A’s GM Beane proud of the ‘Moneyball’ legacy

Billy Beane’s influence on using baseball statistics and
economics in building a team has stretched from the diamond to the
silver screen.

He may even help Brad Pitt win an Oscar before he leads the
Oakland Athletics to a World Series championship.

For Beane, though, the ”Moneyball” idea of building winners
means more than an association with the A’s and A-list stars. It’s
the idea that thinking outside the box – or box score – in any
business can not only shake up the status quo, but lead to
breakthrough ideas that can revolutionize industries.

A panel on Friday at Villanova University that included Beane,
CEO Jeffrey Moorad and senior vice president of baseball operations
Omar Minaya of the San Diego Padres, and MSNBC president Phil
Griffin discussed ”Moneyball’s Impact on Business and
Sports.”

”It’s great, it’s flattering to see the business world embrace
some of the things that we were doing,” Beane said. ”But to know
that anyone can walk into our office and apply for a job based on
their brains and what they have to offer, to me, it’s the greatest
achievement out of the book.”

Former Gov. Ed Rendell moderated the panel in front of about
1,800 people at the Pavilion, the home court for Villanova
basketball. They discussed the risk-taking legacy and how it has
branched into all forms of sports, business and entertainment.

Beane bucked the baseball trend of relying on the common trio of
statistics – batting average, home runs and RBIs for hitters; wins,
losses and ERA for pitchers – and instead turned to hard numbers
over subjective scouting to fuel his team’s successful runs in the
early 2000s. His staff helped usher in what became known as the
stats revolution, a complete overhaul from the early days of the
basic box score, the premise behind the best-selling book that
immortalized Beane.

The movie focuses on the 2002 edition of the Athletics, and a
thrilling 20-game winning streak. Ultimately, Oakland lost in the
first round of the playoffs. Pitt played Beane in the movie and was
nominated this year for an Oscar for best actor.

Beane explained how he wasn’t necessarily trying to reinvent the
game in the early 2000s, he simply wanted to find an alternative
way for the low-budget A’s to keep pace with teams like the New
York Yankees and Boston Red Sox and their seemingly endless
funds.

”At the time, you don’t really know what you’re doing,” Beane
said. ”For us, it was a matter of just trying to survive. We were
the lowest team on the totem pole in terms of revenue. We had to do
something different. For us, it seemed very rational.”

That meant finding productive players on the cheap.

”It was always about getting higher performance than what we
were paying for,” Beane said, ”and trying to multiply that by
25.”

He added with a laugh, ”basically underpay our players.”

”Like Menudo, they got to a certain pay rate and we kicked them
out of the band,” he said.

Griffin, MSNBC’s top executive, said he adopted ”Moneyball”
philosophies by refusing to let tradition dictate how to run the
cable company.

”We were the Oakland A’s, no money, a distant third, dying,”
Griffin said. ”CNN was the Yankees, swimming in money. We had to
change. And we did.”

Griffin used Rachel Maddow as an example of bucking the trend.
She wasn’t a famous, big-bucks personality like former big name
hosts Jesse Ventura. Phil Donahue or Deborah Norville.

”The list goes on and they all failed,” Griffin said.

Once Keith Olbermann’s protege, Maddow has taken over as the
network’s marquee name.

”She does not look like an anchor woman,” Griffin said. ”All
the people were talking about was how people looked. They weren’t
talking about actual talent.”

Griffin equated his talent to molding a baseball team. It
doesn’t matter if players have a beautiful swing (or a pretty
face), as long as they get on base and help win games (or pop a
rating.)

Moorad said the best front offices must assemble a staff that
blends both traditional scouting and computer-whiz
philosophies.

”You have to have both. You make real mistakes if you don’t,”
Moorad said.

Moorad committed $5 million to the Villanova Law School for the
creation of the Jeffrey S. Moorad Center for the Study of Sports
law. The gift was the largest in the law school’s history.
Villanova is one of only a handful of schools dedicated to the
study of sports law.

Moorad, a 76ers season ticket holder while he attended
Villanova, declined to discuss the proposed transfer of the Padres
from John Moores to Moorad.

”We certainly respect the process and we’re excited to move
forward at the appropriate time,” he said.

Minaya talked about the difficulties of running the Montreal
Expos with ”zero budget.” But that all changed when he ran the
New York Mets. More money in the budget meant more pressure to land
free agents. That meant more pressure to win. And mistakes were
magnified.

Minaya, after all, was criticized for depleting the farm system
while signing Oliver Perez ($36 million) and Luis Castillo ($25
million) to inflated contracts.

There was little chance ”Moneyball” could work at the time in
New York.

”We could do things in Oakland that Omar could never get away
with in New York,” Beane said.

The advanced use of statistics means every team – notably the
Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays – have adopted Oakland’s
philosophies.

”The owners are demanding more from their decision makers,”
Minaya said. ”They are asking more questions.”

And it’s no guarantee of success. That 2002 run was the third of
four straight playoff appearances for the A’s, but little has
stayed the same since. Oakland finished 74-88 last year, the fifth
losing season in a row.

”Listen, you could bring up the failures,” Beane said. ”We’ve
got quite a few of those, too.”

After the panel concluded, Beane reaffirmed his commitment to
the area. Oakland owner Lew Wolff said Tuesday that the team has
agreed to extend the contracts of the general manager as well as
team President Michael Crowley through the 2019 season.

”We’ve talked about it. It’s still a little premature,” Beane
said. ”I think we’re close to getting a new stadium. I’d like to
see that secured. I’ve been saying that for the last three
years.”

Follow Dan Gelston at http://twitter.com/APgelston