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Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game online

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exchange for a Triple-A arm, Billy said, and he didn't much care
which one. He asked the White Sox to suggest a few names. It
took Kenny Williams a while to get around to him, but finally he
mentioned Chad Bradford. Said he hated to even bring Bradford up
because the young man had just called in from Mississippi and
said his back was hurting, and he might need surgery. "He'll do,"
said Billy.



Chapter Eleven



EARLIER THAT HISTORIC September evening, before Chad
Bradford took the mound, a traffic jam extraordinary even
by Northern California standards stretched as far as the
eye could see. The (^akhmd A's ticket office had never experi-
enced anythmg quite Hke the crush of the previous two days.
When the Kansas City Royals came to town, the A's sales depart-
ment expected about ten thousand fans to turn up. In just the last
twenty-four hours more than twenty thousand people had stopped
by, m ilie flesh, to buy seats in advance. Before the game, an aer-
ial view of Oakland would reveal nearly everyone in sight heading
toward the Coliseum. Billy Beane alone was heading away from it.
Billv hadn't the sHghtest intention of watching his team make
history. It was iust another game, he said, and he didn't watch
games. "All they provide me with is subiective emotion," he said,
"and that can be counterproductive." He tigured he could give a
few press interviews, and then slip away in his Range Rover to
Modesto. In Modesto, on the same night the Oakland A's were try-

244



THE HUMAN ELEMENT 245

ing to win their twentieth game in a row, the VisaUa Oaks were
playing the Modesto A's. Both teams were Single-A affiUates of
Oakland. Most of the players the A's had drafted a few months
before played for one or the other. Billy could stand to watch
young men who still had time and space to fail: Nick Swisher,
Steve Stanley, Mark Teahen, and Jeremy Brown. Especially Brown,
the bad body catcher from Hueytown, Alabama. Everyone had
laughed when the Oakland A's drafted Brown in the first round.
Every day Brown was more interesting to Billy.

And so the only moment that Billy Beane looked forward to, on
a day he should have gloated through, was when he'd make his
getaway. On his way out of the office, however, he'd been cut off
by the team's stunned marketing department. The people who
sold the Oakland A's couldn't quite believe that the guy who'd
built them was taking off. They explained to Billy that if he left,
he might as well pile a bunch of money in the street and set it on
fire: he'd be blowing the biggest chance they'd had in years to pro-
mote the Oakland A's to the wider world. The winning streak had
become a national news story. And so Billy, slightly miffed,
stayed. He sat still for CBS Evening News, CNN, Fox Sports
News, ESPN, and a few others, then went down to the weight
room and hid, from the media and the game.

At some point between the treadmill and the stationary bicycle
he noticed on his little white box that it was the bottom of the
third inning and his team was ahead 11-0. For the first time in a
very long while, he relaxed. Still dripping sweat, he set himself up
in manager Art Howe's empty office, with the television switched
on. Nineteen games into a winning streak, up eleven-zip against
one of the worst teams in baseball, with one of the best pitchers
in baseball still on the mound for the Oakland A's — this one game
appeared safe to watch. It wasn't going to violate the laws of prob-
ability; it wasn't going to drive him mad, and cause him to do
something he might later regret. At that moment, Billy Beane was
so at peace with his world that he let me into it.



246 MONEYBflLL

His feet were up on Art Howe's Formica desk. He was feeling
detached. Expansive. Delighted and delightful. This was the way
he felt most of the time; this was the way he almost always han-
dled himself away from baseball. He had, he confessed, expressed
his concern when he saw that Art Howe had written John Mabry's
name on the lineup card, where Scott Hatteberg's should have
been. It was a shame for Hatteberg, I thought. Here he's been per-
forming these valuable and rather selfless services to the Oakland
A's offense, and the one game the world will watch, he isn't
allowed to play. Art explained to Billy that Hatteberg had never
faced Kansas City's ace, Paul Byrd. Mabry, on the other hand, not
only had hit Byrd hard but claimed to be able to see him tipping
his pitches — that is, Mabry could guess what Byrd was about to
throw. Billy now says he deferred to Art's judgment, as if deferring
to Art's judgment comes naturally to him. Mabry promptly made
Art Howe look like a genius. He'd driven in one run with a single
up the middle in the six-run first inning — and helped to chase Byrd
from the game. Then, in the second inning, he'd whacked a solo
home run.

With the score 1 1-0, and Tim Hudson still carving up the Roy-
als lineup, the absence of Scott Hatteberg from the lineup is a dis-
tant memory. Billy Beane is right to feel his usual self: the odds of
something going wrong are ridiculously small. He calls his daugh-
ter Casey, now twelve years old, and still living in Southern Cali-
fornia.

"Hey Casey, you watching the game?"

Pause.

"American IdoU You're watching American IdolH"

Casey is watching American Idol.

He tells Casey the news — the team is winning big, a nation of
baseball fans is watching — teases her a bit, and lets her go.

Billy Beane should always be so calm during his team's games.
If he believes what he claims to believe — that the game can be



THE HUMAN ELEMENT 247

reduced to a social science; that it is simply a matter of figuring
out the odds, and exploiting the laws of probability; that baseball
players follow strikingly predictable patterns — then there is no
point in being anything but calm. To get worked up over plays, or
even games, is as unproductive as a casino manager worrying over
the outcomes of individual pulls of the slot machines. Billy as
good as makes this point now by pointing at the TV, where Eric
Chavez, having just made a difficult defensive play look routine,
sheepishly starts kicking the dirt in front of him. "He's almost
afraid to acknowledge how good he really is," says Billy. "And
here's the thing. He's twenty-four years old. You know if he's here
now" — he holds his hand at his chest — "he'll wind up here" — he
raises his hand over his head. "You could make a case that Chawy
is the most naturally gifted player in the game."

I ask him to make the case, and, in his current, detached mood,
he's more than happy to. Up eleven-zip against a sorry club, he's
reveling in the objective, scientific spirit.

"Age is such a critical factor in evaluating guys," he says, then
plucks the Oakland A's media guide off Art Howe's bookshelf.
"Here. Chawy is twenty-four. The season isn't over. He's got 31
homers, 28 doubles, 55 walks, a .283 batting average, and a .353
on-base percentage. Who do you want to compare him to?"

"Jason Giambi," I say.

"All right," as he pulls out the New York Yankees media guide.
"But I know the answer to this already, because I already did it."
He finds Giambi's career statistics. "When Jason was twenty-four
years old, he spent half the year in Edmonton — on a Triple-A
team. In the half he was in the big leagues he hit 6 homers, drew
28 walks, and hit .256. Who else?"

"Barry Bonds," I say. Across the Bay, Bonds is making the argu-
ment every night that he is the finest hitter who ever played the
game.

"That's hard," he says. "Bonds has reached that level where



248 MONEYBflLL

even talent can't take you. But okay, let's take Bonds." He grabs
the San Francisco Giants media guide. "I know what it's going to
show because I did this with him, too. Bonds was born in 1964. \n
1988, he hit .283, with 24 homers, 71 walks, and 30 doubles. That
gives you some idea of how good Chavvy is."

"Who else'" he asks. But before I can think of anyone else, he
says, "Let's try A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez]. No one had a quicker start
than A-Rod." He pulls the Texas Rangers media guide. "A-Rod
was 24 in 1999. In 1999, he hit .285, with 25 doubles, 42 homers,
and 1 1 1 runs batted in." He looks up. "That compares well
enough, but then there's defense. Chavvy is the best fielding third
baseman in the game. A-Rod isn't the best fielding shortstop."

I'm still having trouble getting my mind around the notion of
making such forecasts about human beings, and I say as much. My
problem can be simply put: every player is different. Every player
must be viewed as a special case. The sample size is always one.
His answer is equally simple: baseball players follow similar pat-
terns, and these patterns are etched in the record books. Of course,
every so often some player may fail to embrace his statistical des-
tiny, but on a team of twenty-five players the statistical aberra-
tions will tend to cancel each other out. And most of them will
conform fairly exactly to his expectations. About Eric Chavez's
career, for instance, he has not the slightest doubt. "The only
thing that will stop Chavvy is if he gets bored," he says. "People
don't understand that. He continues to frustrate people who take
him out of context. He is twenty-four years old. What he's done at
twenty-four no one has done. Health permitted, his whole career
is a lock."

I mention that there are times when Billy is one of the people
Chavvy frustrates. Chavvy, like Miguel Teiada, is Mister Swing at
Everything. In his current mood, Billy waves the obiection aside.
He can't understand how I can be so intolerant. "Chavvy's young,"
he says. "He's good-looking. He's a millionaire. He kind of owes it



THE HUMAN ELEMENT 249

to himself to swing at everything. What were you Hke when you
were twenty-four?"

This was the character whose behavior was consistent with the
way he said he wanted to run his baseball team: rationally. Scien-
tifically. This was the "objective" Billy Beane, the general man-
ager who was certain that "you don't change guys; they are who
they are." Who will describe his job as "a soap box derby. You
build the car in the beginning of the year and after that all you do
is push it down the hill." To this Billy Beane's way of thinking
there was no point in meddling with the science experiment.
There was no point in trying to get inside players' heads, for
instance, to reshape their approach to the game. They will be who
they will be. When you listen to the "objective" Billy Beane talk
about his players, you begin to wonder if baseball players have free
will.

But there is another, less objective Billy Beane. And in the top
of the fourth inning, when Miguel Tejada drops a routine, inning-
ending double-play throw from second baseman Mark Ellis, the
other Billy Beane awakens from his slumber. Even as the Royals
score five runs they shouldn't have, Billy remains calm — after all,
it's still 11-5, and Tim Hudson is still pitching — but he's on alert.
He begins to talk about his players in a different way. And he
allows me to see that the science experiment is messier than the
chief scientist usually is willing to admit.

In the Oakland fourth, center fielder Terrence Long hits a
grounder back to the pitcher, and runs hard down the first-base
line. This is new. Heretofore, when Terrence Long has grounded
out, he has trotted down the line with supreme indifference to
public opinion. Too young to know that you are what you pretend
to be, Terrence Long has nearly perfected the art of seeming not to
care. As it happens, a few days ago, Terrence walked out into the
players' parking lot and discovered that someone had egged his
car. Hearing of the incident, Billy stopped by Terrence's locker and



250 MONEYBfiLL

told him that he'd had an c-mail trom the eulprit, an A's fan, who
said he was furious that he'd paid money to watch Terrence Long
jog the bases. The effect on Terrence Long was immediate. He
went from jogging to first on a routine ground out to running as
fast as he can until the first moment he can stop without pissing
off Billy Beane. As he sprints down the line, Billy says that Ter-
rence's real problem is "his own self-doubt, exacerbated by the
media. That's one of the mistakes that young players make — they
actually read the papers."

In the Oakland fifth, with the score still 1 1-5, Ramon Hernan-
dez leads off. Twice in the first four innings the Oakland catcher
has taken outside fastballs and driven doubles to the opposite
field. This is new. All season long Ramon Hernandez has been try-
ing and failing to pull outside fastballs. He's been a complete bust
on offense, and failed to conform to the Oakland A's front office's
greater expectations of him. As it happens, the other day, Billy
stopped by Ramon Hernandez's locker and made a bet with him:
each time he went the opposite way with an outside pitch, Billy
would pay him fifty bucks,- each time he tried to pull an outside
pitch, he'd pay Billy fifty bucks. The point of the exercise, Billy
now says, is "it gives me an excuse to henpeck Ramon. It's a sub-
versive way for me to keep nagging the shit out of him without
him knowing it."

Most of the players who pass across the television screen on
this historic evening have been on the receiving end of Billy
Beane's subtle attempts to manipulate their behavior. He claims
there is no point in trying to change people, and then he goes
ahead and tries to change them anyway. He knows most of his
players better than he would ever allow himself to be known by
them, and while that is not saying very much, it's still says some-
thing. "Look at Miggy's face," he says, at the end of the sixth
inning. The television camera is on Tcjada, in the dugout, looking
surprisingly glum. "He's the only guy in the lineup without a hit.
This is what happens with younger players: they want to do too



THE HUMAN ELEMENT 251

much. Watch him: he'll try to do more than he should." And sure
enough, after Tim Hudson gets into trouble, and Chad Bradford is
called in from the bullpen, he does.

W HEN CHAD BRADFORD is in the bullpen, he often thinks about
his father. It helps put whatever pressure he's feeling into per-
spective. The doctors had told his father he'd never walk again and
the man had not only walked, he'd worked, and not only worked,
but played catch. If his father could do that, how hard was this?

The thought usually made him feel better, but tonight, with so
much on the line, it doesn't. He's feeling like a different pitcher
than he was just a few weeks ago. Before the trouble started, he'd
been exactly as effective as Paul DePodesta's computer had pre-
dicted he would be. For nearly two full seasons he's been living his
dream. Chad himself had not quite believed it when, before the
2001 season, just after his back surgery, Billy Beane called him to
tell him that he had traded for him with a view to his becoming
the critical middle reliever in the Oakland A's big league bullpen.
Billy told Chad the statistics he thought he was capable of gener-
ating, and even Chad thought they were a stretch. Amazingly, to
Chad, he'd done almost exactly what Billy Beane predicted he
would do. "It's like the guy knows what's going to happen before
it happens," said Chad.

Now he's unsure that Billy Beane's faith in him is justified. He
pulls his cap down over his eyes and walks briskly toward the
mound, reaching it in exactly the same number of steps he always
does. Outside, everything looked the same,- inside, everything felt
different. A few weeks ago, when he looked in to take the signal
from the catcher, he was oblivious to his surroundings. He'd be
repeating to himself his usual phrase, to shut down his mind to
the pressure.

Make your pitch.

Make your pitch.



252 MONEYBfiLL

Make your piicli.

Tonight, he wasn't ohhvious; tonight, as he leaned in, he was
aware of everythmg. Ihe erowd noise. The signs. The national
audience. And a new mantra, now running through his head:

Don't Fuck This Up!

Don't Fuck This Up!

Don't Fuck This Up!

He's having the worst slump in his entire professional career
and while it isn't actually all that had a slump — one bad outing in
Yankee Stadium, another in Fenway Park — he has no ability to put
it into perspective. On his bookshelf at home there were two
books, side by side, tattered by his constant use of them. One was
The Mental Game of Baseball. The other was the Bible. He has a
favorite passage, Philippians 4:13; / can do all things through
Christ who strengthens me. It's giving him no solace. A few nights
before, after another nerve-wracking outing, he'd called his wife,
Jenny, who had taken the kids back to Byram for the start of the
school year, and said, "I don't think I can do this anymore."

The Oakland A's pitching coach. Rick Peterson, thinks that
Chad's problems began in early August, when ESPN announcer
Jeff Brantley had come into Oakland and done a piece on him,
identifying Chad on national television as one of the premier
setup men in the game. Attention disturbed Chad's concentration.
Peterson had been critical to Oakland's pitching success. He kept
the Oakland pitchers healthy; and, in some cases, he also kept
them focused. He was fond of saving that "if you have twelve dif-
ferent pitchers, you've got to speak twelve different languages."
The difference between Chad and the other pitchers was that the
others' language had words for the phrase "1 belong in the big
leagues." Chad's language lacked the vocabulary of personal defi-
ance. Of self-contidence. Throughout his career, Chad had
responded to trouble not bv looking inside himself to see what
was there, but in- dropping his point ot release lower to the
ground. His knuckles now scrape the dirt when he throws. "He's



THE HUMAN ELEMENT 253

got nowhere to go/' said Peterson, "unless he throws upside
down."

His pitching coach is trying to teach Chad how to go inside.
T^fter one of his weak outings, when he was looking lost, Peterson
had made him sit down and watch tape of himself slicing and dic-
ing big league hitters for the first five months of the season. As
Chad watched the tape of his old self, Peterson made his point.

"You're a Christian, right, Chad?"

"Yeah."

"You believe in Jesus?"

"Yeah."

"Have you ever seen him?"

"No, I've never seen him."

"Ever seen yourself get hitters out?"

"Yeah."

"So why the fuck do you have faith in Jesus when you never
seen him, but you don't have faith in your ability to get hitters out
when you get hitters out all the time?"

His coach left him with that thought. Chad sat there and said
to himself: "Okay. That makes sense." But a little while later the
doubts returned. For his entire career hardly anyone has believed
in him and now that they do, he can't quite believe in himself.
"It's my greatest weakness," he said. "I have zero self-confidence.
The only way I can explain it is that I'm not the guy who throws
ninety-five miles an hour. The guy who throws ninety-five can
always see his talent. But I don't have that. My stuff depends on
deception. For it to work, there's so much that has to go right.
When it starts not going right, I think, 'Oh my gosh, I hope I can
keep foolin 'em. Then I start to ask, 'How much longer can I keep
foolin 'em?'"

He's having — with him, there isn't a more accurate way to put
it — a crisis of faith. When he knows, he always hits his spots;
when he hopes, he never does,- and he's now just hoping. Oblivi-
ous to how good he is, he is susceptible to the argument that his



254 MONEYBflLL

success is a trick, or a fluke, or a spell that at any moment might
break. He doesn't much care that he is, for the first tunc m his
miraculous career, the only one still making this argument.

That night m early September he's fighting himself more
fiercely than ever before. Billy Beane knows it. His cheap out-
getting machine has a programming glitch. He has no idea how to
fix it — how to get inside Chad Bradford's head. Sloth, mdolence, a
lack of discipline, an insufficient fear of management — these prob-
lems Billy knows how to attack. Insecurity is beyond him. If he
knew how to solve the problem, he might be finishing up his play-
ing career and preparing himself for election to the Hall of Fame.
But he still doesn't know; and it worries him. Chad doesn't know
that he will retire batters at such a predictable rate, in such a pre-
dictable way, that he might as well be a robot. As a result, he
might not do it.

JDiLLY BEANE Only watchcs all of what happens next because he's
somehow allowed himself to be trapped into watching the game
with me. What happens next is that Chad Bradford shows the
world how quickly a big lead in baseball can be lost. He gets the
final out in the seventh inning, on a ground ball. The eighth
inning is the problem. Art Howe allows Chad to return to the
mound to face a series of left-handed hitters.

"I'm glad Art's leaving him in," says Billy. "He's wasted if you
only use him to get an out."

I ask if it worries him that Chad relies so heavily on faith. That
Chad's genuine, understandable belief that the Good Lord must be
responsible for his fantastic ability to get big league hitters out
leaves him open to the suspicion that the Good Lord might have
changed His mind.

"No," says Billy. "I'm a believer, too. I just happen to believe in
the power of the ground ball."

In nearly seventy relief appearances this year Chad Bradford has



THE HUMAN ELEMENT 255

walked exactly ten batters, about one every thirty he has faced. He
opens the eighth inning by walking Brent Mayne.

As Mayne trots down to first base, the Oakland crowd stirs and
hollers. Someone from the center field bleachers hurls a roll of toi-
let paper onto the field. It takes a minute to clear, leaving Chad
time with his hellish thoughts. When play resumes, fifty-five
thousand people rise up and bang and shout, perhaps thinking this
will help Chad to settle down.

"Why should noise have any more effect on the hitter than the
pitcher?" says Billy, a bit testily. "If you're playing away, you just
pretend they are cheering for you."

Chad walks the second hitter. Dee Brown. It's the first time all
year he's walked two batters in a row. The TV cameras pan to
Miguel Tejada and second baseman Mark Ellis, conferring behind
their gloves.

"In the last ten years guys started covering their lips with their
gloves," snaps Billy. "I've never known a single lip-reader in base-
ball. What, has there been a rash of lipreading I don't know
about?"

The third batter, Neifi Perez, hits a slow ground ball to the sec-
ond baseman. John Mabry, playing first, races across and cuts it
off. Chad just stands on the mound and watches the play develop.
By the time it has, it's too late for him to cover first base. The
bases are now loaded, with nobody out. Another roll of toilet paper
streams from the bleachers into center field. The crowd is on its
feet, making more noise than ever, still thinking. Lord knows
why, that their attention is what Chad Bradford needs to get him
through his troubles.

Billy stares at the television with disgust, like a theatre critic
being forced to watch a mangled interpretation of Hamlet. "I can't
believe I have to sit here and watch this shit," he says. He pulls
his little white box onto the desk in front of him. Its plastic shine
has been rubbed dull. "I would be dying right now if I was walk-
ing around watching this," he says. He's fantasizing: if I hadn't



256 MONEYBflLL

trapped liim with the TV inside this office he would be out in the
parking lot, marchuig around glancnig every five seconds at the
white hox. He'd rather he dying out there than whatever he's doing
m here.

The next batter, Luis Ordaz, is the one who makes good on
Billy's prediction about Miguel Tejada ("Watch him: he'll try to do
more than he should"). Ordaz hits a routine ground ball to Tejada's
right. Instead of making the routine play, the force at third, Tejada
tries to make the acrobatic one, the force at home. His leaping
throw bounces m the dirt in front of Ramon Hernandez and all
runners are safe: 1 1-6. Bases still loaded, nobody yet out.

Art Howe virtually leaps out of the dugout to yank Chad from
the game. On his way to his seat on the bench Chad stares at the
ground, and wt)rks to remain expressionless. He came in with a
six-run lead. He leaves with the tving run in the on-dcck circle.
The ball never left the intield.

"Jesus Christ, what a fucking embarrassment," says Billy. He
reaches under the desk and extracts a canister of Copenhagen. He
jams the chaw into his upper lip. "Why am 1 even watching this


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Online LibraryMichael (Michael M.) LewisMoneyball : the art of winning an unfair game → online text (page 21 of 24)