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Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game online

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treal Expos' GM. Omar Minaya controls the fate of Cliff Floyd.

Billy puts his head in his hands and says, "Let me think."
Which he does for about ten seconds, then calls Omar Minaya. He
listens as Minaya tells him what he already knows from Peter
Gammons; that his offer for Cliff Floyd is nowhere close to the
Red Sox offer. In exchange for one of the best left-handed hitters
in the game, Billy Beane had offered a Double- A pitcher who was
promising but hardly a prized possession. The Red Sox, amazingly,
have agreed to cover the $2 million or so left on Clitf Floyd's con-
tract, and offered a smorgasbord of major and minor league play-
ers for Montreal to choose from — among them Red Sox pitcher
Rolando Arrojo and a South Korean pitcher named Seung-jun
Song. Plus, according to Cliff Floyd's agent, it is suddenly Cliff
Floyd's dream to play for the Boston Red Sox (the Red Sox are
likely to pay him even more than he is worth at ihc ciul of the
year, when he becomes a free agent) and his distinct wish not to
play for the Oakland A's (who will bill Cliff Floyd for the sodas he



THE TRADING DESK 207

drinks in the clubhouse). Floyd has a clause in his contract that
allows him to veto a trade to Oakland.

Billy listens to the many compelling reasons why Omar is
about to trade Cliff Floyd to the Red Sox, and then says, in the
polite tones of a man trying to hide his discovery of another's
idiocy, "You really want to do that, Omar?"

Omar says he does.

"I mean, Omar, you really like those guys you're getting from
Boston?"

Omar, a bit less certainly, says that he likes the guys he's get-
ting from Boston.

"You like Arrojo that much, huh?" He speaks Arrojo's name
with a question mark after it. Arrojo? The Toronto Blue Jays' GM,
J. P. Ricciardi, said that watching Billy do a deal was "like watch-
ing the Wolf talk to Little Red Riding Hood."

It takes a full twenty seconds for Omar to apologize for his
interest in Rolando Arrojo.

"So who is this other guy?" says Billy "This Korean pitcher.
How do you say his name? Song Song?"

Omar knows how to say his name.

"Well, okay," says Billy. Yet another shift in tone. He's now an
innocent, well-meaning passerby who has stopped to offer a bit of
roadside assistance. "If you're going to send Floyd to Boston," he
says, "why don't you send him through me?"

And Billy Beane now attempts to do what he has done so many
times in the past: insert himself in the middle of a deal that is
none of his business.

"Omar," he says. "You're in the catbird seat here. All you need
to do is let the market come to you."

He then explains: Omar can have the Red Sox's money and he
can have the Red Sox's players plus another player from the Oak-
land As minor league system. Just about any player he wants,
within reason. All he has to do is agree to give Cliff Floyd to Billy



208 MONEYBflLL

Beane for a few minutes, and let Billy negotiate with the Red Sox.
He is explaining, without ptutrng too tme a point on it, that Omar
is not getting all he could get out of the Red Sox for Cliff Floyd.

The Red Sox were m their usual undignified pant to make the
play-offs. They had twisted themselves into a position in their
own minds where they could not not get Cliff Floyd. They were
among the many foolish teams that thought all their questions
could be answered by a single player. Cliff Floyd was the answer.
Cliff Floyd was a guy the Boston newspapers would praise them
for acquiring. Cliff Floyd would bring false hope to Fenway Park.
Cliff Floyd, in short, was a guy for whom the Red Sox simply had
to overpay. And if Omar Minaya hasn't the stomach to extract
every last hunk of flesh the Boston Red Sox are willing to part
with in exchange for Floyd, Billy will do it for him. And once he's
done it, he will give Omar the players he was going to get anyway
plus a minor leaguer from the Oakland farm system.

Billy Beane never had the first hope of landing Cliff Floyd. For
Cliff Floyd to become an Oakland A, the Montreal Expos would
have had to agree to pay the rest of Floyd's 2002 salary. The Expos
were now officially a failed enterprise, owned and operated by
Major League Baseball. By Bud Selig. There is not the slightest
chance that Bud Selig would pay a star to play for a team fighting
for a spot in the play-offs. Billy had to have known that; what he'd
been doing, all along, was making a place tor himselt in the con-
versation about Cliff Floyd. Everyone else in that conversation
had money. All he had was chutzpah.

Omar's now curious. He wants to know exactly how this new
deal would work. Billy spells it out: you give me Floyd and 1 will
deliver to you Arrojo and Song Song — or whatever his name is —
plus someone else. Some other mun)r leaguer from the Oakland
A's system.

(^mar still doesn't quite follow: how will he do that' Billy
explains that he will use Floyd to get Arrojo and Song Song and



THE TRADING DESK 209

some other things too, from the Boston Red Sox. It goes without
saying that he will keep those other things.

Omar now follows. He says it sounds messy

"Okay, Omar," says Billy. "Let's do this. Here's what you do.
Call them back and tell them that you want one other player, in
addition to Arrojo and Song Song. His name is Youkilis."

Euclis.

The Greek god of walks.

Youkilis, an eighth-round draft choice the previous year. Youk-
ilis, the first college player turned up by Paul DePodesta's com-
puter, and ignored by the Oakland A's scouting department.
Youkilis, a man who but for the last residue of old baseball wis-
dom in Billy's scouting department would have been taken by the
Oakland A's in the third round of the 2001 draft. Youkilis was the
Jeremy Brown of the 2001 draft. He was tearing up Double-A ball,
and was on the fast track to the big leagues. He played as if he was
trying to break the world record for walking, and for wearing out
the arms of opposing pitchers.

From the moment he started to talk to Omar Minaya about
Cliff Floyd, Billy Beane was after Youkilis.

Omar has no idea who Youkilis is. "Kevin Youkilis," says Billy,
as if that helps. "Omar, he's nobody. He's just a fat Double-A third
baseman." A fat Double-A third baseman who is the Greek god of
walks. Who just happened to have walked into some power last
year. Yes: the Greek god of walks was now hitting a few more
home runs. Which is, of course, the true destiny of the Greek god
of walks.

Omar doesn't understand how he can get Youkilis from the Red
Sox, who have said they've made their best offer. "No, Omar,"
says Billy. "Here's how you do it. If I walk you through this, Omar,
you can take it to the freaking bank. Trust me on this, Omar. He
[Floyd's agent] wants him in Boston. You know why? Boston can
pay him. You don't ask them for Youkilis. You just tell them



210 MONEYBflLL

Youkilis is in the deal. You just call them and tell them that
without Youkilis they don't have a deal. Then hang up. I guaran-
tee you they'll call you right back and give you Youkilis. Who is
YoukilisV'

He speaks the name as he has never betore, as it he can summon
only contempt for anyone with an interest in this Youkilis. "Youk-
ilis tor Clitt Floyd;" he says "It's ridiculous. Of course they'll do
it. Fucking Larry Lucchino [the Red Sox president] doesn't know
who the fuck Youkilis is. How are they going to explain to people
that they didn't get Cliff Floyd because they wouldn't give up
Youkilis?"

Poor teams enjoy one advantage over rich teams: immunity
from public ridicule. Billy may not care for the Oakland press but
it is really very tame next to the Boston press, and it certainly has
no effect on his behavior, other than to infuriate him once a week
or so. Oakland A's fans, too, were apathetic compared to the mani-
acs in Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. He could safely ignore
their howls.

Omar doesn't buy it. He thinks maybe Billy Beane is screwing
up his deal.

"Omar, all Pm trying to do is give you a free player from me.
And if they don't do it, what have you lost? You can still do the
deal."

Omar says he's worried about losing his deal. He's got Bud Selig
sitting on his shoulder. Omar, thanks to Bud Selig, is in violation
of Billy Beane's Trading Rule #2: "The day you say you have to do
something, you're screwed. Because you are going to make a bad
deal."

"Omar," Billy says, "if they think they are going to get Floyd,
Kevin Youkilis is not going to get in the way." Billy Beane helps
Omar to imagine the Boston headlines, new red sox owners lose

PENNANT TO KEEP FAT MINOR LEAGUER.

Now Omar understands; now Omar very nearly believes. But
Omar is also curious: who is this Youkilis fellow that has Billy



THE TRADING DESK 211

Beane so worked up? Perhaps Youkilis is someone who should be
not an Oakland A, but a Montreal Expo.

"Youkilis?" says Billy, as if he's only just heard of the guy and
very nearly forgot his name. "Just a fat kid in Double-A. Look at
your reports. He's a 'no' for you. He's a 'maybe' for me. From our
standpoint he's just a guy we like because he gets on base."

(Silly us!)

Now Omar wants to make it more complicated than it is.

"Omar, Omar/' says Billy, "the point is I think you can get him
in the deal and if you do I'm getting you something for nothing."

He puts down the phone. "He'll call Boston but I don't think
he's going to push them," he says.

A's president Mike Crowley pokes his head into Billy's office.
"Steve's on the phone." Steve in this case is Steve Schott, A's
owner.

Billy's thoughts linger on Youkilis. He imagines, fairly accu-
rately as it turns out, the next words he'll hear from the Red Sox.
They'll know of course that it was he, and not Omar, who has
dropped the stink bomb of Youkilis. They'll know because he, and
no one else, has tried to get Youkilis from them in the past.
They'll know, also, because the Red Sox assistant GM, Theo
Epstein, talks to Billy Beane as often as he can. Epstein is a
twenty-eight-year-old Yale graduate who has known for some
time that he'd like to be the general manager of a big league team
and, when he is, which general manager he'd most like to be. The
Boston Red Sox are moments away from joining Billy Beane in his
crusade to emancipate fat guys who don't make outs. All this Billy
knows, and he still thinks Boston will give up Youkilis. What he
doesn't know is that Theo Epstein has new powers — new Red Sox
owner John Henry listens to everything he says — and has used
them to establish Kevin Youkilis as the poster child for the Boston
Red Sox farm system. ("Three months earlier," Epstein will later
say, "and Billy would have had him.")

"Billy, Steve's still waiting to talk!" Mike Crowley again. His



212 MONEYBflLL

owner again. Billy looks around as if he's forgotten something; he's
spent too much time on Youkilis. He needs to raise some cash. He
goes back to his phone and calls Steve Phillips, the Mets GM, one
last time. "Steve. Here's the deal. 1 don't want Rincon pitching
against mc tonight." He listens for a hit, and hears nothing that
makes him happy. When he hangs up, he says, "He has no money.
He needs what he has to sign Kazmir." (Kazmir is the high school
pitcher — now the high school pitching holdout — drafted by the
Mets nearly two months earlier.)

The Mets have no money to waste. This is new, too. The mar-
ket for baseball players, like the market for stocks and bonds, is
always changing. To trade it well you needed to be adaptable.

Every minute that passes is a minute Brian Sabean — or even
Steve Phillips! — has to talk Mark Shapiro into backing out of the
two-hour promise he's made Billy. Billy hollers to Mike Crowley:
"Tell Schott that if we don't move Venafro, I'll sell Rincon for
twice the price next year. No. Tell him that I'll make him a
deal. If I don't do it, I'll cover it. But I keep anything over twice the
savings."

Mike Crowley doesn't know what to do with this. His GM, who
earns 400 grand a year, is telling his owner that he'll take an
equity stake in a single player. Go down this road and Billy Beane
could make himself a very rich man, simply by dealing players as
well as he has done. No reply comes back from the owner, and
Billy assumes he is free to do what he wants with Rincon. (Later,
and after the fact, the owners will indeed give him authority to do
the deal.) He gives the Mets and Giants fifteen minutes more.
Finally, he decides. He'll take the risk. He picks up the phone to
call Mark Shapiro to acquire Rincon.

Phone in hand, almost casually, Billy says to Paul DePodesta,
now seated on Billy's sofa, "Do you want to go down and release
Magnante?"

"Do / want to?" says Paul. He looks right, then left, as if Billy
must be talking to some other person, someone who enjoys telling



THE TRADING DESK 213

a thirty-seven-year-old relief pitcher that he's washed up. When he
looks left he can see the Coliseum a few yards away, through
Billy's office window. It wasn't that Mags was just four days short
of his ten-year goal. He'd get his pension. It was that, in all likeli-
hood, Mags was finished in the big leagues.

"Someone's got to talk to him," says Billy. Now, suddenly,
there is a difference between trading stocks and bonds and trading
human beings. There's a discomfort. Billy never lets it affect what
he does. He is able to think of players as pieces in a board game.
That's why he trades them so well.

"Call Art," says Paul. "That's his job."

Billy starts to call Art and then remembers that he hasn't actu-
ally made the trade, and so reverses himself and calls Mark
Shapiro in Cleveland. It's 6:30 p.m. The game against the Indians
starts in thirty-five minutes.

"Mike Magnante has just thrown his last pitch in the big
leagues," says Paul.

"Sorry I took so long, Mark," says Billy.

No problem, But since you did, do you want to wait until after
the game to take Rinconl

"No, we want him now. We want to get him in our dugout
tonight."

Why the rush}

"By and large Magnante cost us the game last night and Rincon
won the game."

Okay. No big deal. We'll do it now.

"You feel comfortable with Ricardo's health, right?"

Right.

"We're going to have to release a guy before the game," says
Billy. "In the spirit of speeding things up, you wanna call Joel?"
Joel is Joel Skinner, the Indians manager. Panic rises on Billy's
face. "Oh shit," he says. "McDougal. He has a little tweak in his
leg. You know about that, right?" McDougal's the player Billy's
giving up. McDougal's also been dogging it during workouts. He's



214 MONEYBflLL

conveyed to the A's minor league coaching staff a certain hick of
commitment to the game. But these things the Cleveland Indians
are required to learn the hard way.

No problem. I know about the tweak.

Billy hangs up and dials Art Howe's numher. The A's manager
has just returned to his office hesidc the chihhouse.

"Art. It's Billy. I have some good news and some had news."

Art gives a little nervous chuckle. "Okay."

"The good news is you've got Rincon."

"Dolt"

"The had news is you gotta release Magnante."

Silence on the other end of the line. "Okay," Art finally says.

"And you've got to do it before the game."

"Okay."

"I know it's not the best way to get rid of a guy but we got a
good pitcher."

"Okay."

Billy hangs up and turns to Paul, "Can we designate Magnante
for assignment?" This is a prettier way to release a player because
it leaves open the possibility that some other club will claim him,
and take his salary off Oakland's hands. When you designate a guy
for assignment, Billy explains, "you put him in baseball purgatory.
But he can't pray his way out."

He then makes several quick calls. He calls the A's equipment
manager, Steve Vucinich. "Voos. We gotta get rid of Mags by game
time. Yeah. You have twenty-five minutes to get him out of
there." He calls the Mets' Steve Phillips. "Steve, I got the guy 1
wanted. Rincon." (For you, it's Venafro or nothing.) He calls the
Giants' Brian Sabean. "Brian. Hey, Brian. Hey, it's Billy. I've made
a deal for Rincon right now." (So don't think y(ui can wait me out.)
He calls Peter Gammons and tells him what he's done, and that
he's not doing anything else.

Then he brings m the Oakland A's public relations man, Jim
Young, who agrees he should have a press release ready before the



THE TRADING DESK 215

game. He also says Billy should make himself available to the
media. "Do 1 have to go talk to them?" Billy asks. He's already
talked to everyone he wants to talk to.

"Yes."

After the final call, his phone rings. He looks at his caller ID
and sees it's from the visitors' clubhouse. He picks it up.

"Oh, hi Ricardo." It's Ricardo Rincon, who is Mexican, and nor-
mally gives his interviews through an interpreter.

"Ricardo, I know it's a little bit shocking for you," says Billy.
His syntax changes slightly, he's groping for a Mexican mode of
expression and winds up saying whatever he can think of that
Ricardo might understand. "But we have been trying to get you for
a long time. You're going to love the guys on the team. They're
fun."

Ricardo is trying to get it clear in his head that he's supposed to
do what he's just been asked to do, take off his Cleveland Indians
uniform, gather his personal belongings, and walk down the hall
into the Oakland clubhouse and put on an Oakland uniform. He
can't quite get his mind around it.

"Yes! Yes!" says Billy. "I don't know if you'll pitch tonight. But
you're on our team tonight."

Whatever Ricardo says he means: Oh my God, I might actually
have to pitch tonightl

"Yes. Yes. Possibly you'll punch out Jim Thome!" Possibly you
will punch out Jim Thome. Billy is becoming, quickly, a Mexican
immigrant.

"We'll have a uniform and everything ready for you." And
everything. He's had just about enough touchy-feely for one
evening. He tries to lead the conversation to a not horribly unnat-
ural conclusion. " Where are you from, Ricardo?"

Ricardo says he's from Veracruz, Mexico.

"Well, Veracruz is closer to here than to Cleveland. You're
closer to home!"

He finishes that one, hangs up, and says, "It's gotten to be a



216 MONEYBflLL

longer road trip for Ricardo than he expected." He looks absolutely
spent. The wad ot tobacco is gone from his upper hp dnd liis
mouth is dry. He gargles with the glass of water on his desk, and
spits. "I've got to work out/' he says.

At that moment Mike Magnante was removing his Oakland
uniform and Ricardo Rincon was removing his Cleveland one.
Mags quickly left the Oakland clubhouse; he'd come back for his
things later when no one was around. His wife had brought
the kids to the game so he couldn't just leave. Magnante watched
the game with his tamily until the sixth inning, and then Ictt so
he wouldn't have to answer questions from the media. He had no
desire to call further attention to his situation. In his youth he
might have mouthed off. He would certainly have borne a grudge.
But he was no longer young; the numbness had long since set in.
He thought of himself the way the market thought of him, as an
asset to be bought and sold. He'd long ago forgotten whatever it
was he was meant to feel.

The main thing was that Mags was gone from the clubhouse
before Billy walked across to change into his sweats. As Billy
headed in, however, he bumped into Ricardo Rincon heading out,
in street clothes. Ricardo remained confused. He had heard he was
going to the San Francisco Giants, or maybe the Los Angeles
Dodgers. He'd never imagined he might be an Oakland A. And he
still doesn't understand the full implications of what's happened.
The Oakland A's only left-handed relief pitcher is going out to find
a seat in the stands to watch the game. Billy leads him back into
the chibhouse where the staff has just finished steaming rincon
onto the back ot an Oakland A's jersey. "You're on our team now,"
says Billy.

Ricardo Rincon walked back into his new clubhouse, put on his
new uniform, and sat down and watched the entire game on tele-
vision. "I w.is not ready," he said. "I couldn't concentrate." His
left arm, however, felt great.



Chapter Ten



RNflTOMYOF AN
UNDERVALUED PITCHER



AFTER BILLY ACQUIRED Ricardo Rincon and Ray Durham,
the team went from good to great. The only team in the
past fifty years with a better second half record than the
2002 Oakland A's was the 2001 Oakland A's, and even they were
just one game better. On the evening of September 4, the stand-
ings in the American League West were, with the exception of the
Texas Rangers, an inversion of what they had been six weeks
before.





Wins


Losses


Games Behind


Oakland


87


51




Anaheim


83


54


3K


Seattle


81


57


6


Texas


62


75


24/2



The Anaheim Angels were the second hottest team in baseball.
They'd won thirteen of their last nineteen games, and yet lost



217



218 MONEYBflLL

grouiul in the race. The reason for this was tliat the Oakland A's
had won all of their previous nineteen games — and tied the Amer-
ican League record for consecutive wins. On the night of Septem-
her 4, 20U2, before a crowd of 5S,S28, the largest ever to see an
Oakland regular season game, they had set out to do what no other
team had done m the 102-year history of the league: wm their
twentieth game in a row. By the top of the seventh inning, up I 1-5
against the Kansas City Royals, with Tim Hudson still pitching,
the game seemed all but over.

Then, suddenly, Hudson's in trouble. After two quick outs he
gives up one single to Mike Sweeney and another, harder hit, to
Raul Ibanez. Art Howe emerges from the dugout and glances at
the bullpen.

What turned up in the A's bullpen seemed to vary from one
night to the next. On this night the less important end of the
bench held a cynical, short, lefty sidewinder Billy Beane had tried
and failed to give away, Mike Venafro, and two guys newly arrived
from Triple-A: Jeff Tam and Micah Bowie. On the more important
end of the bench was a clubfooted screwball pitcher with knee
problems; a short, squat Mexican left-hander who spoke so little
English that he called everyone on the team "Poppy"; and a tem-
pestuous flamethrower with uneven control ot sell and ball. )im
Mecir, Ricardo Rincon, Billy Koch, (^f the entire bullpen, in the
view of the Oakland A's front office, the most critical to the team's
success was a mild-mnnncred Baptist whose delivery resembled
no other pitcher m the major leagues: Chad Bradford. Billy has
instructed Art Howe to bring in Bradford whenever the game is on
the line. In most cases when Bradiord came out of the pen, the
game was tight and runners were on base. Tonight, the game isn't
tight; tonight, history is calling Chad Bradford in from the pen.

Art Howe pulls his right hand out of his jacket and flips his fin-
gers underhanded, like a lawn bowler. Taking his cue, Bradford
steps off the bullpen mound and walks toward the field of play.
Before reaching it, he pullb the bill ot his cap down over his face



ANflTOMY OF AN UNDERVALUED PITCHER 219

and fixes his eyes on the ground three feet in front of him. He's six
foot five but walks short. Really, it's a kind of vanishing act: by the
time he steps furtively over the foul line, he's shed himself
entirely of the interest of the crowd. If you didn't know who he
was or what he was doing you would say he wasn't making an
entrance but a getaway.

Baseball nourishes eccentricity and big league bullpens have
seen their share of self-consciously colorful oddballs. Chad Brad-
ford was the opposite. He didn't brush his teeth between innings,
like Turk Wendell, or throw temper tantrums on the mound, like
Ai Hrabosky. He didn't stomp and glare and leap dramatically
over the foul lines. His mother, back home in Mississippi, often
complained about her son's on-field demeanor. Specifically, she
complained that he never did anything to let people know how
handsome and charming he actually was. For instance, he never
allowed the television cameras to see his winsome smile, even
when he sat in the dugout after a successful outing. Chad never
smiled because he was mortified by the idea of the TV cameras
catching him smiling — or, for that matter, doing anything at all.

None of it helps his cause of remaining inconspicuous. Once
he's on the mound, nothing he does can wall him off from the
crowd or the cameras. He makes his living on the baseball field's
only raised platform, and in such a way as to call to mind a circus
act. Sooner or later he needs to throw his warm-up pitches, and,
when he does, fans who have never seen him pitch gawk and
point. In their trailers outside the stadium TV producers scramble


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Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 18 of 24)