"WE DID IT ALL FOR THE JAHA!"; HAVING SMOKED METS IN ADJUSTED WS, A'S CELEBRATE, DEDICATE VICTORY TO "THOSE WHO BLAZED THE TRAIL"
Not just a muscle-bound fool: Jaha served as inspiration
OAKLAND, CA (AP):
Billy Beane stared pensively out of the window of his executive suite during the eighth inning of the sixth game of the Adjusted World Series on October 30. Obscuring his line of sight to the field below was a reminder of why he was so reluctant to resume watching the action on the diamond: a six-inch fissure on the glass window separating his suite from the elements, a product of a chair thrown during one of Beane's now-infamous fits of rage.
"I don't know what to do," Beane confided to author Michael Lewis, who chronicled Beane in the 2003 bestseller Moneyball.
"Why don't you make fun of Kenny Williams? That's a good form of recreation," Lewis suggested.
"Nah," Beane responded. "It's no fun without DePo."
Beane was, of course, referring to Paul DePodesta, then-general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. (DePodesta was fired on October 29, after Dodgers' owner Frank McCourt discovered that DePodesta owned a computer.) Moneyball explored, among other subjects, DePodesta's fascination with the intellect, or---as DePodesta regarded the situation, lack thereof---possessed by Williams, the GM of the Chicago White Sox.
And so Beane waited and warily watched. The middle relief had surrended two runs in the sixth inning, cutting the Oakland lead to 9-5. After Ricardo Rincon---fleeced from Williams' clutches in 2002---retired the side in the top half of the inning, Beane telephoned the home team's dugout and commanded current-former-current-former-current manager Ken Macha to warm up closer Huston Street for the purpose of sending him to the mound in the seventh.
To call it an odd command would be understating baseball's conventional wisdom in these, the first years of the Twenty-First Century. A "closer" does not come into the game with a four-run lead, and he certainly does not pitch three innings. But there was Beane expecting both from Street.
Why did Beane insist on Street, there and then?
"It was inspired," Beane confessed before a jubilant crowd at the victory parade in downtown Oakland yesterday. "What can I say? I did it for Jaha."
The sentiment is not as cryptic as it seems at first blush. John Jaha was a slugger on the first Beane-led Oakland team to gain prominence, in 1999. A six-foot-one slugger ostensibly weighing 205 pounds, Jaha exemplified the "take-n-rake" philosophy of the "sabermetric A's." Beane stressed patience and power; in fact, he commanded both, from everyone and at every level. Jaha certainly complied, posting a .414 on-base percentage and .556 slugging percentage to complement a .275 batting average, 35 home runs, and 111 runs batted in.
The A's finished fourth in the American League in runs scored in 1999, winning 87 games despite a near-bottom payroll.
Those A's were, like Beane's edict to bring in Street in a "non-save" situation, unconventional. Lest one believe Jaha was the only plodding slugger in the lineup, think again. Jaha was merely the only one not to play the field extensively. Manning the corner outfield positions were Ben Grieve and Matt Stairs, both slow, both patient, and both powerful. Even Rich Becker, a back-up outfielder known for a difficult attitude and indifferent defense, posted a near-.400 on-base percentage.
While the essence of the term "Moneyball" has become exceedingly difficult to capture---is it a general philosophy, or is it whatever Beane or a Beane protege happens to be doing at this second?---the '99 A's and not the '02 A's, one could argue, were the inspiration for the movement.
"We did it all for the Jaha!" third baseman and Adjusted World Series MVP Eric Chavez added after Beane's proclamation at the parade.
Even though Chavez is the only remaining member of the '99 team, the flame igniting his sentiment did not flicker in silence.
"That's right!" added Street, who just learning to drive at the same time Jaha was launching home runs toward Mt. Davis.
Scott Hatteberg concurred. "Without Billy here---without John Jaha and without Matt Stairs and without Ben Grieve---I'm just some nitwit back-up catcher with a bum shoulder. Hell, I can't even do what those guys did. But they blazed the trail for me, and the book made me a star.
"Those guys gave hope for every slow guy who looks bad in jeans, who can't run, but who can draw a walk," Hatteberg continued. "Without them, I'm nothing. I'm out of the game. I'm working at Lowe's. I'm taking the kids to school. But, because of them, I'm financially secure. I'm still being paid and, to tell you the truth, I'm not even that good anymore!"
Applause erupted at Hatteberg's emotion and candor. "I'll second that!" a jubilant Nick Swisher, a powerful and patient young outfielder, added.
And, as cheers and the music began to dominate the celebration, Beane---as he always does---exerted control. "And that's why I did it. That's why I told Macha you've gotta bring in Street. I did it for Jaha and Stairs and Becker and Durazo and Grieve and Tony Phillips and even that jerk who lost the flyball against New York in 2000, Terrence Long. I did it for Heredia and Billy Tayor and Isringhausen, who everybody thought was a piece of scrap until I got my hands on him. And I did it for Byrnes, who could play a bit but didn't know how to run the bases. And I did it for every guy here who at any time inspired idiot writers to wonder, 'What the hell is a guy like that doing in a big league game?'
"So, why not, you know? Go with your best and never hold back, no matter what the jerks say, or your manager either. And so I told Macha to get Street the hell in there, or I'll throw a chair so hard it'll make your colon leak."
As it turned out, Macha followed orders. And, as it turned out, Street struggled---perhaps more than the other available relievers might have. In the end, though, Street adjusted and held a 9-7 lead through the final out, and the A's were Adjusted Champions.
Who says Billy Beane's #$%@ doesn't work in the Adjusted Playoffs?