Michael (Michael M.) Lewis.

Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game online

. (page 14 of 24)
Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 14 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

deduced its essence from his little white box.

"Fucking Hil)us, ' he says. "Whv doesn't he lust write them a
note saying it'll be coming down the middle of the plate-"'

He actually doesn't want to talk about the game. He wants to
find a subject that will take his mind off the game. He turns to me.
He's heard that I have just come back from living in Paris. He's
never been to Paris.

"Is the Bastille still there, " he asks, "or did they tear it down
after the Revolution?"

"Still there," 1 say distractedly. I'm watching David Justice
begin his second trip to the plate. 1 want to see what he does with
whatever knowledge he acquired from watching himself cheated
by the umpire. Who cares about the Bastille?

Billy Beane does. He's intensely curious about it. He's )ust now
listening to some endless work of European history as he drives to
and from the ballpark.

Justice quickly falls behind and Wells worries the outside cor-
ner of the plate. Wells knows what Justice knows, that the umpire
will give the pitcher an outside strike he doesn't deserve. They're
no longer playing a game; they're playing game theory. This time
Justice doesn't take the outside pitches for the balls they are. He


reaches out and fouls them off. Finally Wells makes a mistake, a
pitch over the plate, and Justice lines a single to the opposite field.

"What's it look like?"


"What's the Bastille look like?"

"It's just a pile of rocks, I think," I say.

"You mean you never went?"

I confess that I've never actually seen the Bastille. This kills
Billy's interest. I'm a Bastille fraud. His mind, having no place else
to go, returns to the action on the video screens. Justice is on first
with nobody out and Miguel Tejada is coming to the plate. That
simple fact, at this early point in the season, is enough to set Billy

"Oh great," he says, with real disgust. "Here comes Mister
Swing at Everything."

I look down at David's chart. Mister Swing at Everything is who
Tejada, on this night early in the 2002 season, seems to be. When
I look up, Billy Beane is gone. For good. He's taken his white box
into his car and will drive the long way home, listening to Euro-
pean history, to make certain the game is over before he is any-
where near a television set.

Mister Swing at Everything has thus far in the game lived up to
his reputation. Miguel Tejada had grown up poor in the Domini-
can Republic, and in the Dominican Republic they had a saying,
"You don't walk off the island." The Dominican hitters were
notorious hackers because they had been told they had to be to
survive. For years the A's had tried to beat out of Tejada his free-
swinging ways, and they'd changed him a bit, though not as much
as they'd hoped to change him. Still, their ideas are in his head.
"Fucking Pitch!" Tejada screams to himself and the TV cameras
each time he hacks away at some slider in the dirt or heater in his
eyes. He's gotten himself out twice so far this game and he may
have grown weary of the experience, because he just watches as
Wells's first pitch passes across the heart of the plate. Wells, per-

M*aai^»-i«iWifca> « ■


haps having decided that Tejada is heginning to worry about that
one-way trip to Mexico, tries to come back to the same place,
which he really shouldn't do. Tejada meets the pitch with a quick
crude stroke and crushes it into the lett tield bleachers. Yankees S,
Oakland 3. Goliath, meet David.

Two innings later, in the bottom of the sixth, David Justice
leads oft the inning again, and this time draws a walk from Wells.
Minutes later he crosses the plate, the score is .S-4 and the bases
are loaded with two outs. The A's leadott hitter, lercmv Giambi,
steps into the box. The one talent everv fan and manager in the
game associated with a leadott hitter was the talent leremy
Giambi most obviously lacked. "I'm the onlv manager in base-
ball," A's manager Art Howe complained, "who has to pinch-run
for his leadoff man." Sticking the ice wagon in the leadoff slot had
been another quixotic tront office ploy. What leremv did have was
a truly phenomenal abilitv to wear pitchers out, and get himself
on base. In the first regard he was actuallv his brotiiers superior.
He draws a walk from Mike Stanton and ties the game at S-S.

Inside the video room, for the first time, we can hear the crowd.
Fifty-five thousand fans are beside themselves. The pleasure of
rooting for Goliath is that you can expect to win. I he pleasure ot
rooting for David is that, while vou don't know what to expect,
you stand at least a chance of being inspired.

In the top of the seventh, the A's reliever Mike Magnante pro-
vides no relief. He gives up a double to Bernie Williams. Derek
Jeter walks to the plate, Jason Giambi steps into the on-deck cir-
cle, and Art Howe brings in Jim Mecir. Mecir doesn't trot, he hob-
bles out oi the A's bullpen. He really doesn't look like a
professional ballplayer — which is to say, I am beginning to under-
stand, he looks like he belongs on the Oakland A's. The Oakland
A's are baseball's answer to the Island of Misfit Toys.

"What's wrong with him?" I ask.

"He's got a clubfoot," says Paul.


I think he's joking but he's not. Mecir was born with two
clubfeet. As a child he'd had operations to correct them but he
still walked with a limp. Somehow he had turned his deformity
into an advantage. His strange delivery — he wasn't able to push off
the mound with his right foot — put an unusually violent spin on
his screwball. The pitch had proven to be ruthlessly effective
against left-handed hitters.

Mecir walks Jeter. Giambi steps in. Mecir immediately attacks
the hole in Giambi's swing, the waist-high inside pitch. Screwball
after screwball dives over the inside part of the plate. The first is
a ball but the second is a strike and Giambi doesn't even think of
swinging at either one of them. The count is 1-1. The third pitch,
Giambi takes for a ball. The odds shift dangerously toward him.
Mecir defies them: another called strike on the inside corner. His
fifth pitch should have been his last. It's a thing of beauty; Giambi
flinches as it passes him on the inside corner of the plate. Strike
three. A cheer erupts in the video room.

The umpire calls it a ball.

It's a terrible call, in a critical situation, bad enough to crack
even Paul. 'T'm sick of the fucking Yankees getting every call!" he
shouts, then, looking for something to swat, settles on the wall.
He leaves the video room. Even he doesn't want to watch what
happens next: you can't give Jason Giambi four strikes and expect
to live to tell about it. Giambi fouls off the next pitch and then
drives the seventh pitch he sees into right field for a double, scor-
ing two runs.

The As fail to score again. A few minutes after he's done his
impersonation of his boss, Paul returns to watch his team lose,
wearing a mask of reason. After all, it was just one game. Nothing
had happened to dissuade him that his original prediction for the
A's season (ninety-five wins and a play-off spot) was wrong.
Ninety-five wins meant sixty-seven losses; this was just one of
those. Or so he says.



As he does, Scott Hattebcrg appears in the video room. He's the
third and final detective part assembled by the A's front office to
replace Jason Giambi. He wants to see his videotape.

Hatteberg had spent the first six years of his career as a catcher
w^ith the Boston Red Sox. He'd become a free agent at the end of
the 2001 season and the Red Sox had no interest in signing him.
He was, when Billy Beane signed him, a second string, washed-up
catcher. And so here he was: the final piece of a messv puzzle. I
watch him closely as he reviews his tape but can uicntitv no defor-
mity. He's SIX one, 21.S, and the weight looks iiKne like muscle
than fat. He still has both arms, all ten fingers. He's not obviously
misshapen. His quick smile reveals a fine set of teeth. His hearing
is above average, too. He overhears me ask Paul why Billy had
eliminated the curious lob created bv Sandv Alderson: team
shrink. "Some teams need psyclii.itiists nn)re than others," Hat-
teberg says. "In Boston we had an entire staff."

Above -average wit, too.

"So, what's wrong with hini'." I ask, after he leaves.

"His catching career was over," said Paul. "He got hurt and
can't thr(nv."

It turned t)Ut that Scott Hatteberg had been on the Oakland A's
wish list for several years. He'd never done anything flashv or sen-
sational. He didn't hit an attention-getting number of home runs.
He had never hit much over or under .2^0. He had the same dull
virtues as David lustice and Jeremy Giambi: plate discipline and
an ability to get on base. He, like them, was a blackjack dealer
who understood never to hit on 19. The rest ot baseball viewed
Hatteberg as a catcher who could hit some, rather than as an effi-
cient device for creating runs who could also catch. When he'd
ruptured a nerve in his throwing elbow his catching days were fin-
ished, and so, in the eyes of most of baseball, was he. Therefore,
he came cheap.

That he had lost his defensive position meant little to the Oak-
land A's, who were forever looking for dirt-cheap opportunities to


accept bad defense for an ability to get on base. One trick of theirs
was to pounce on a player just after he'd had what appeared to be
a career-threatening injury. Billy Beane had a favorite saying,
which he'd borrowed from the Wall Street investor Warren Buf-
fett: the hardest thing to find is a good investment. Hatteberg
wasn't like Jeremy Giambi, a minor leaguer they were hoping
would cut it in the bigs. He wasn't like David Justice, an aging star
in rapid decline. He was a commodity that shouldn't have existed:
a big league player, in his prime, with stats that proved he had an
unusual ability to create runs, and available at the new, low price
of less than a million bucks a year. The only question Billy and
Paul had about Scott Hatteberg was where on the baseball field to
put him. Between Justice, who couldn't play in the field every day
and stay healthy, and Jeremy Giambi, who couldn't play in the
field every day and stay sane, they already had one full-time des-
ignated hitter. Hatteberg, to hit, would need to play some position
in the field. Which one?

Chapter Eight

THE LIGHTS ON THE CHristmas tree were off, his daughters
were in bed, his wife was asleep — and he was up, walking
around. His right hand still felt like it belonged to some-
one else. He'd played half a season for the Red Sox with a ruptured
nerve in his elbow, that he crushed each time he straightened his
throwing arm. He'd finally caved, and had the nerve moved back
where it was meant to be,- but when the operation was over he
couldn't hold a baseball, much less throw one. He needed to rein-
struct his hand how to be a part of a catcher's body; he needed to
relearn how to do a simple thing he had done his entire liie, the
simple thing he now did for a Hving.

The Boston Red Sox had given up on him — just last week, had
traded him to the Colorado Rockies for infielder Pokey Reese. He
was in his sixth year in the big leagues and cHgiblc tor arbitration
and the Rockies Lfuickly made it clear to him tliat they weren't
going to risk having some arbitrator say they had to pay Scott Hat-
teberg $1.5 milHon. A miUion and a half dollars actually wasn't



much for a guy who'd spent five years in the big leagues, but the
Rockies thought it was three times what he was worth. Thinking
no one else would take an interest in a catcher who couldn't
throw, they immediately granted Hatteberg his free agency. Then
they proposed a deal: five hundred grand for one year. That was a
50 percent pay cut from the $950,000 he'd made in Boston the year
before. Hatteberg refused. At midnight December 20, 2001, the
Rockies' rights to Scott Hatteberg expired; one minute later, at
12:01 A.M., Paul DePodesta, assistant general manager of the Oak-
land A's, telephoned Hatteberg's agent.

This was truly odd. Hatteberg hadn't the slightest idea why the
Oakland A's were so interested in him. All he saw was that one
major league baseball team treated him like a used carpet in a
Moroccan garage sale, twenty-eight other teams had no interest in
him whatsoever, and one team was so wildly enthusiastic about
him they couldn't wait till the morning to make him an offer.
They pestered his agent on Christmas Day! When the Rockies
heard that the Oakland A's had called Hatteberg's agent and initi-
ated a bidding war, the team improved its offer. They wound up
nearly matching Oakland's money. So what? They wanted him
just in case. Just in case something happened to some other guy.
Billy Beane wanted him to play. Billy Beane wanted him to hit.
Hatteberg told his agent to cut a deal with Oakland: one year with
a club option for a second, with a base salary of $950,000 plus a
few incentive clauses. The moment he signed it, a few days after
Christmas, he had a call from Billy Beane, who said how pleased
he was to have him in the lineup.

And, oh yes, he'd be playing first base.

Baseball players share with airline pilots the desire, when they
aren't working, to live in sensory deprivation chambers. In the off-
season they can be found in clusters in central Florida, or the
Phoenix suburbs. Hatteberg and his wife, Bitsy, had bought a
house on a golf course just south of Tacoma, Washington. It wasn't
their dream house — they'd have to wait until he finished playing


ball for the place on the water. It was a real estate antidote to pro-
fessional baseball. It would hold its value and could be quickly and
tearlessly sold. When he was on the road, he knew that his girls
were safe. Here a barking dog counted as crime.

Late at night, the dogs knew not to bark. Puttering around, sur-
rounded by walls of silence, trying and failing to get comfortable
with what Billy Beane had just said, he came across relics of his
career. Old catcher's mitts, and old bats with his name branded
into the barrel. Pictures of him at Washington State, where for
three years he'd been the catcher. A framed jersey he'd worn as the
catcher for Team USA in the 1990 Goodwill Games. Another he'd
worn as the catcher for the Boston Red Sox. Catcher. He was a
catcher. He'd been a catcher since he was ten years old. Two
weeks ago he'd turned thirty-two. Twenty-two years behind the

His living-room window looked out onto a blue-green fairway
freshly carved out of a blameless Washington forest. Most guys
golfed in the off-season,- he preferred fly-fishing. The moisture on
the fairway glistened in the artificial light. This time of year it was
dark nearly half the time, and when it wasn't dark it was raining.

First base!

Billy Beane had promised not to tell the press that he'd hired
Scott Hatteberg to replace Jason Giambi. He couldn't replace
Giambi. Two guys couldn't do it. . . . First base!

Scott Hatteberg realized that he had to do something. He was
going nuts. He thought of the pair of asphalt tennis courts down
the road, built as a sop to the few prisoners of this gated commu-
nity who didn't play golf. A few days after Christmas he strapped
his daughters into their car seats, alongside his wife, his batting
tee, a bucket of old baseballs, and a brand-new first baseman's
mitt. The girls he dropped in the sandbox beside the courts, Bitsy
he asked to hit grounders at him off the batting tee. Mrs. Scott
Hatteberg listed herself at five foot one, 100 pounds. She wasn't


built to hit in the big leagues. She didn't even look capable of
grounding out to first base.

Bitsy had noticed something about her husband. Even though
he'd been in the big leagues for five years, and had been the start-
ing catcher for the Boston Red Sox, he had never really thought of
himself as a big league ballplayer. The other players volunteered
their autographs to fans before games. He never did, not because
he didn't care to, but because he was w^orried they wouldn't know
who he was. He doesn't admit this; she senses it's true all the
same. And she doesn't particularly like it. It isn't that she wants
baseball fans to know who her husband is. She wants him to know
that they know who he is. And so, from the end of December to
the start of spring training, in the drizzling rain, with her daugh-
ters wailing that they want to go home, she whacks big league
ground balls at her husband.

iXoN WASHINGTON was the infield coach for the Oakland As.
He'd actually played with Billy Beane when Billy was with the
Minnesota Twins, but that isn't why he was the infield coach. He
was the infield coach because he had a gift for making players
want to be better than they were — though he would never allow
himself such a pretentious thought. Wash's job was to take the
mess Billy Beane sent him during spring training and make sure
that it didn't embarrass anyone by opening day. What Billy Beane
sent him — well. Wash had some stories to tell. He was the one
infield coach in baseball who could be certain that his general
manager wouldn't be wasting any money on fielding ability. When
you asked Wash what it was like to be the infield coach for a team
that would have started a blind man if he had a talent for getting
on base, he'd grimace and say, "I seen some shit. I can tell you
that." There were times that Wash thought the players Billy sent
him shouldn't even bother to bring their gloves; they should just


take their bats with them into the field, and hit the hall hack to
the pitcher.

Wash had about six weeks to turn Scott Hatteberg into the Oak-
land A's starting first baseman. He took Hatty out onto the Ari-
zona practice field, fed him grounders, and tried to teach him
footwork. Reflecting on those grim times Wash would say,
months later, "You could see he shouldn't be out there. He was on
his heels. He didn't know where to go, what to do, how to do it. In
the back ot his mind he was saying, 'I don't want nothm' to hap-
pen in mv area.' He'd do all the things that cause a fan in the
stands to say, 'That kid is horseshit.' And what do he know; What
do that fan know? He don't know nuthin'l But he'd be right. He'd
be right about Hatty. That kid was horseshit."

Wash didn't ever say to Scott Hatteberg, or even give him the
slightest non-verbal hint, what obscenities might cross the mind
of the typical fan watching him play first base. The first thing
Hatty needed was a feeling of confidence, even if he had no right
to the feeling. But in the big meetings at the end of spring train-
ing, when the A's front office and his fellow coaches asked Wash
whether Hatty was ready to be a big league first baseman, he'd
said, "You can run him out there every three or four days but don't
you go thinking you can put him out there every day."

From the first day of spring training Hatty experienced life at
first base as a series of panic attacks. "There's this thing about first
base," he says. "You can't drop balls: any of them." It was nerve-
wracking, in part because he had no idea what to do, but also
because the stakes seemed so high. "1 assumed if I was horrible at
first, they'd release me," he said. He was horrible, but they didn't
release him. Come opening day there was a temporary spot avail-
able for him in the lineup: designated hitter. The A's regular right
fielder, Jermaine Dye, was taking longer than expected to recover
from the leg he'd broken in a play-off game the previous year. That
put [Oavid lustice in right field, and leremy Giambi in left, and
opened up the DH slot for Hatteberg. To fill the hole at first base


Billy Beane had traded for Carlos Pena, a sensational young minor
leaguer who appeared ready to make a splash in the big leagues.
"Everyone said that Carlos was going to be the next Alex
Rodriguez/' said Hatteberg, "so once he arrived, I assumed I
wouldn't be playing first base." When Dye came back, he further
assumed, he'd be back on the bench.

That never happened. What happened instead is that, after
starting out well enough, the team went into a tailspin. When the
Yankees had come to town in late April the Oakland As had been
11-8. Three weeks later they were four games under .500 and
falling fast. In mid-May they'd gone into Toronto and been
swept by the Blue Jays. The Blue Jays. Hatteberg thought he had
seen it all with the Red Sox, but what happened immediately after
the A's were sv.'ept by the Blue Jays was unique in his big league

Like the other players, Scott Hatteberg sensed the Oakland A's
were managed oddly, by big league standards. The team, even
when it was on the field, appeared to be run not by the field man-
ager but by the front office. And the front office were apparently
pissed off. In what amounted to a purge, Billy Beane sent down to
the minors the team's starting first baseman Carlos Pena, starting
second baseman Frankie Menechino, starting pitcher Eric Hiljus,
and right-handed setup man Jeff Tam. Jeremy Giambi, the starting
left fielder, he traded to the Phillies for a bench player named John
Mabry. In a matter of hours the A's front office had jettisoned three
of their starting eight, including one guy everyone had tagged as
Rookie of the Year (Pena) and another guy everyone thought was
the front office's pet (Giambi). It was Scott Hatteberg's first real
experience of Billy Beane. His first thought: Oh my God, there is
nothing this guy won't do. Once again the team found itself with-
out an everyday first baseman. By default, the job fell to him.

His performance, at the outset, lacked elegance. He labored
over the most rudimentary task: getting into position to receive
throws from other infielders. "It looks effortless when guys do it,"


he said, "hut it's not. Trust me." At first base the game seemed
faster than it ever had to hun as a catcher. A ball would be
grounded sharply to short or third and the throw would be on him
before he was ready. Where was his back foot? Where was the bag?
Was anyone laughing yet? Simple pop flies he'd lose in the air and
they would drop ten yards away from him in the Coliseum's vast
foul territory. "On a lot of the pop-ups I missed it wouldn't even
look like an error," he said, "because I'd never get anywhere near
the hall."

And then something happened: the more he went out to play
first base, the more comfortable he felt there. By late June he could
say, with a smile, that "the difference between spring training and
now is that when a ground ball comes at me now, my blood pres-
sure doesn't go through the roof." A large part of the change was
due to Wash. Wash got inside your head because — well, because
you wanted Wash inside your head. Every play Hatty made,
including throws he took from other infielders, he came back to
the dugout and discussed with Wash. His coach was creating an
alternative scale on which Hatty could judge his performance. He
might be an absolute D but on Wash's curve he felt like a B, and
rising. "He knew that what looked like a routine play wasn't a
routine play for me," said Hatty. Wash was helping him to fool
himself, to make him feel better than he was, until he actually
became better than he was. At the Coliseum it was a long way
from the A's dugout to first base, hut every time Hatty picked a
throw out of the dirt — a play most first basemen made with their
eyes closed — he'd hear Wash shout from the dugout:

"Pickin' Machine!"

He'd look over and see Wash with his fighting face on:

"Pickin' Machine!"

Hatty sensed that he was naturally more athletic than most
guys management hid at first base, and he was right. He began to
relax. He began to want the ball to he hit to him. He began to feel


comfortable. He began to feel himself. One of the things he had
always enjoyed as a catcher was the chance to talk to the other
teams' players. First base was a far richer social opportunity. First
base made catching feeling like a bad dinner party— what with the
ump hanging on your shoulder and all the fans and cameras star-
ing at you. At first base you could really talk. Posted on the bul-
letin board of the Oakland A's clubhouse was a memo, signed by
Bob Watson, from Major League Baseball:

Players of the opposing teams shall not fraternize at any time
while in uniform.

—Official Baseball Rule 3.09

By the summer of 2002, the memo might as well have been

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 14 of 24)