Billy Beane's Rationale; Moss v. Rice; Mike Martz
by Glenn Dickey
Jan 09, 2008

BILLY BEANE was cognizant of recent A’s history when he traded away his best starting pitcher, Dan Haren, and the player who was most popular with A’s fans, Nick Swisher.

“The worst thing we did in ’92 was to hang on to all our players,” Beane said in a telephone conversation yesterday. “We thought we could wring one more year out of them, but then we were left with nothing after that.”

As an advance scout for the team at that time, Beane had no direct input. That changed some when he became assistant general manager the next season and completely when he became general manager in 1997, replacing Sandy Alderson.

When Steve Schott and Ken Hoffman bought the team from Walter Haas, Alderson recommended that they let the older players go and invest heavily in the farm system. Beane followed that program. At the time, virtually everybody in the local media was castigating Schott and the A’s for being cheap, but I had talked to both Alderson and Beane, when he became general manager, and wrote that the A's were on the right track, which is why Beane always returns my phone calls and schedules one-on-one interviews when I request them. (I don’t abuse the privilege.)

Now, the wheel has almost come full circle. The A’s of last season were neither as old nor as good as the dynasty teams of the 1988-92 era, but it was still a tired group that finished just one game out of last place. “Injuries gave us a worse record than the talent would have justified,” Beane said, “but we weren’t going to contend with the team I could put on the field. I had to do something to change our luck.”

Beane wasn’t shopping either Haren or Swisher, but they were the only ones who could bring a high return.

Getting young pitching was Beane’s primary goal. “Shopping for pitching in free agency every year is a crapshoot,” he said, and he certainly was reminded of that by the spotty record of Esteban Loaiza. “Now, we feel we have 10-12 young pitchers who could be legitimate major league pitchers.”

The prizes in the Whie Sox trade were left-hander Gio Gonzalez and right-hander Fautino De Los Santos. Gonzalez, who led the minors with 185 strikeouts at Double-A, is likely to be up by midseason, but De Los Santos, who throws 97 mph, is the more intriguing possibility. “Pitchers with that type of fastball often move up pretty rapidly,” said Beane.

Originally, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams said he was willing to give up just one of the pitchers but he finally yielded and included both in the deal, because the White Sox desperately needed a centerfielder. “Kenny and I are good friends,” said Beane. “Earlier this week, he called me and said, ‘I’m getting lambasted here for the deal and you’re getting it in Oakland. We must have made a good deal!”

Dealing baseball players is hardly the only thing on Beane’s mind these days. In fact, as we were talking on cell phones, he was driving to the hospital because his wife, Tara, had given birth to twins. “This is what you want to happen when you’re sitting with a rotation of Hudson-Mulder-Zito, not when you’re trying to rebuild your club,” he laughed.

But, though he realizes the A’s will take a step back this season, he’s confident he’s on the right track.

In the first part of the decade, the A’s had a nice run, making the postseason five times in seven years. “I remember 2000, when we lost the first playoff series in five games, thinking this was the worst team we’ll have for awhile,” he said. “Everything was in place, so after that, we just had to do a little tinkering, picking up Johnny Damon or Keith Foulke. That’s what I’m trying to do now with this team.”

WHAT A JOKE: It’s cruel of the BCS to make Ohio State play out of its conference. Each year, the Buckeyes get an inflated reputation because they play a series of creampuffs in their non-conference schedule and then beat up on the teams in the country’s weakest major conference.

Two years in a row, that formula has landed them in the BCS “championship game”, and two years in a row, an SEC team has embarrassed them. This year it was LSU which scored 38 points on the Buckeyes’ supposedly strong defense and won a lopsided game.

Do you think that will finally make the media voters realize how weak the Big Ten is – and also convince those who program the BCS computers to put that information in, so the computer rankings can be more consistent with reality? Let’s hope so.

YORK, AD NAUSEUM:

We shouldn’t be surprised by John York’s decision to keep Mike Nolan. In all the significant decisions he’s made, I can think of only one good one: hiring Andy Dolich, a competent marketing/business man. Dolich will restore some order to the business part of the organization. Unfortunately, he can’t do anything about the football side, which really heeds help.

York started the franchise’s problems when he drove Bill Walsh out of the organization because he wouldn’t take Walsh’s advice and even lectured him on how to run an organization! Then, bothered by the discord between coach Steve Mariucci and general manager Terry Donahue, he fired Mariucci, the last winning coach the 49ers have had. Donahue knew nothing about pro coaches so he wound up hiring Dennis Erickson, a great college coach who is unsuited to the pros. Eventually, York had to fire both Erickson and Donahue, and then he hired Nolan as a combination coach-general manager, though nobody else in the NFL thought Nolan was even a good choice for head coach. Now we know why.

Yesterday, Nolan hired Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator, a definite improvement over the inexperienced Jim Hostler. But don’t expect miracles. Martz made his reputation in St. Louis, when Kurt Warner was at his peak and the Rams had stockpiled great receivers. That does not resemble today’s 49ers, so it would be very foolish to expect the 49ers to look like those Rams.

FANS REACTIONS: Many baseball fans are outraged at the idea that players are taking performance-enhancing drugs. Football fans, though, hardly seem to notice when a player gets caught by NFL testers. What’s the difference? Baseball fans care almost more for records than the actual games. Records mean very little to football fans.

In the last game of the season, for instance, Randy Moss eclipsed Jerry Rice’s season record for touchdown passes, but there was little or no mention of the fact that Rice set the record at 22 in only 12 games in 1987, because of a players strike.

In contrast, in baseball, the record books for a time carried two entries for the season home record: Babe Ruth’s 60 in 154 games and Roger Maris’s 61 in 162 games. (There was never an asterisk, despite frequent references in print.)

When Henry Aaron approached Ruth’s career mark of 714 home runs, racism was still alive and well in the sports world and many fans protested that it was unfair because Aaron had almost half again as many at-bats as Ruth, who started his career as a pitcher.

Football fans just enjoy the games, which I think is a much more sensible approach. If they think about it, they realize that rules changes to open up the game have meant much gaudier passing statistics, so it’s impossible to compare current quarterbacks and receivers with those who played in the ‘60s, or even earlier. And, who cares?

The baseball records that fans prize are essentially meaningless, not just (or even primarily) because of steroids but because of smaller parks and a livelier baseball.

Baseball writers complicate this by wondering aloud how to evaluate the performances in the socalled Steroid Era in voting for the Hall of Fame. It’s simple: Just do what you should always have done: Evaluate players within their eras. All this talk about Jim Rice and Andre Dawson looking better because they apparently were not on steroids is ridiculous. Rice and Dawson should have been voted in years ago (I’ve always voted for them) because they were dominant players in their era. Mark McGwire doesn’t belong because, though he had two mammoth home run years in the ‘90s, he was very inconsistent throughout his career.

The irony of all this is that football players are much more likely to benefit from steroids because, for most players, strength is the primary consideration.

There was an interesting column in a recent Pro Football Weekly by Jerry Magee, who has covered the San Diego Chargers since their inception. Magee reported that steroid use in pro football probably started in 1963, when Chargers coach Sid Gillman brought in a strength coach who gave the players pills which he told them would build up the protein in their bodies. The pills, of course, were anabolic steroids. Ron Mix, who played on that team and is now an attorney in San Diego, told Magee that, when the players were told what they were taking, some stopped – but many did not. Mix thinks that many NFL players are taking them today, and I think that, too.

But fans don’t care and writers seldom write on the subject, an attitude I much prefer to the steroids hysteria surrounding baseball today.

E-MAILS: I try to answer most of my e-mails, but sometimes I’m thwarted by obstacles. Occasionally, a reader won’t include his own e-mail address – take note, John Lafayette – so there’s no way I can respond. Occasionally, there’s a mistake in the return e-mail, so my reply gets bounced back. There are also systems which require writers to fill out information before their e-mails will go through. Sorry, I don’t do that. If you have that kind of system, put me on your safe list if you want a reply.



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