Any player/Any era: Billy Beane

What he did: This was originally going to be a column about Branch Rickey. With the premier of Moneyball in theaters last week, I figured it might be interesting to see how Rickey would do in Beane’s place as general manager for the Oakland Athletics. If ever there was an executive who succeeded with limited resources, it was Rickey, who invented the farm system in St. Louis and later made perennial contenders out of also-rans in Brooklyn. He didn’t fare as well at the last stop of his career in Pittsburgh, though his shrewd move plucking Roberto Clemente from the Dodger minors kept the Pirates relevant long after Rickey left town. Rickey might make a good subject here at some point, though for our purposes this week, it dawned on me that the Mahatma and Beane might help each other.

There’s a scene early in the book version of Moneyball where a young Beane sprints against a couple other top prospects in the 1980 draft, his speed and other suite of skills tantalizing enough for the New York Mets to make him a first-round pick. Beane didn’t amount to much as a player, though, and the scene mainly serves to show his disdain for valuing young prospects specifically for raw talent. But Beane might have been a good project for Rickey, who valued speed perhaps as much as any other skill and who resolved early on that if he lacked the money to sign established players, he’d simply develop his own. His systems produced Stan Musial, Johnny Mize, and Joe Medwick, among others, and I only wonder what fellow outfielder Beane might have done for him.

Era he might have thrived in: We’ll place Beane on the Gashouse Gang St. Louis Cardinals of the 1930s which Medwick was an integral member of, Mize joined at the tail end, and Musial just missed. With his speed and brash personality, Beane would have fit right in and been in a better situation than he was with the Mets.

Why: Certainly, the Mets of the 1980s produced a huge number of talented young players: Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Kevin Mitchell, Rick Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, and Gregg Jefferies all come to mind, and perhaps New York of those years was what St. Louis was half a century earlier. But for all the successes, Beane was a noted failure in his development, being pushed too early, ultimately hitting just .219 lifetime, and playing his last game in the majors at 27. With the Cardinals, Beane might not even be in the show at that age, and if he was, it’d only be because he was absolutely ready to go and be an asset to St. Louis. Rickey liked to keep a good veteran or two around on his bush league teams to help the young players. It’s why guys like Harry Walker took so long to make the big leagues.

So Beane would have a better chance at properly developing into a good all-around player for the Cardinals. And if he stuck with the route he’s gone in real life, becoming a scout shortly after quitting playing and eventually matriculating to the front office, Beane would be learning from the organization of arguably the greatest executive baseball has ever known. I can only wonder about what Rickey might have been able to teach Beane and what the meeting of the minds could have been like for two men devoted to innovation and exploiting baseball’s inefficiencies. True, Beane might not be played in any movie these days by Brad Pitt, a bizarre, wonderful fluke for the sabermetric community if there ever was one. But Beane could wind up with just as worthy of a legacy, if not better.

Any player/Any era is a Thursday feature here that looks at how a player might have done in an era besides his own.

Others in this series: Albert PujolsBabe RuthBad News Rockies,Barry BondsBilly MartinBob CaruthersBob FellerBob Watson,Bobby VeachCarl MaysCharles Victory FaustChris von der Ahe,Denny McLainDom DiMaggioEddie LopatFrank HowardFritz MaiselGavvy CravathGeorge CaseGeorge WeissHarmon KillebrewHarry WalkerHome Run BakerHonus Wagner, Hugh CaseyIchiro SuzukiJack ClarkJackie Robinson, Jim Abbott, Jimmy WynnJoe DiMaggioJoe PosnanskiJohnny AntonelliJohnny FrederickJosh HamiltonKen Griffey Jr.Lefty GroveLefty O’DoulMajor League (1989 film),Matty AlouMichael JordanMonte IrvinNate ColbertPaul DerringerPete RosePrince FielderRalph KinerRick AnkielRickey Henderson,Roberto ClementeRogers HornsbySam CrawfordSam Thompson,Sandy KoufaxSatchel PaigeShoeless Joe JacksonStan MusialTed WilliamsThe Meusel BrothersTy CobbVada PinsonWally Bunker, Will Clark, Willie Mays

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