Billy Beane, still a ball of emotion, vows to enjoy A's MLB playoff run

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Billy Beane, still a ball of emotion, vows to enjoy A's MLB playoff run

OAKLAND — The A’s are hip-deep in the American League playoff race, so high-revving architect Billy Beane is at his most obnoxious.

The man who has been pulling strings and spinning gold in Oakland for the better part of a quarter-century likes winning but does not enjoy the process. Not in September, when he is compelled to spend much of his energy fighting within himself, trying to keep panic from rioting inside his gut.

Anybody who has been around the A’s for a few years, such as manager Bob Melvin, understands that if the team matters in September, there will be moments when folks must brace themselves from Hurricane Billy.

The blessing for everyone is that Beane is acutely aware of this. He’s 57 years old, with 22 seasons running the baseball side of A’s. He has learned a few things along the way but still is not able to keep cool in the heat of high stakes.

“I’m just as wired, but in a different way,” Beane told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. “I don’t demonstrate it as much as I did when I was younger. But I still need my outlets. You can’t take that away. You just can’t.

“I’m glad it’s like that. Bobby [Melvin] will tell you — anyone who I’ve worked with will tell you — when we’re not good, usually I know when we’re not good and it’s usually my fault. And I’m a kitten. I’m the easiest guy to work for.

“When we’re good, I’m a son of a bitch.”

Melvin doesn’t disagree. Not verbally, at least. Asked how things were going with his boss, the manager raised his eyebrows and cocked his head.

“It’s that time,” Melvin, in his eighth full season, said with a grin.

“But I will say this: My relationship with Billy is good. It’s never been better than it is now.”

There is a lot for both men to like, as these are good times for the A’s. They enter a weekend series against Texas with a 14-4 record in September, a 92-61 record overall and a two-game lead in the American League wild-card race.

The magic number for Oakland to reach the postseason for the second consecutive season is down to eight. The A’s, once again, are flourishing in the underdog status that comes with operating under one of the lowest payrolls in Major League Baseball.

That’s a product of Beane at his best, knitting a team that has the talent to win and allowing his manager to provide the daily voice. Billy and his staff have hunted value buys ever since he was promoted to general manager in 1997, one year after the team was sold by the Haas family, which prioritized winning over the profit margin.

This is the third incarnation of A’s under Beane to post at least two consecutive seasons with at least 90 wins. The first lasted four seasons, 2000-03, is most identified with the term “Moneyball” but also had the benefit of fabulous young talent, some inherited and some purchased on the cheap. The second lasted two seasons, 2012 and 2013, and featured a broad assortment of starting pitchers, the best of which was ancient Bartolo Colon.

Not one of those six teams won a playoff series. Plenty of regular-season success, nothing in October, and Beane has had to live with those money-time failures as well as being a man portrayed by Brad Pitt in a movie based on the quest of a baseball executive.

Does Beane need, at some point, a World Series win to validate the book, the movie and the hype?

“It’s never been about me, and I mean that,” he said. “But I can see the impact of a championship on a city and the people who follow that team. I’ve never felt like winning a championship was about any sort of validation. I’d always thought if that were the case, you’re probably a little insecure, if that’s what you’re looking for, for your self-esteem.

“I have, however, seen the impact of a team’s performance on the people who follow that team and the community. The thing that impresses me most, and it’s the coolest thing, is when I’m in Danville and the A’s are good, I see A’s stuff everywhere. And I take so much pride when that’s the case. And the depressing thing is when we’re not good and I don’t see it anywhere.”

The A’s have struggled to retain fans, many of whom have abandoned the Coliseum in the wake of constant roster turnover that strips good teams and starts a rebuild. The incarnations keep the payroll at desired levels but are tough on those who buy tickets, especially when they know the team is profitable.

That’s not Billy’s problem, even those he owns a small percentage of the A’s. He’s given a budget, and his job is to deliver the best possible team within those parameters. The 2019 team payroll of $93.1 million, according to Spotrac, ranks 25th among 30 MLB teams. It’s less than half that of the Yankees ($218 million), well behind that of the Astros ($168 million) and considerably lower than that of the Twins ($124.9 million).

Oakland is winning with a formula we’ve seen before: Young talent — Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, to name three — having productive seasons, enough pitching to stay in ballgames and wonderful clubhouse chemistry.

“Each group we’ve had has been very unique, and this one is no different,” Beane said. “This one is really businesslike on the field, not really that emotional on the field, but as soon as the game is over, a switch just comes on. It’s like the disco ball comes out and everything. It’s a sight the public doesn’t see.

“It’s not something you wouldn’t want your kid to see, which I can’t always say for postgame celebrations. It’s just really funny.”

That’s as close as Billy comes to having fun in September, watching happy players — on those occasions when he can stay at the ballpark long enough to see it. It’s That’s rare, though, that he can bring himself to watch the game, much less the end of it.

By the time the A’s gritted out a 1-0 win over the Royals in 11 innings on Wednesday afternoon, Beane was long gone. He left after seven innings. Couldn’t take the drama. He didn’t stick around Tuesday night, either, leaving the ballpark with Oakland trailing 1-0 after six.

He drives along, as in the movie, telling himself he’ll check the score at specific intervals. To just, you know, follow his team. After all these years on the job, Billy still doesn’t trust himself to respond with the poise and clarity needed in a moment of crisis.

“Listen, if there’s a play in the fifth inning on May 26, which is about Game 40, that one little micro event is probably not going to impact the end of the season,” he said. “However, if I react the wrong way emotionally to that micro event, that decision I make could impact the season. And that’s what I want to stop myself from doing.

“I remove myself when I’m getting emotional.”

Should the A’s find their way into October, Beane vows he will, in fact, accept the playoffs for its focused intensity and that he actually will enjoy that process.

[RELATED: A's still have work to do to captivate fans]

“I’ve always been somewhat realistic,” he said. “When we get to the postseason, I’ve kind of gotten to the point where it like, ‘Hey, you know, try and enjoy it, because you never know when you’re going to be back.’

“There is an element of luck that goes on that either helps you or hurts you. And there’s nothing you can do about it. So just enjoy the hell out of it while you’re there.”

Until then, though, Billy is going to have moments when he is a walking, talking vessel of hell. If he hasn’t learned to turn down the fire by now, it’s not likely he ever will.

Warriors coaches understand why team inspires juicy debate this season

Warriors coaches understand why team inspires juicy debate this season

As the flurry of activity that defined this NBA summer ambles toward its end, debating the future of the Warriors continues to run hotter than it has since 2008, when folks argued the merits and potential of Year 2 of the “We Believe” team.

After four seasons during which it was widely accepted that the Warriors were championship favorites, 2019-20 brings fresh intrigue and -- as we’ve learned in casual conversations around the league -- sharp differences of opinion among media members, scouts, agents and others.

One side: If Stephen Curry and Draymond Green stay healthy, they can reach 50 wins. Maybe more. And if Klay Thompson makes a strong return by March, they’ll win a playoff series.

The other side: Anyone putting the Warriors in the playoffs is delusional. Their defense will spring too many leaks, Curry is bound to miss games, they’re too small and the Western Conference is too deep.

Seeking a candid opinion from an informed individual, I reached out to Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams. He’s pragmatic, devoid of BS and, obviously, has a stake in the matter. I dropped some of the outside chatter into his lap.

“I don’t know,” he said recently, chuckling. “I mean, we have a lot of moving parts, a lot of young players. They’re good guys, willing to learn and eager to get better.

“I’m hopeful.”

Adams is 11 days away from perhaps his most important season as a member of Steve Kerr’s coaching staff. He thrived in his initial role, to coordinate and promote a defensive mentality. His new role means a reduction in game input, with greater emphasis on behind-the-scenes development. His job is to help the kids grow up.

He has a ton of clay to mold.

D’Angelo Russell last season progressed from gifted player to All-Star. What’s next for D-Lo? The Warriors, for the first time under this staff, which has been revamped, will need contributions from at least one rookie, maybe two. Can 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein become, at age 26, the rim protector in San Francisco he was not during four seasons in Sacramento?

Adams on Russell: “I’ve spent some time with D’Angelo and I find him to be a really charming guy. Intuitively, I really like him as a person. He’s still young, still growing, but I like what I see. He’s going to help us.”

On rookies Jordan Poole, Eric Paschall and Alen Smailagic: “I like all of them. We have a really good crop of gym rats. I don’t think there’s any question Jordan is a pro shooter. He has quick release, can handle and has defensive potential.

"Eric has a chance to contribute this year. He needs to keep working on his shot, but he's got a good vibe. Alen is very dedicated and wants to be good, but he’s pretty green.”

On Cauley-Stein: “This experiment is going to be really interesting. He’s got length and he’s a good athlete. He’s got some developing to do, and I think he knows that.”

On the reserves playing behind Curry, Green, Russell, Cauley-Stein (the presumptive starter) and whomever opens the season at small forward: “Our bench could be a little more dynamic, regarding the ability to score, than it was last season. But stopping people is going to be challenging.”

Adams can be an old-school contrarian, but he enjoys the teaching aspect of his job. That’s one reason for modifying his duties toward that end.

Kerr, on the other hand, takes more of a new-school approach, no doubt because of his own 15-year playing career.

But, yes, both agree that defense is going to be pivotal.

“Nobody knows what we have right now,” Kerr said earlier this summer on the Warriors Insider podcast. “We know what we’ve lost. We’ve lost Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson. So, from that perspective it doesn’t sound that great.”

Kerr allowed himself a laugh before continuing.

“We’ve got all these young guys and we’ve got to see how they fit together. We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to play, who can play together and what our defense is going to look like. That’s probably the thing I’m most worried about. We’ve had a great, versatile defensive club every year since I’ve been here, and we’re losing so much of that defensive versatility on the perimeter.

"We’ve got a lot to sort through.”

[RELATED: Biggest questions Warriors face heading into this season]

That’s why there is such fuel to the debate. The Warriors have gone from sure thing to mystery team. Adams and Kerr know what’s ahead, and they understand it will be their most challenging season.

On that point, there is not even a rumor of debate.

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

Why red-hot A's still have work to do to captivate Oakland's home fans

OAKLAND -- Redoubtable and relentless, the A’s are four months away from being the only game in town, the most visible representative of a city that craves positive recognition.

They’re launching home runs at an astonishing pace, delivering the equivalent of baseball fireworks.

They’re winning, generally the first requirement of sports popularity, at a rate that keeps them in the thick of the race to the AL playoffs.

Despite these advantageous factors, fans are not flocking to the Coliseum. And, please, let’s not blame local indifference on the ballpark’s lack of freshness and charm. Too simple.

This is about emotional attachment. Listening to fans of baseball in general and the A’s in particular, some variation of that theme consistently surfaces. There are varying degrees of emotional scar tissue, and it has them in their feelings, making them reluctant out of fear of getting burned. Again.

It’s unfortunate, because what these A’s are producing is worth the time and money.

Here they are, surging into the postseason with the second-best record in baseball since the All-Star break and averaging 14,870 fans over three games this week. That included 16,714 witnesses Wednesday afternoon for a stressful 1-0 victory in 11 innings over the Kansas City Royals.

These A’s have something for everybody. Shortstop Marcus Semien, who is having an MVP caliber season, grew up in the East Bay, as did Stephen Piscotty. Mark Canha, who lashed the game-winning hit Wednesday, grew up in the South Bay. Third baseman Matt Chapman and first baseman Matt Olson mash with their bats and sing tender ballads with their gloves.

If homers are supposed to lure folks to the yard, how is it that this club, which now owns the single-season franchise record, remains in a relative vacuum?

Mostly because too many local fans have too often been captivated by A’s teams of the past 20 years, only to feel victimized by the franchise’s cycle of assembling and disassembling, usually in the name of payroll discipline. Each time around, a few more folks stop coming and decide to observe, if at all, from the distance of living rooms and bars.

“I know if, knock wood, we’re able to get into the postseason, they would show up,” manager Bob Melvin told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday. “Our fans are into it. They might not be here every night. And I’m not telling people how to spend their money. But it is a terrific fan base. When they’re ignited, and they come out and full force, we feel them like a 10th man.”

This has been true in the past and likely will be again. There is a bandwagon, but it sits in a distant corner, idling, ready to get into should the A’s reach the postseason.

Postseason baseball in Oakland is so vibrant it makes the Coliseum feel spectacular. And some are waiting for a playoff game to light up the yard. Even then, though, there will be holdouts who can’t overcome the scar tissue reminding them of old heartbreak.

Too many fans remember those engaging teams of early 2000s, when pitchers Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were rocking batters to sleep while Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye were terrorizing pitchers. Those clubs averaged 98 wins per season and made four consecutive playoff appearances, each ending in painful AL Division Series defeats over the full five games.

The core of that roster -- which drew an average of 2.03 million fans per season from 2000 through 2003 -- broke up and scattered.

Most remember the 2006 team, led by Frank Thomas and Nick Swisher and Chavez, with Zito taking the mound every fifth day. That bunch, which came 23,375 short of drawing two million, swept the Twins in the Division Series before being by the Tigers in the AL Championship Series.

Thomas, the most commanding clubhouse presence the A’s have had this century, left as a free agent and landed in Toronto. Zito, priced out of Oakland -- with, to be fair, declining effectiveness -- headed across The Bay and signed with the Giants.

Lastly, all A’s fans remember the 2012 (94-68) and 2013 (96-66) teams, both of which made quick postseason exits but generated enough momentum for the 2014 A’s (88-74) to draw more than 2 million for the first time since 2005.

Ever since the leader of those teams, third baseman Josh Donaldson was traded exactly two months after the 2014 season despite expressing a commitment to Oakland, attendance has been in decline.

The roster has, once again, been revived by team architect Billy Beane and his lieutenants. The A’s won 97 games last season and have 92 wins with nine games to play this season.

[RELATED: Treinen out 4-6 weeks with back injury; Bassitt to A's 'pen]

An A’s home game offers the best value in Bay Area sports, maybe the highest entertainment-per-dollar ratio in baseball. It’s quality ball at budget-friendly prices in a town that has lost the Warriors and soon will lose the Raiders.

But the breakups of the past have left too many scars. Only if this team finds its way deep into the postseason would those scars be easier to ignore.