We’re counting down the Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Blame Billy Beane for the Oakland A’s postseason failures.
Billy Beane took over as general manager of the struggling Oakland Athletics (A’s for short) franchise in 1998. Using a new methodology of evaluating players known as sabermetrics, which in Oakland was labelled”Moneyball,” Beane was doing more with less. The A’s made the playoffs eight times in his tenure – 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2012, 2013, and 2014. However, for all their regular season success under Beane, the A’s haven’t been able to do well in the postseason. Collectively, the A’s have never played in a World Series and have won only postseason series in that time (2006 against the Minnesota Twins). Even more painful for A’s fans is that five of those postseason have losses have occurred at home in a winner-take-all ALDS fifth game (2000, 2002, 2003, 2012, and 2013). Additionally, they were up 2-0 in the 2001 ALDS against the Yankees, winning the first two on the road, and blew that lead. In 2003, they were up 2-0 on the Boston Red Sox, and blew that lead as well. Since 2000, the A’s are 1-13 in clinching games in the playoffs. Beane’s methods have long been derided as a failure, and many consider him the poster boy for the argument against sabermetrics and Moneyball. Many general managers who have followed in his stead have had similar successes, or lack thereof.
Here’s why Billy Beane is not to blame.
Best of the Rest.
A. The East Bay.
It could be argued that Oakland itself is to blame, not so much for the city itself as it is for its geography. When Gertrude Stein returned to Oakland in her childhood, she wrote “There is no there, there” about her old neighborhood. The Raiders left Oakland in the 1980s, and subsequently returned in the 1990s, but are still trying to negotiate for a new stadium. Oakland Coliseum is the last and only stadium shared by both a baseball and football team, with the A’s and Raiders sharing it. The Golden State Warriors are planning to relocate across the bay to San Francisco and out of Oracle Arena, which is the oldest arena in the NBA, and larger in terms of attendance than the Staples Center. Additionally, the geography of the Bay Area may play a factor – if you look at the A’s neighbors, the San Francisco Giants, they had to play in Candlestick Park and never won a title in that ballpark. Even in the A’s three-peat championship years (1972, 1973, 1974), they could never draw one million fans to their ballpark, and they almost relocated.
B. Charlie Finley.
Speaking of those 1970s era A’s teams, they were led by controversial owner Charlie Finley. During his tenure as A’s owner, he attempted to try new outlandish promotions on the game – three-ball walks, a livelier ball, and orange baseballs among them. Like Beane, Finley wasn’t taken seriously during his tenure in Oakland. Beane chronologically is not the first outlandish front office figure in Oakland Coliseum.
5. Fluke plays.
Every team has weird plays go against them, but Oakland seems to have them happen more often and under higher stakes. The collapse in 2003 was due to several freak plays that went against them – Eric Byrnes didn’t touch home plate, and Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek tagged him out. In that same game, there were two obstruction calls, both of which went against the A’s (although I think in hindsight and examination of the rule book, both calls were correct). In 2013, they were up 2-1 in games against the Detroit Tigers, and were winning 4-3 when Victor Martinez hit a ball that was supposed to have been fan interference. The umpires ruled that it was a home run, the Tigers rallied to win the game, and won 3-0 in Game 5 two days later. In 2001, Jeremy Giambi didn’t slide across the plate on Derek Jeter’s throw. If he does, he probably scores and the Yankees don’t rally to win that series.
4. Bill James.
James served as Beane’s unofficial mentor, and it was he and not Beane who popularized the sabermetrics argument. Although many teams have embraced James’ philosophies, he tends to be off-putting with his blunt attitude. Many of these Moneyball-style GMs didn’t have the people skills necessary to help the team, or at least the fans. James was most recently an adviser to the Red Sox, who have won three World Series in Beane’s tenure. In fact, they knocked the A’s out in 2003.
3. Smaller sample sizes.
The 2002 A’s won 20 games in a row, the American League record. However, they beat some very weak teams to do that. When you play 162 games in a season, you play some good teams, bad teams, and everybody in between. With a smaller sample size in the postseason, the margin for error is less than it would be in the regular season. Beane himself has even admitted that the regular season doesn’t matter as much as people believe it does.
2. The imitation game.
I’ve never been a fan of Billy Beane, but even I can give him credit for trying out his ideas. However, an unintended consequence of this is that what he’s done is bound to have imitators. Many of the larger-market teams, like the Boston Red Sox, copied his methods, and it can be argued that’s a reason why they won. Obviously, it’s not the only reason, but it doesn’t hurt. Beane was offered a job by Red Sox owner John W. Henry as GM, but he turned it down. That job eventually went to Theo Epstein, who received a lot of credit for helping the 2004 Red Sox win it all. He was somebody who applied many of Beane’s methods against him.
1. Money talks.
With the revenue sharing agreement that all MLB teams take part in, or at least in theory, I don’t think there’s anything else Beane can do. Until the ownership is willing to spend more money on players, I don’t see Oakland going anywhere for a while. Not to belabor the point, but let’s take a look at the 2004 Red Sox again. They used many of Beane’s sabermetrics principles, but they won in large part because they had more money, and as a result, probably had better talent. As much as we dislike the Yankees, George Steinbrenner was willing to spend the money to turn the Yankees into a championship team. If the adage that you have to spend money to make money is true, then Oakland has fallen behind.