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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Billy Beane, Baseball Executive

"For me, playing baseball was really just a means to get to run a team."

Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball game.  

As a kid, I was obsessed with putting teams together with Strat-o-Matic, which was a mathematical replication of a 162-game season. When I went into high school, me and my buddies would have these weekend marathon “seasons” where we’d play this game called Sports Illustrated All-Time All-Star Baseball — you made lineups and then rolled the dice. It was a probability game, but it was also based on what players had actually done. We would literally play for an entire weekend — starting on Friday after school, we’d have each of the games going on a Ping-Pong table in a garage of a buddy. There’d be different games going on and then we’d keep standings and all that stuff. And statistics.

I won all the time. This is going to sound so juvenile, but actually the challenge was it was too easy. It was too easy to take the all-time Yankees, they were such a juggernaut. So I would always choose the all-time Indians, which doesn’t sound all that sexy. But to this day I remember they were an incredibly balanced team that had good defensive players — Tris Speaker, Shoeless Joe Jackson — they had good pitching, they had good defense, and they had good speed. They weren’t great at anything, but they were balanced in all areas, so if you actually managed them properly, you had a chance to beat the Yankees, who — even in this dice game — could pummel you. And you could make lineups against lefties and righties — that was important. As an example, there was a guy named Rudy York who was such a great platoon player — when you platooned him against left-handed pitching, he literally had the same production as Babe Ruth.

For me, playing baseball was really just a means to get to run a team. The first time I played professional baseball, I was 18 and I was on my rookie ball team in the minor leagues. Frank Cashen was the general manager of the Mets at the time, the team that had drafted me. And he walked into the ballpark to watch — he came in from New York, which was a big deal — and he had a bow tie on and he had a tweed sport coat, everything. He was very much an East Coast–looking general manager, and he wasn’t a tall man, but he had a tremendous amount of intellectual presence, if there’s such a term. When he walked in, you know, we’re all young players, 18 to 21, everyone’s trying to get to the big leagues, that’s all they’re talking about, and I remember just pointing at Frank and I go, “You guys have got it wrong. You don’t want to be a ballplayer. That’s the guy you want to be.”