(Posted: 12/30/11; e-mail update 12/31)
Let’s trade Bronx cheers for end-of-year celebration, discount look saluting the good fortune of fans in California’s Oakland-Sacramento bailiwick: they have been blessed with both baseball and political leadership. A’s GM Billy Beane and state Skipper Jerry Brown have spent careers playing catch-up games, relishing the challenge and keeping the ball in play. Beane has been guiding Oakland’s underfinanced AL franchise since 1997, while Brown, in Sacramento, has led California’s oft- underfinanced government for nine years – two terms in the 1975-83, and one year of a belated third term, now in 2011.
Beane replaced current Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who had already started the “MoneyBall” approach to running a team – emphasizing on-base-percentage – which Billy implemented stunningly. By 2000, Beane, and the system, got the A’s into the playoffs, the first of five such successes over seven years. When “MoneyBall” appeared in 2003, bench wisdom said Beane would regret giving his secrets to competitors. There was no longer anything to give, said Beane later: “The market was moving already … The teams that wanted to do it were going to do it anyway, so no book was going to make any difference. My view is the only effect of the book was to give them [the A’s] the credit. If no book had been written, Theo (Epstein) would have been branded the man who reinvented baseball.”
Beane was proving himself a premium high school prospect in the San Diego area when Brown was serving the final year of his first term as skipper. The year: 1978, when an anti-tax rally led to voter passage of ballot Proposition 13, which, among other things, said only a two-thirds legislative vote could impose future taxes. Time magazine described the fallout: “Beholden to a tax-averse electorate, the state’s liberals and moderates (were handcuffed by) Proposition 13 while (trying) to provide the state services Californians expect — freeways, higher education, prisons, assistance to needy families and… funding to local government and school districts that (all but) vanished after the antitax measure passed. Now, however (with the recession) that balancing act (is) no longer possible.”
Brown has had to deliver heavy hits to higher education as well as those other services that helped make California’s broad-based good life a national model. Since he can’t get enough members of the Legislature to vote new taxes, he’s going to bat to get Team GOP permission to let the voters themselves do the job on the ballot next November. It won’t be easy to swing, because, as Brown has said of his most recent political education: “I(‘ve) learned that the Republicans can’t vote for a tax.”
Beane has learned it’s hard to be competitive in a small market with an unattractive ballpark. He’s rooting for completion of a plan to move the A’s to new stadium in San Jose. His other learning experience came when the Red Sox hired him for a substantial raise in salary – or thought they had – as GM in 2002. He opted to stay in Oakland at the last minute. Why? “I made one decision based on money in my life – when I signed with the Mets (in ’80) rather than go to Stanford – and I promised I’d never do it again.”
Beane’s contract ends this coming year. For the moment, he’s at peace with his decision to stay in Oakland; he even likes trips to Sacramento to watch the A’s triple-A team. Brown, who served as mayor of Oakland from 1999 to 2007, has a similar stance. “I like(d) being in Oakland,” he says. “(And) I can’t tell you how much I like (Sacramento and) being governor of California.”
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High Rating for Ryan: If Andrew Bailey, the new Red Sox closer, is as good at talent evaluation as at ninth-inning shutdowns, his take on fellow trade-ee Ryan Sweeney should make Ben Cherington happy. The Sox GM got outfielder Sweeney as an add-on in the five-player deal that sent Josh Reddick and two prospects to Oakland. The 27-year-old Sweeney is supposed to be an outer-garden reserve, but Bailey says his old/new teammate should not be underestimated: “He is one of the best defensive outfielders in all of baseball.”
Post-Heartbreak Time: Until the Bailey deal, the two teams that missed making the playoffs in heartbreaking, 11th-hour fashion, were unexpectedly quiet in the post-season. The Braves, who lost out with the Red Sox on the season’s last day, traded Derek Lowe to Cleveland for a minor league pitcher early in the fall. Since then they’ve done little.; Boston picked up Mark Melancon from the Astros after losing Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies, but that was about it until the trade with the A’s.. More activity from both teams can be counted on as spring-training time approaches.
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