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Swisher, and tears that Billy will take his tirst choice. Billy doesn't
have time for other people's fears just now; if he's going to he mis-
erable everyone else is going to be, too. "You were going to get
Blanton," he says. "But you ain't getting him now."

He hangs up and calls Steve Phillips again. That's his style: if he
doesn't get the answer he wants the first time, he calls again and
again until he does. To come between him and what he was after
at iust that moment would have been as unwise as pitching a tent
between a mother bear and her cub. Phillips answers on the first

"Hear anything!"' Billy asks.

Pause. Phillips says he hasn't.

"Yeah," says Billy, glumly. He begins to sympathize with
Phillips for getting stuck with Swisher. Then Phillips says some-
thing new, that causes Billy's mood to shift. Frustration is shoved
aside by curiosity.

"Oh really?"


"Well, that's a tucking light at the end of the fucking tunnel. "

He clicks off and turns to Paul. "He says if Kazmir gets to him
he'll take him." Scott Kazmir is yet another high school pitcher in
whom the A's haven't the slightest interest. Billy's so excited he
doesn't even bother to say how foolish it is to take a high school
pitcher with a first-round pick. Everyone looks up at the white
board and tries to figure out if Kazmir, the Mets' new sixth choice,
will get to the Mets. He might; no other team has said definitely
that they will take him. But then no one has any idea what either
the Detroit Tigers or the Milwaukee Brewers, who pick seventh
and eigth, intend to do. Something not terribly bright, it was a fair


bet, if they just continued doing what they had done in the past.
And that was a problem: picking a high school pitcher like Kazmir
is exactly the sort of not-so-bright decision both franchises had a
knack for making.

"Fielder could help us here," says Chris Pittaro, finally.

Fielder is the semi-aptly named Prince Fielder, son of Cecil
Fielder, who in 1990 hit fifty-one home runs for the Detroit Tigers,
and who by the end of his career could hardly waddle around the
bases after one of his mammoth shots into the upper deck, much
less maneuver himself in front of a ground ball. "Cecil Fielder
acknowledges a weight of 261," Bill James once wrote, "leaving
unanswered the question of what he might weigh if he put his
other foot on the scale." Cecil Fielder could have swallowed
Jeremy Brown whole and had room left for dessert, and the son
apparently has an even more troubling weight problem than his
father. Here's an astonishing fact: Prince Fielder is too fat even for
the Oakland A's. Of no other baseball player in the whole of North
America can this be said. Pittaro seems to think that the Detroit
Tigers might take Fielder anyway, for sentimental reasons. And if
the Tigers take him, they trigger a chain reaction that ends with
the Mets getting one of their first six choices.

Before anyone has a chance to figure out whether Kazmir will
get to the Mets, the draft begins. As it does, the Oakland A's
owner, Steve Schott, enters the room, followed shortly by the A's
manager. Art Howe. Howe stands in the back of the room with his
jaw jutting and a philosophical expression on his face, the way he
does in the dugout during games. It is one of the mysteries of base-
ball that people outside it assume the manager is in charge of
important personnel decisions. From the start to the end of this
process Howe has been, as he is with all personnel decisions, left
entirely in the dark.

The A's scouting director, Eric Kubota, takes up his position at
the speakerphone and tells everyone else to shut up. Everyone in


the draft room is about to learn just how new and different is the
Oakland A's scientific selection of amateur baseball players. The
A's front office has a list, never formally written out, of the twenty
players they'd draft in a perfect world. That is, if money were no
object and twenty-nine other teams were not also vying to draft
the best amateur players in the country. The list is a pure expres-
sion of the new view of amateur plavers. On it are eight pitchers
and twelve hitters — all, for the moment, just names.

Pitchers: Position Players:

Jeremy Guthrie Nick Swisher

loe Blanton Russ Adams

Jeff Francis Khnlil Greene

Luke Hagerty lohn N\cCurdy

Ben Fritz Mark Teahen

Robert Brownlie leremy Brown

Stephen Obenchain Steve Stanley

Bill Murphy lohn Baker

Mark Kiger

Brian Stavisky

Shaun Larkin

Brant Colamarino

Two of the position players — Khalil Greene and Russ Adams —
Billy already knew would be gone before the A's picked, and so he
hadn't even bothered to discuss them during the meetings. His
best friend 1. P. Ricciardi would take Adams, and another close
friend, Kevin Towers, the GM of the San Diego Padres, would
take Greene. Two of the pitchers — Robert Brownlie and Jeremy
Guthrie — were represented by the agent Scott Boras. Boras was
famous for extracting more money than other agents for amateur
players. If the team didn't pay whatever Boras asked, Boras would
encourage his client to take a year off of baseball and reenter the


draft the following year, when he might be selected by a team with
real money. The effects of Boras's tactics on rich teams were
astonishing. In 2001 the agent had squeezed a package worth $9.5
million out of Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks for a college third
baseman named Mark Teixeira. The guy who was picked ahead of
Teixeira signed for $4.2 million, and the guy who was picked after
him signed for $2.65 million, and yet somehow between these
numbers Boras found $9.5 million. By finding the highest bidders
for his players before the draft and scaring everyone else away
from them, Boras was transforming the draft into a pure auction.

Billy couldn't afford auctions. He had $9.5 million to spend and
Boras had let it be known that whichever team drafted Jeremy
Guthrie was going to cough up a package worth $20 million — or
Guthrie would return to Stanford for his senior year. The Cleve-
land Indians had agreed to pay the price, and so the Indians would
take Guthrie with the twenty-second pick.

Of the sixteen players on his list he could afford, and stood any
chance of getting, Billy thinks he might land as many as six. But
the truth is he doesn't know. It was possible he'd only get one of
the players on the wish list. By the time the A's made their second
pick, the twenty-fourth of the draft, all of them might be gone. If
they got six of the players on their wish list, Paul said, they'd be
ecstatic. No team ever came away with six of their top twenty.

The room remains silent. The entire draft takes place over
speakerphone, far away from the fans. In the draft Major League
Baseball has brought to life Bill James's dystopic vision of closing
the stadium to the fans and playing the game in private. Pro foot-
ball and pro basketball make great public event of their drafts.
They gather their famous coaches and players in a television stu-
dio and hand them paddles with big numbers on them to wave.
Football and basketball fans are able to watch the future of their
team unfold before their eyes. The Major League Baseball draft is
a conference call — now broadcast on the Web.


The Pittsburgh Pirates, owners of the worst regular season
record in the 2001 season, have the first overall pick. A voice from
Pittsburgh crackles over the speakerphone:

"Redraft number 0090. Bullington, Bryan. Right-handed
pitcher. Ball State University. Fishers, Indiana."

Just like that the first $4 million is spent, but at least it is spent
on a college player. ("Redraft" means he has been drafted before.)
The next five teams, among the most pathetic organizations in pro
baseball, select high school players. Tampa Bay takes a high
school shortstop named Melvin Upton; Cincinnati follows by tak-
ing the high school pitcher Chris Gruler; Baltimore follows suit
with a high school pitcher named Adam Loeweu; Montreal fol-
lows suit with yet another high school pitcher, Clinton Everts.
The selections made are, from the A's point oi view, delightfully
mad. Eight of the first nine teams select high schoolers. The worst
teams in baseball, the teams that can least afford for their draft to
go wrong, have walked into the casino, ignored the odds, and made
straight for the craps table.

Billy and Paul no longer think oi the draft as a crapshoot. Thev
are a pair of card counters at the bhickiack tables; they think
they've found a wav to turn the odds inside the casino against the
owner. They think they can take over the casino. Each time a
team rolls the dice on a high school player, Billy punches his fist
in the air: every player taken that he doesn't want boosts his
chances of getting one he does want. When the Milwaukee Brew-
ers take Prince Fielder with the eighth pick, the room explodes. It
means that Scott Kazmir probably will be available to the Mets.
And he is. And the Mets take him. (And spend S2.15 million to
sign him.) Sixteen minutes into the draft Eric Kubota leans into
the speakerphone, trying, and nearly succeeding, to sound cool
and collected.

"Oakland selects Swisher, Nicholas. First baseman/center
fielder. Ohio State University. Parkersburg, West Virginia. Son of
ex-ma)or leaguer Steve Swisher."


"Prince Fielder just saved our paint/' says an old scout. Even
the fat players who don't work for the A's do the A's work.

Billy is now on his feet. He's got Swisher in the bag: who else
can he get? There's a new thrust about him, an unabridged expres-
sion on his face. He was a bond trader, who had made a killing in
the morning and entered the afternoon free of fear. Feeling greedy.
Certain that the fear in the market would present him with even
more opportunities to exploit. Whatever happened now wasn't
going to be bad. How good could it get? The anger is gone, linger-
ing only as an afterthought in other people's minds. He was no
longer in the batter's box. He was out in center field, poised to
make a spectacular catch no one expected him to make. "Billy's a
shark," J. P. Ricciardi had said, by way of explaining what distin-
guished Billy from every other GM in the game. "It's not just that
he's smarter than the average bear. He's relentless — the most
relentless person I have ever known."

Billy moves back and forth between his wish list and Paul and
Eric. Paul to check his judgments, Eric to execute his wishes. Like
any good bond trader, he loves making decisions. The quicker the
better. He looks up at the names of the players on the white board
and listens to the speakerphone crackle. Three pitchers from the
wish list (Francis, Brownlie, and Guthrie) go quickly. Sixteen
players that he badly wants to own remain at large. The A's sec-
ond first-round pick is #24 (paid to them by the Yankees for the
right to buy Jason Giambi), followed rapidly by #26, #30, #35, #37,
#39. Billy has agreed with Eric and Paul to use #24 to get John
McCurdy, a shortstop from the University of Maryland, the sec-
ond hitter on the wish list. McCurdy was an ugly-looking fielder
with the highest slugging percentage in the country. They'd turn
him into a second baseman, where his fielding would matter less.
Billy thought McCurdy might be the next Jeff Kent.

The White Sox come on the line. "Here goes Blanton," says

When Kenny Williams told Billy an hour before that the White


Sox were taking Blanton, Billy couldn't but agree that it showed
disturbingly good judgment. Blanton was the second best pitcher
in the draft, in Billy's view, behind Stanford pitcher Jeremy

A White Sox voice crackles on the speakerphone: "The White
Sox selects redraft number 0103, Ring, Roger. Left-handed pitcher.
San Diego State University. La Mesa, California."

"You fucking got to be kidding me!" hollers Billy, overioved. He
doesn't pause to complain that Kenny Williams had told him he
was taking Blanton. (Was he afraid Billy might take Ring?) "Ring
over Blanton- A reliever over a starter?" Then it dawns on him:
"Blanton's going to get to us." The second best right-handed
pitcher in the draft. Me says it but he can't quite believe it. He
looks at the board and recalculates what the CiMs with the next
five picks will do. "You know what-" he says in a surer tone.
"Blanton's going to be there at 24."

"Blanton and Swisher," says Eric. "That's a home run."

"The Giants won't take McCurdv, right-"' says Bill v. The San
Francisco Giants had the twentv-titth pick, the only pick between
the A's next two. "Take Blanton with 24 and McCurdy with 26."

"Swisher and Blanton cind McCurdy." says Eric. "This is
unfair." He clicks the button on the speakerphone, and his voice
shaking like a man calling in to say he holds the winning Lotto
ticket, takes Blanton with the twenty-fourth pick, pauses while
the Giants make their pick, then takes McCurdy with the twenty-

Everyone in the room, even the people in the back who have no
real idea what is going on, a group that includes both the manager
and the owner of the Oakland A's, claps and cheers. The entire
room assumes that if Billy gets what he wants it can only be good
for the future of the franchise. This is now the Billy Beane Show,
and It's not over yet.

Billy stares at the board. "Fritz," he says. "It'd be unbelievable
if we could get Fritz too." Benjamin Fritz, right-handed pitcher


from Fresno State. Third best right-handed pitcher in the draft, in
the opinion of Paul DePodesta's computer.

"There's no chance Teahen's gone before 39, right?" says Paul
quickly. He can see what Billy is doing. Having realized that he
can get most of the best hitters, Billy is now seeing if he can also
get the best pitchers, too. Paul's view — the "objective" one — is
that the hitters are a much better bet than the pitchers. He thinks
the best thing to do with pitchers is draft them in bulk, lower
down. He doesn't want to risk losing his hitters.

"Teahen will be there at 39," says Billy.

No one else in the room is willing to confirm it.

"Take Fritz with 30, Brown with 35, and Teahen with 37," Billy
says. Eric leans into the speakerphone, and listens. The Arizona
Diamondbacks take yet another high school player with the
twenty-seventh pick and the Seattle Mariners take another with
the twenty-eighth. The Astros take a college player, not Fritz,
with the twenty-ninth. Eric takes Fritz with the thirtieth.

"We just got two of the three best right-handed pitchers in the
country, and two of the four best position players," says Paul.

"This doesn't happen," says Billy. "Don't think this is normal."

As the thirty-fifth pick approaches, Eric once again leans into
the speaker phone. If he leaned in just a bit more closely he might
hear phones around the league clicking off, so that people could
laugh without being heard. For they do laugh. They will make fun
of what the A's are about to do; and there will be a lesson in that.
The inability to envision a certain kind of person doing a certain
kind of thing because you've never seen someone who looks like
him do it before is not just a vice. It's a luxury. What begins as a
failure of the imagination ends as a market inefficiency: when you
rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply by their
appearance, you are less likely to find the best person for the job.

When asked which current or former major league player
Jeremy Brown reminded him of, Paul stewed for two days, and
finally said, "He has no equivalent." The kid himself is down in


Tuscaloosa, listening to the Webcast of the conference call, biting
his nails because he still doesn't quite believe that the A's will
take him in the first round. He's told no one except his parents and
his girlfriend and them he's made swear they won't tell anyone
else, in case it doesn't happen. Some part of him still thinks he's
being set up to be a laughingstock. That part of him dies the
moment he hears his name called.

"Oakland selects redraft number 1 1^2. Brown, Jeremy. Catcher.
University of Alabama. Hueytown, Alabama."

Minutes after Eric speaks his name, Jeremv Brown's phone
begins to ring. First it's family and friends, then agents. All these
agents he's never heard of want to be in his life. Scott Boras sud-
denly wants to represent leremy Brown. The agents will tell him
that they can get him at least half a million dollars more than the
A's have promised. He'll have to tell them that he's made a deal
with the A's on his own, and that he intends to keep his end of it.
And he does.

The next two hours are, to Billy Beane, a revelation. When the
dust settles on the first seven rounds, the A's have acquired five
more of the hitters from Billy and Paul's wish list — Teahen, Baker,
Kiger, Stavisky, and Colamarino. When in the seventh round Eric
leans in and takes the last of these, an ambidextrous first baseman
from the University of Pittsburgh named Brant Colamarino, Paul
wears an expression of pure bliss. "No one else in baseball will
agree," he says, "but Colamarino might be the best hitter in the
country." That told you how contrary the A's measuring devices
were: they were able to draft possibly the best hitter in the coun-
try with the 218th pick of the draft. Then Paul says, "You know
what gets me excited about a guy? I get excited about a guy when
he has something about him that causes everyone else to overlook
him and I know that it is something that just doesn't matter."
When Brant Colamarino removes his shirt for the first time in an
A's minor league locker room he inspires his coaches to inform
Billy that "Colarmarino has titties." Colamarino, like Jeremy


Brown, does not look the way a young baseball player is meant to
look. Titties are one of those things that just don't matter in a
ballplayer. Billy's only question for the coaches was whether a
male brassiere should be called a "manzier" or a "bro."

Most every other team looks at the market pretty much the
same way, or at any rate acts as if they do. Most teams, if they kept
a wish list of twenty players, would feel blessed to have snagged
three of them. The combination of having seven first-round draft
picks, a deeply quirky view of baseball players, and a general man-
ager newly willing to impose that view on his scouting depart-
ment has created something like a separate market in Oakland.
From their wish list of twenty they had nabbed, incredibly, thir-
teen players: four pitchers and nine hitters. They had drafted play-
ers dismissed by their own scouts as too short or too skinny or too
fat or too slow. They had drafted pitchers who didn't throw hard
enough for the scouts and hitters who hadn't enough power.
They'd drafted kids in the first round who didn't think they'd get
drafted before the fifteenth round, and kids in lower rounds who
didn't think they'd get drafted at all. They had drafted ballplayers.

It was as if a big new market-moving Wall Street money man-
ager had sprung into being, and bought shares only in vegetarian
restaurants, or electric car manufacturers. With a difference. A
revaluation in the stock market has consequences for companies
and for money managers. The pieces of paper don't particularly
care what you think of their intrinsic value. A revaluation in the
market for baseball players resonates in the lives of young men. It
was as if a signal had radiated out from the Oakland A's draft room
and sought, laserlike, those guys who for their whole career had
seen their accomplishments understood with an asterisk. The
footnote at the bottom of the page said, "He'll never go anywhere
because he doesn't look like a big league ballplayer."

Billy Beane was a human arsenal built, inadvertently, by pro-
fessional baseball to attack its customs and rituals. He thought
himself to be fighting a war against subjective judgments, but he


was doing something else, too. At one point Chris Pittaro said that
the thing that struck him about Billy — what set him apart trom
most baseball insiders — was his desire to find players unlike him-
self. Billy Beane had gone looking tor, and found, his antitheses.
Young men who failed the first test ot looking good in a unitorm.
Young men who couldn't play anything but baseball. Young men
who had gone to college.

The fat scout ambles in. He's one of the older scouts, and like
most of the others, he'll leave the Oakland A's at the end of the
season, and find a team that cares about what he knows. All these
misshapen players coming in will drive all of these old scouts out.
But for now the older scouts are, mainlv, amused. "lust talked to
Kiger," the tat scout says laconically. Mark Kiger plavs shortstop
for the University of Florida. A machine for wearing down oppos-
ing pitchers, and getting himself on base. Too small to play pro
ball — or so they said. Now a titth-round draft choice of the Oak-
land A's.

"What did be say-" asks Hilly.

'"Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,'" says the fat scout, and
then laughs. "He lUst wanted to get drafted."

It counted as one of the happiest days of Billy Beane's career. He
can't have known whether he had simply found a new way of fix-
ing irrational hopes upon a young man, or if he had, as he hoped,
eliminated hope from the equation. But he thought he knew. At
the end of the day he actually looked up with a big smile and said,
"This IS maybe the funnest day I have ever had in baseball." Then
he walked out the back door of the draft room and into the Coli-
seum. He had another, bigger missile to fire at the conventional
wisdom of major league baseball. It was called the Oakland A's.

Chapter Six

s » . «,

. . _. . ...



,« , .

THERE WAS NO simple way to approach the problem that
Billy Beane was trying to solve. It read like an extra credit
question on an algebra quiz: You have $40 million to
spend on twenty-five baseball players. Your opponent has already
spent $126 million on its own twenty-five players, and holds per-
haps another $100 million in reserve. What do you do with your
forty million to avoid humiliating defeat? "What you don't do,"
said Billy, "is what the Yankees do. If we do what the Yankees do,
we lose every time, because they're doing it with three times more
money than we are." A poor team couldn't afford to go out shop-
ping for big league stars in the prime of their careers. It couldn't
even afford to go out and buy averagely priced players. The aver-
age big league salary was $2.3 million. The average A's opening
day salary was a bit less than $1.5 million. The poor team was
forced to find bargains: young players and whatever older guys the
market had undervalued. It would seem highly unlikely, given the
wage inflation in pro baseball over the past twenty-five years, that



any established big league player was underpriced. It the market
was even close to rational, all the real talent would have been
bought up by the rich teams, and the Oakland A's wouldn't have
stood a chance. Yet they stood a chance. Why:

Oddly enough. Major League Baseball had asked that very ques-
tion, in its own halt-assed, incurious way. After the \999 season,
the Major League Baseball Players Association had created some-
thing it called the Commissioner's Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball
Economics, whose job it was to produce a document called The
Blue Ribbon Panel Report. Its stated purpose was to examine "the
question ot whether baseball's current economic system has cre-
ated a problem ot competitive imbalance in the game." The base-
ball commissioner, Bud Selig, had invited tour men ot sound
reputation — former U.S. senator George Mitchell, Yale president
Richard Levin, the columnist George Will, and former chairman
of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker — to write a report on the
economic inequalities in baseball. Selig owned maybe the most
pathetic poor team in all ot baseball, the Milwaukee Brewers. He
no doubt wanted to believe that the Brewers' trouble was poverty,
not stupidity. He had an obvious tinancial interest in the com-
mission reaching the conclusion that players' salaries needed to be
constrained and that rich teams should subsidize poor ones. He
expressed this interest by trying to pad the Blue Ribbon Panel
Commission with other owners of poor, pathetic baseball teams.
But the four eminences objected to this transparent attempt to

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Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 10 of 24)