Oakland A's GM Billy Beane is handicapped with the lowest salary constraint in baseball. If he ever wants to win the World Series, Billy must find a competitive advantage. Billy is about to turn baseball on its ear when he uses statistical data to analyze and place value on the players he picks for the team.
—Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)
In 2001, General Manager Billy Beane's Oakland A's lose to the Yankees in the playoffs then lose three stars to free agency. How can Beane field a competitive team when the A's player salaries total less than a third of the rich teams'? To the consternation of his scouts, Beane hires and listens to Peter Brand, a recent Yale grad who evaluates players using Bill James' statistical approach. Beane assembles a team of no names who, on paper, can get on base and score runs. Then, Beane's manager, Art Howe, won't use the players as Beane wants. Can Beane circumvent Howe, win games, make it to the 2002 Series, and stand baseball's hidebound conventions on their heads?
The Oakland A's end their 2001 season with a loss in the AL fifth game of a best of five elimination series, still an admirable accomplishment seeing as the A's are considered a poor team with a payroll one-third of that of a rich team like the New York Yankees. During the off season, they lose three of their star players through free agency, most problematic being first baseman Jason Giambi. Without more money which he doesn't get from owner Stephen Schott, the A's GM, Billy Beane, knows that they will never win the World Series as richer teams will always be able to pilfer their best players - ones they have been able to nurture - with more lucrative contracts. Billy knows they have to think differently about how to replace the three, looking at what they require in combination rather than looking at the three as individuals, which is different than the way scouts have looked at players over the sport's history. In a meeting with Cleveland Indians management about players, Billy meets Peter Brand, a quiet Yale Economics graduate, who works for the Indians doing player analysis. Upon questioning Peter later in private, Billy realizes that purely academic Peter has much the same thought process as he does. Billy hires him as the A's Assistant GM after receiving what he considers the correct answer to Billy's question on his own checkered past as a first round 1979 draft pick which led to notoriety as a failure as a player. But once on the payroll, Peter convinces Billy to look at the entire dugout, and acquire undervalued players for what they can do in order for the team to win. As an example, they acquire former catcher Scott Hatteberg, whose career is seen as being over by all other teams due to an elbow injury that doesn't allow him to throw. Although not a hitter, they acquire him for his ability to "get on base" in whatever way required (usually by walks), and plan to teach him how to play first base, a generally non-throwing position. These moves don't sit well with the A's scouting team and sports analysts. Problematic is that the A's Manager, Art Howe, who also doesn't agree with or understand the strategy, refuses to listen to Billy about how best to manage the team as assembled. Billy knows that his and Peter's jobs are on the line if they don't produce, which he realizes means nothing less than winning the World Series. But more important to Billy is to show the world of baseball that his way is the right way.
The third chapter, “The Enlightenment,” begins with Beane’s career with the Mets. He has just been signed along with another high school phenom, Darryl Strawberry, and Roger Jongewaard thinks that Beane is more ready for pro ball than Strawberry. The Mets send Strawberry to their rookie league but advance Beane to play with their college players. They think that Beane is better equipped to deal with the pressures and frustrations of the majors. Unfortunately, Lewis explains, Beane “didn’t know how to think of himself if he couldn’t think of himself as a success.”
Beane returns home after the season and enrolls at the University of California at San Diego, though he would not graduate. By the following year, he would be playing alongside Strawberry, who would go on to be named the most valuable player in the Texas League. During this time, Beane lives with Lenny Dykstra, who did not have Beane’s tools, but was mentally built for baseball because “he was able to instantly forget any failure and draw strength from everyone success.” It was from Lenny, Beane would later explain, that he began to learn what a baseball player was. Over the following years, Beane would continue
grinding his way up through the minor leagues, propelled by his private fears and other peoples’ dreams. The difference between who he was, and who other people thought he should be, grew day by day.
On the field, Billy was able to make spectacular plays, but he continued to struggle at bat. Mentally, Beane would unravel if he struck out.
In 1985, Lenny joined Strawberry in the Big Leagues. In 1986, Beane was traded to the Minnesota Twins, where he starts in left field. Though he gets five hits in his first game, he goes hitless the following two nights and is taken out of the starting lineup. For the next three years, Beane would play “up and down between Triple-A and the big leagues, with the Twins, the Detroit Tigers, and, finally, the Oakland A’s.” Before long, the consensus is that Beane was failing because of mental reasons, not physical ones. Harvey Dorfman,...
(The entire section is 874 words.)