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Billy Beane Finally Gets What He Wanted: Out Of Baseball

<> at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on October 2, 2019 in Oakland, California.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Back when Moneyball was merely a salacious gleam in Michael Lewis’s eye, Billy Beane was a rebel with a cause: rethinking decision-making and analysis in baseball. His opening treatise was a longform piece in the New York Times Magazine by Lewis, his future Boswell, and of course he caught metric tons of grief from people in and around the game who declared he’d burned too many bridges to survive in baseball.

Beane objected to that analysis, of course, and in a subsequent conversation with one of his critics (well, the idiot listed as the author on this blog) he confessed that in his perfect and unrealized world, he would actually be the chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not the general manager, or the head of baseball operations, but an equity-holding suit without the suit.

That didn’t happen, but he did get some equity in the Oakland Athletics and became the operation’s floating brain in a jar as the A’s darted from bad and cheap to good and cheap. He never set the perpetually desiccated budget, but he operated within it and defended it as a necessity even though his boss, John Fisher, was a billionaire from a family of billionaires who never had a year in which he lost actual cash money.

But Beane’s truest love was actually business, which is why he grafted business principles onto baseball rather than the other way around. And now that everyone does Moneyball even when they have money and even in sports that aren’t baseball, his advantages have changed and shrunk because, in the pursuit of economically sound baseball management, the first rule is still “Have your hands on serious cash.” He is in his way like Al Davis, a genius who found the liberation of looking for talent in unusual places with unusual temperaments until the rich folks went to the places he used to shop alone.

Or Beane was until he found his way out: RedBall Acquisition Corp, owned by hedge fund billionaire Gerry Cardinale with Beane as his co-chairman. RedBall is what is called a special projects acquisition company, raising money to get into team acquisitions, and Beane is bypassing the whole CEO thing entirely. Indeed, now that RedBall is in active talks to help Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC owner John Henry take his company public, Beane, who once interviewed to work for Henry as the Sox’s GM, could become Henry’s equal, if not his boss.

This has always been Beane’s long-term plan, more than winning a World Series or showing his ass to all the people who mocked him when he was pretending to impersonate Brad Pitt. It was never about baseball. It certainly wasn’t about being told no in Oakland year after year. It was about business. He has always wanted to be a freaking magnate because magnates make the most money and get to tell the most people what to kiss and what position to assume in the kissing.

He has also been hot for soccer since well before we discovered Rebecca Lowe. His most recent purchase, a five-percent stake in Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, added to his purchase of a piece of Barnsley FC in 2017. And now, as Cardinale’s right-handed reliever, he could reach enough heights to sit in Jürgen Klopp’s chair before and after games, batting the breeze and looking like the casual-dress version of Roman Abramovich.

It is, in short, way cooler to Beane to have a piece of Mo Salah than Marcus Semien. This is his true dream job, because he never really was a baseball lifer. It just took him half his life to get the opportunity to live his dream. That imaginary Dodger gig would only have been a stopover anyway because, well, it’s Jürgen Freaking Klopp is why. Billy Beane is no longer the guy who used to call the playoffs a crapshoot because his teams could never win them. He’s the guy who can forgo the League Championship Series for the Champions League because he is 58 years old now, and he has a broader understanding of what is cool and what is just a pastime. In short, he is leaving California, and bypassing Sox for Scouse.

So he’s the Athletic who won. He Moneyballed his way out of Moneyball and right to Mogulball. He made baseball chase him, and now that his former contemporaries have caught him and appropriated his philosophies (which he appropriated from Sandy Alderson, who appropriated them from Branch Rickey), he is heading for a new world, planning to hole up safe and sound in a lovely penthouse overlooking Anfield, whistling “You’ll Never Walk Alone” because nobody there is in the mood for “Sweet Caroline.”

And now that he’s this close to being Billy Beane of the Prem, he can figure out how to get Idris Elba to play him in the sequel.