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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Beane has looked sharp by doing things his way

SEATTLE -- It's easy to forget that for a day, Billy Beane was general manager of the 2003 Red Sox. In a mad scramble before last year's winter meetings, Beane accepted the job.

"For about 12 hours," he says now, with a chuckle. "Probably the shortest tenure of any Red Sox GM."

Beane spent several hours with new assistant Theo Epstein, trying to work out compensation for the transfer of his own services to Boston. Oakland assistant Paul DePodesta wanted coveted prospect Kevin Youkilis for Beane.

We all know what happened next. Beane changed his mind and called Sox owner John W. Henry. Henry and Sox CEO Larry Lucchino graciously accepted Beane's resignation and turned to the 28-year-old Epstein.

Which has worked out pretty well.

"Quite frankly, they got the best guy for the job," said Beane. "Theo has been as good as anybody this year and he's a guy who has an incredible passion for the city and the franchise."

After the flirtation with the Red Sox (Beane left a five-year, $12.5 million contract on the table), he resumed doing what he does better than anyone. He made more deals, remained patient, and watched his team, with its $57 million payroll, win its third American League West title in four years. Along the way, he became the subject of the best-selling "Moneyball," by Michael Lewis, which made Beane even more famous while alienating him from a fairly large segment of the baseball community.

There were passages in the book in which Beane ridiculed some baseball scouts and officials. He also did not notify many other GMs that Lewis was privy to the A's negotiations.

"Was I misquoted? No," said Beane. "Do I wish I could say that sometimes? Sure. But I read it before it came out. I winced. I was uncomfortable, but I can deal with it. I told myself I wasn't going to be cowardly about the whole thing."

Some resentment

Beane's success, his attitude, and his approach irk some major league scouts and baseball lifers. Within the game, there is resentment toward the 41-year-old GM who changed the way things were done by placing more value on what statistics show than on what scouts see. Infuriating his critics even more, Beane keeps winning.

Who else could get away with trading his 2002 closer, Billy Koch -- a man with 44 saves and 11 wins -- and come away with a better closer, Keith Foulke, who is an MVP candidate this season with 43 saves and nine wins? The deal saved money, and Koch had lost 6 miles per hour off his fastball. Maybe Beane is onto something.

"I want the smartest people, period," he said. "I don't care if they ever put on a jock strap or if they put it on for 30 years. I want creative, passionate people around me. They could be somebody who spent 20 years in the game or somebody who spent 20 years in a laboratory at MIT. Having bright, passionate people around you allows you to find inefficiencies within the game."

There it is. Stats over scouting. Bill James over George Digby and Joe Stephenson. Beane thinks the perception is unfair.

"That keyholes us and puts us in a box," he said. "But quite frankly, I don't care. The more people that write it, the more people are spending time trying to figure out what we're doing here in Oakland and in Toronto and in Boston. I find it humorous that there's this sort of chasm between `baseball people' and `stat guys' or `eggheads.' People spend so much time trying to figure out which camp you're in. And when you really sort of examine everybody's background, who cares?

"I love this because everyone is trying to figure out what we're doing here in Oakland, and the bottom line is wins. Now the attack on Oakland is that we are 10th in on-base percentage. Well, we've got 96 wins. As long as we're ahead of the curve and everyone's trying to figure out what we're doing, that's great."

Is he "reinventing the game"?

"I don't really care if people think that and I don't remember ever saying that," he said. "I never did. That's somebody else's perception, and if it's their own insecurity, so be it."

He isn't worried about enemies or GMs who might no longer want to deal with him. He was still able to acquire outfielder Jose Guillen (the third-leading NL hitter at the time) from the Reds at the trading deadline.

"This game is about relationships," he said. "The guys that we never dealt with before we're still not able to deal with and my guess is that those are some of the guys who were anonymously saying those things."

Coming on late

Under Beane, the A's have perfected the Seabiscuit approach of hanging with the pack for half the race (maybe even falling back early) then blowing teams away down the stretch. In the last four years, they are almost 100 games over .500 after the All-Star break.

"I think there's a number of reasons why we've played good in the second half," he said. "You put your team together, you evaluate it early in the season and make adjustments in the middle of the season."

Critics take some glee in Oakland's postseason failures. Beane's A's have not won a playoff series. Is that a sore point?

"Not a bit," he said. "There's times I've looked at teams in the past and thought they were great teams. In 2001, I thought we had a great team and we got beaten by the Yankees in five. [They were] disappointments. But I see this as a time to reflect on accomplishments. In the playoffs, there are going to be some random events that are going to determine the outcome and they are not things you can totally control."

That mirrors what Beane said in "Moneyball" when he told Lewis (while the A's were being thrashed by the Twins last October), "My [expletive] doesn't work during the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is [expletive] luck."

How do the 2003 A's match up with the Red Sox?

"They're a great offensive club, and then you have to match up with Pedro," said Beane. "But if we get a great game from [Tim] Hudson like we got in August, then we're in the driver's seat. It's hard to say when you talk about the strengths and weaknesses. The Red Sox have a great offensive club with a dominant pitcher. We have pretty good pitching and we've played them pretty well in Fenway the last couple of years."

No regrets

The Red Sox were willing to pay him big money and now are in a position to eliminate his team.

"Am I glad I did what I did? Absolutely," said Beane. "I love being on the West Coast. I was planning on being in Boston for 15 years, but I've got a daughter out here and I've got parents that live in San Diego and a brother and a sister on the West Coast and, quite frankly, I didn't feel it would have been fair to the city of Boston and the ownership there to be a transcontinental GM."

His West Coast-based daughter, Casey, always cited as the main reason he stayed in Oakland, just told him her favorite city is Boston. "A little late for that, don't you think?," he said, laughing.

Much too late. The A's kept their man, the Red Sox got their new man, and both teams are in the playoffs. Billy Beane and his smart people probably would call it a win-win situation.

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