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As the Oakland A’s go hunting for another postseason berth, the quest also continues for the defining figure in their organization.
Billy Beane’s body of work over 16 seasons as A’s general manager speaks for itself – six American League West titles, eight 90-plus win seasons, multiple Executive of the Year awards.
Thanks to Brad Pitt’s big-screen portrayal of him in “Moneyball”, Beane’s fame transcends the boundaries of Major League Baseball.
So with the 2014 season upon us, a fascinating subplot revolves around whether one of baseball’s most accomplished and well-known executives can add the one missing piece to his career puzzle.
The A’s have yet to win a World Series since Beane took over as GM before the 1998 season. In fact, they have yet to appear in the Fall Classic under his watch.
After consecutive division titles in 2012 and 2013 – which were followed by deflating losses in the American League Division Series – Beane and his front-office staff pulled off a slew of astute offseason moves that upgraded the bullpen and fortified the bench.
There’s an air of anticipation among fans that perhaps the right formula is in place for the A’s to break through and reach their first World Series since losing to the Cincinnati Reds in 1990.
Does Beane, 51, share that same hope? It’s not his style to open up about it publicly. But for someone with his well-documented competitiveness, there has to be a burning desire to experience one of his teams finally reaching the top of the mountain.
This topic cuts to the heart of a complex debate: How much should winning a championship define a sports figure’s legacy? It’s a question that was dissected (endlessly) as Peyton Manning prepared to lead the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl earlier this month.
Manning’s regular-season track record is exemplary, but although he won a Super Bowl title with the Indianapolis Colts, there’s a feeling among many that he needs to accomplish more in the postseason to truly cement his legend.
Whether it’s fair or not, that’s a standard to which not only players are bound, but coaches, managers, owners and, yes, GMs.
Beane’s legacy in team history is established, and his success has come in two stages. The first was ushered in with the “Big Three” era, when the A’s made four straight postseason appearances from 2000-03, after the team had suffered a long playoff drought in the 1990’s.
The current run of success, in the form of back-to-back A.L. West crowns, has been achieved despite the much heftier payrolls and star-studded rosters of the division rival Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels.
Beane, with considerable help from his staff and scouts, has mastered the art of doing a lot with a little, all while his team plays in a badly outdated ballpark that hardly helps attract free agents.
But capturing a World Series trophy seemingly would vault Beane into the conversation of the all-time great baseball executives, given the conditions under which he’s succeeded and the manner in which the “Moneyball” philosophy influenced the way teams value players.
The tricky part of that World Series quest, as it pertains to this season, is that Oakland faces a steep challenge just to get back in the playoffs.
The Rangers have added Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, and they’re still working to bolster their rotation depth. If the Angels’ young pitchers develop, they’ll be dangerous with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton pacing the lineup. Seattle added superstar Robinson Cano and closer Fernando Rodney among others, and the Mariners might sign another big hitter in Nelson Cruz. Even the Houston Astros have improved to the point where a 100-loss season isn’t a given.
Bottom line, Oakland plays 76 games against division opponents and those games should be rugged.
But the A’s have been up to the challenge over the past two regular seasons. Now they need to break through and get it done under the glaring lights of the playoffs. It would mean the world to the fan base. And it would be huge for the central figure of the franchise, who doesn’t even play a position on the diamond.
Beane already has a book written about him and a movie made about him. All that’s missing is a Hollywood ending.