Why Billy Beane believes '02 A's team had 'staying power' originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The Athletics haven’t won a World Series since the 1989 season, but that might have been a different story in the early 2000s.
Oakland’s 2002 campaign ranks among the most famous in franchise history, but former A’s general manager and current vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane believes it could have been more than just a record-breaking season.
After a 102-win season in 2001, Oakland lost three significant players to larger market teams and was on the brink of a major rebuild.
Beane looks back to those years and thinks about the “what ifs.”
“I really thought it was a team that was deserving of a title,” Beane told Chris Townsend on “A's Cast.” “To me, it’s like looking at the [Cleveland] Indians in the 90s that were one of the best teams for a long time that never won a title. I think that 2001 team kind of fits in that category. [But] because they didn’t win the title, nobody talked about them.”
Even though they fell short that season, it was hard for Beane and the A's not to think about what the next season might bring and the imminent departures that loomed.
“I remember when we got beat in 2001, we got home that night around 3 a.m., and me and Paul [DePodesta] were watching everybody unload their bags after a tough loss to the [New York] Yankees in Game 5, and I remember looking at Paul and knowing that Johnny Damon was going to be gone, Jason [Isringhausen] was going to be gone, and I just go ‘Wow, we may never see a team like this.’ So we were starting ‘02 a little bit, personnel-wise, in this huge hole.”
Beane was tasked with putting together a roster that still could compete, even after losing all the talent they had in the offseason.
As we now know, the A’s had a rough start to the 2002 season, but Beane had a strong feeling that the team was going to be special.
“We knew internally the team was good, it was still just a small sample size,” Beane said. “But we knew with some of the analytics they were using that our team was actually good, we just had some bad luck. That being said we know in sports, no one buys the whole ‘Hey we’re a good team but we have a bad record you just got to believe us,’ right? It doesn’t fly.”
Eventually, the rest of the world caught on.
The A's famously went on to win 20 consecutive games, and the late-season magic continued as Oakland finished first in the AL West with a record of 103-59.
The A's couldn’t transfer their regular-season success into the playoffs, losing in the ALDS to the Minnesota Twins.
“There was this belief that we had sort of created by virtue of our moves in the front office that we had made all the right moves that corrected the team,” Beane said. “When in reality, we knew we were good. The moves we made were more on the fringe, it didn’t really affect the core of the team.
“But because there was a number of moves, there was this idea that we made these genius moves and in fact, the team was just really good, we just needed to be left alone, and the moves we made were more of a window dressing and to look good from the outside because the team started playing well, but it wasn’t necessarily the result of those moves.”
But regardless of a historic season with a historic squad, one that turned into a cinematic classic, the “Moneyball” era eventually evaporated.
It’s something Beane also thinks about when the imagination cap comes on.
“If you look at how long the careers of a lot of those guys went after that, it’s really a testament to how much talent was actually there,” Beane said. “I mean those guys went on to play a long time. [Miguel Tejada] in Baltimore, [Tim Hudson] in Atlanta, Jason played for a long time as we know and it was a team that had staying power beyond the ‘02 season.
“These guys kept going on. If you have any kind of regrets, or things you could wish for, is when you imagine, we start to create this team and imagine in a world where you could’ve kept those guys their entire career.”