While in Phoenix on a spring swing, I stopped by an Oakland Athletics scrimmage to grab an Answer Man session with GM Billy Beane. His teams have averaged 87 victories a year — despite a famously low player payroll — since he took over in 1998. In that span the A's accomplishments include four AL West titles, five playoff appearances, one best-selling book and an upcoming movie about how they did it — with Brad Pitt starring as Beane.
Given his record with limited resources, it only makes sense that Washington would call upon Beane to help them with the health care crisis, right?
David Brown: How would you compare Obamacare with what you, Newt Gingrich and John Kerry came up with back in 2008?
Billy Beane: Oh, God [laughs]. Man, a deep one. It's still yet to play itself out. My main contribution? It was the use of metrics. In fact, that was my first question when they called and asked for some input: "Where did they think I could be of assistance?"
And since, at the time, I believe Tampa [Bay] — which is a pretty metric-driven organization — was in the playoffs, they thought the timing was good. So it was just our use of metrics and possibly applying those metrics to healthcare.
DB: We don't know if they listened to you, but you think they did?
Beane: If it works, they did [laughs].
DB: Are Gingrich and Kerry as much fun to party with as they appear on television?
Beane: I can only assume Sen. Kerry is as much fun as Speaker Gingrich. [Interaction with Kerry] was done vis-a-vis. But I've had the opportunity to spend time with Speaker Gingrich.
DB: And what's he like?
Beane: Great, a fascinating man. And I'm sure that Sen. Kerry is as well.
DB: Keep it bipartisan. Your official bio says that you sit on the board of directors of several companies [including Easton-Bell Sports, ProTrade and NetSuite]. That's not a time suck?
Beane: No, it's actually quite fascinating to be on one in private and in public. Does it take time? Sure, as well it should. I actually find it very helpful in my own business. It's different businesses, so it gives you an idea of business cycles, so I may apply some of the things I see over there and vice versa. I find it very stimulating and very helpful, and I've gotten a lot of growth for myself in being involved in it.
DB: I read in an informal interview that you like Burberry scarves. In what other ways are you a hipster?
Beane: Well [laughs]. Let me say that the one Burberry scarf I've purchased, I've yet to see it on anybody but females. I'm still searching for the the guy who chose the same Burberry scarf that I did. Although I did see one guy, on television once, in Milan at a soccer game, he was wearing my same scarf. Beyond that, it all seems to be females. We seem to have the same taste in Burberry scarves.
DB: So you think there are more men in Europe who have this scarf?
Beane: I'm banking on it.
DB: Getting back to the original question: Are you a hipster in other ways?
Beane: Only in the sense that you can be such a nerd that you come full circle, that you're in an alternate universe where you're so nerdy that you become hipster.
Beane: All the fans we can get, we'll take. It's actually been a great experience. We have a little experience interacting — at least with the media and part of the culture — when we went over there [in Japan] in '08 for the Red Sox series. We absolutely loved it over there. We were somewhat prepared, given the conversations we had with some of the [Los Angeles] Angels people. But so far it's been great, and I think it'll be great for our young players to see how a true international star deals with media on a day-to-day basis. I think it'll be great for them.
Beane: With me, he is. Because he plays for our team [laughs]. And since Ichiro's had about 2,000 hits against our club, he's not very popular with me.
DB: Should the A's do a promotion where they give away a little stuffed Billy Beanie Baby?
Beane: As I said earlier when you asked the question, we have enough challenges attracting fans as it is. There's no sense driving them away from the park.
DB: You don't think the people would want a little Billy Beanie Baby?
Beane: My mom only represents one person and that's not much of a crowd.
DB: The past three years or so, suddenly it's OK for the A's to start stealing bases and bunting again. How could you betray Sabermetrics like that, Billy?
Beane: We never had a problem with the stolen base; we always had a problem with the caught stealing. So I think as long as we avoid those, we're all fine with it.
DB: And the bunting?
Beane: Uh, yeah, we're going to have to talk about that. But, as a result of having more sacrifice bunts, we've also managed to bring up the rear in runs scored in the American League [chuckles].
DB: Don't you have to give your manager something to do?
Beane: Listen, we've been offensively challenged, and we'll try and scrape out any possible run and base that we can at this point. So we're not overly choosey.
DB: How would the A's clubhouse dynamic work if it had replaced Art Howe with Philip Seymour Hoffman?
Beane: I'll have to contemplate that one before we get back to it.
DB: You're the boss, but the A's sometimes use [assistant GM] David Forst as the point man when you make a move for talking to press. You seem to trust him a lot, is that so?
Beane: Yeah, and unfortunately he wasn't here today to do this interview.
Beane: Well, David is viewed as a co-GM. He's been an incredible asset to the organization, a right-hand man to myself the last decade. He's certainly more than capable of handling any responsibility thrown his way.
DB: It was the plan, but would you really have taken over for John Elway at Stanford?
Beane: The good thing is, nobody was ever put in that position, so now it just becomes part of urban legend. So we can only assume that to be the case.
DB: So, it might not have happened?
Beane: Oh, we have to assume that it would have [laughs]. Since it won't.
DB: Did you have anything to do with the team adding a new gold alternate uniform with "A's" on it?
Beane: Uh, we did?
DB: [Pauses]. You got me.
Beane: This is supposed to be a witty interview; you're supposed to catch up with me just as fast. ... You want to repeat the question?
DB: Did you have anything to do with brining back the older look on the alternate uniforms?
Beane: Only if it's a smashing success.
DB: You could use that answer for anything.
Beane: Oh, I've made a career out of it.
DB: Do ballplayers start chewing tobacco because it makes them look like cowboys?
Beane: You know, I've quit using tobacco a number of times and I've quit it over the past couple of years, and I'm trying to think of the original reason why I did it. And "looking like a cowboy," I don't believe, was at the top of the list.
DB: It's a way of saying "looking cool." Like the Marlboro Man for cigarettes.
Beane: Somehow, I never associated it with looking cool. Which is why it was so difficult to quit.
DB: You bear a striking resemblance to Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy."
Beane: Somebody else has said. I was little confused ... I don't know that I've ever seen him, but somebody has said that.
DB: Are you a fan of the show?
Beane: No, my daughter is, though. I've seen it, a few of the shows, but my daughter's a huge fan, as is the previously named David Forst and director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi.
DB: What kind of technology you use to stay connected — phone, iPad, etc?
Beane: I do carry around an iPad, an iPhone. Both. I stay conveniently connected when it suits my purposes.
DB: Even with AT&T service?
Beane: Well, I want to make sure that I don't offend any of our sponsors like Verizon. We have Verizon services with the Oakland A's. They're a sponsor.
DB: So you'll be switching over possibly.
DB: You stay connected when you want to?
Beane: In case you writers are trying to get ahold of me.
Beane: Frankly, it was a little strange at the time, particularly given the names. It wasn't like it was "John Smith." It was a little bizarre.
DB: His Baseball-Reference page lists him as "Bill Bean." Did he want to be Billy Bean to, but you were older so you got to be Billy?
Beane: I didn't know that, because he went by Billy.
DB: It must have been confusing as heck.
Beane: Not as much as you would think. He went by Billy and, I think, on that team that year it was "Little Billy" and "Big Billy."
DB: You were Big?
Beane: At the time, yes [laughs].
DB: Did you get a friendship going?
Beane: Oh, yeah. He's a fantastic person — a good player, actually. He was a very good player and a real good guy. We just played that one year together.
DB: A few years after you turned pro, the Dodgers drafted a guy named Bill Bene, who spelled his name like Andy Benes, without the S. So, there was a Billy Beane, a Billy Bean and a Bill Bene. What the heck?
Beane: Yeah, I remember him as well. In fact, somebody sent me his baseball card just about three days ago to sign.
DB: You're kidding?
Beane. Yeah, he did. I looked on the back of the card and it was an '89 or '88 card. I think he was out of Cal St. L.A., or something.
DB: Did you sign it, "Wrong guy, Billy Beane"?
Beane: No, no, I didn't sign it.
DB: It would have been funny.
Beane: Well, if it had been your card, it wouldn't have been so funny [laughs].
Beane: I've always thought he had a pretty hand. It seems fitting that the rest of the country should see his left hand.
DB: Is that why you signed him?
Beane: Certainly it was on the scouting reports. I mean, he wasn't the only one who thought he had a pretty left hand.
Beane: It's prettier.
DB: A question unresolved from Moneyball: Should we call it a mansierre or a bro? You asked that question.
Beane: [Laughs]. I don't remember that being a question, actually. I'll have to get back to that one, too.
DB: You're not going to answer this one either, but if you actually went into politics ...
Beane: Well, let's just move on, then [laughs]. ...
DB: If you went into politics, as you reportedly gave some thought to, what would your platform look like?
Beane: Since I'll never do that, I think you answered before, we won't have to answer. ...Prosperity for all. A chicken in every pot.
DB: When Al Davis went and added the second deck to the Coliseum, it ruined the nice view of the foothills. Did that pretty much ruin the ballpark for you guys?
Beane: Well, it didn't help. Certainly for a baseball game. That was one of the greatest appeals to the Coliseum. We play a lot of day games, the summers are beautiful out there and the view of the Oakland Hills was gorgeous for everybody. It certainly took away from what was the prettiest part of the ballpark.
DB: How can they make a movie about "Moneyball" without a car chase?
Beane: Well, you're assuming there isn't a car chase in there.
DB: What have you heard?
Beane: I think we'll have to anxiously await for the car chase.
DB: You going to go opening night? Red carpet?
Beane: I haven't been invited yet. I don't make those decisions.
DB: They leaked the "Moneyball" script and there's a scene where you dine with Paul DePodesta in a Cleveland-area Outback Steakhouse and then next comes a love scene with you and the waitress. Do you fear seeing that on the big screen, seeing Brad Pitt up there, playing you?
Beane: No [laughs], I don't believe that's part of what's going to be seen.
DB: Have you ever driven a Mr. Bean car?
Beane: No. ... And that would be what?
DB: I forgot.
Beane: There's the danger of asking not only a "yes or no" question, but one you don't know the answer to.
DB: Hey, this isn't court! ... Why didn't [Moneyball star and former A's player] Jeremy Brown make it?
Beane: Make it where?
DB: The majors.
Beane: He did!
DB: OK, for more than 10 at-bats, jeez. You're good. Why didn't he have a four or five-year career?
Beane: Actually, I think ended up retiring, probably, prematurely. I think he probably would have had a longer time in the big leagues.
DB: You're never going to give up on him, are you?
Beane: Well, if you ask me questions, I at least feel the responsibility to answer [laughs].
Previous Answer Men (and Woman):
2011• Luke Scott
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2009 • Shane Victorino • Carlos Pena • Jay Bruce • Joe Nathan • Joe Maddon • Joakim Soria • Joey Votto • Tom Glavine • Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez • Chris Volstad • Paul Konerko • Edwin Jackson • Mark DeRosa • Tim Lincecum • Dave Righetti • Pedro Martinez • Denard Span • Cal Ripken
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2008 • Hunter Pence • Justin Morneau • David Wright • Erin Andrews • Andy Van Slyke • Derek Jeter • Bob Uecker • Bert Blyleven • Torii Hunter • Joba Chamberlain • Larry Bowa • Zack Greinke • Kerry Wood • Huston Street • Josh Hamilton • Milton Bradley • CC Sabathia • Mike Mussina • Jason Bay • Cole Hamels • Ron Santo • Francisco Rodriguez • Ryan Dempster