Beane’s Magic

Report from the past.


Back in May, in “How to Play Beane Ball,” we wrote glowingly of general manager Billy Beane and his Oakland A’s baseball team which, we predicted, “almost certainly will win a lot more games than it will lose this season.”


We’re exhaling now. As this issue went to press with two weeks left in the campaign, Beane’s A’s had won 90 games and lost 60, with a good shot at making baseball’s playoffs for the fourth straight year. And once again, the A’s were among the most fiscally efficient clubs in the game, spending one-third as much on player payroll per win as did the New York Yankees (see table).

Beane relies on the ultimate predictability of baseball over 162 games. But at times in 2003, the sport’s near-term vagaries threatened to sink the A’s. Outfielder Jermaine Dye sat out most of the season with injuries, and pitching ace Mark Mulder fell to a fracture in August.

All of which validated Beane’s disciplined player-development system. By season’s end, the A’s were relying on young pitchers such as Justin Duchscherer and Rich Harden, called up from the minors. In fact, the A’s top minor-league team, the Sacramento River Cats, easily won the Pacific Coast League crown-promising a supply of fresh talent to the big-league squad.

The bad news: In spite of Beane’s very calculated success, Oakland fans just couldn’t get interested. Home attendance, averaging about 27,000, was up just 1% from 2002, prompting the San Jose Mercury News to wonder, “This should be viewed as a golden age of Bay Area baseball. Yet do we fully appreciate it?” Winning surely isn’t everything.

Cheap Thrills

The five winningest teams for 2003, ranked by thriftiness (through Sept. 14):

Wins Payroll/Win
Oakland A’s 90 $558,454
San Francisco Giants 90 $920,580
Atlanta Braves 93 $1,142,405
Boston Red Sox 86 $1,162,169
New York Yankees 92 $1,660,324