason eight times, most recently in 2014 when they lost in the Wild Card round.
While Beane no longer occupies the GM role (he was promoted to Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations in 2015), it’s likely he’ll still have a hand in scouting, drafting, trading, and signing of the team’s players.
Ballin’ On a Budget
Billy Beane’s strategy, and his legacy, will certainly live on; he was able to make a whole lot of something out of what other executives had overlooked.
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