Here is a link to my Friday column. The full text runs below:
As local big-league baseball games dwindle to a precious few, it’s time to pay homage to the people who made a difference. Who really made a difference in this year’s baseball picture.
I am not talking Madison Bumgarner or Buster Posey or Bruce Bochy. Nothing against those guys, but I’m aiming way higher. Among us we have the biggest difference-maker in baseball, a paragon, and it’s appropriate at this time to pay homage.
I’m talking Billy Beane.
To my way of thinking, three teams wouldn’t be where they are today without the Beane input and expert guidance. Before I name the teams, I want to point out three teams equals 10 percent of all teams. As you can see, Beane’s hands are all over major-league ball.
The three teams are — the envelope please — the A’s, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. Beane’s influence spans the continent.
Let’s take the teams one at a time.
The A’s would not be where they are without Beane. That statement is obvious, perhaps even axiomatic. And, yes, we award Beane full credit for where the Oakland A’s are today in the standings and in the hierarchy of the major leagues.
Let’s move to more subtle matters — like the Blue Jays. Toronto currently leads the American League East and has the second-best record in the AL. I cannot state this strongly enough — the Blue Jays wouldn’t be a big deal without the all-important Beane influence.
As you well know, Beane traded Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays for some guys. As I write this column Thursday morning, Donaldson has 39 home runs. His 120 RBIs lead the league. He also leads the league in plate appearances. That means he plays a lot and earns what they pay him. He probably will be the AL MVP. The Blue Jays thank you, Billy.
Donaldson is one heck of a player and Beane saw that years ago when he helped convert Donaldson from a catcher to a third baseman, and when he made Donaldson the A’s everyday third sacker. That showed good foresight on Beane’s part. Few general managers would have seen Donaldson’s potential, not even the great Brian Sabean.
When Beane traded Donaldson to Toronto for some guys, he helped make the Jays into an American League powerhouse. Beane is much too modest to take the credit himself, so I’m giving him the credit he deserves.
Before I get to the second team Beane did a solid for — for which Beane did a solid? — let’s pause for historical context. Historical context is always important in intellectual discussions like the one we’re having, and it delays the climax and sets up good suspense.
Beane did not show his baseball acumen only recently. He showed good acumen years ago. Take Tim Hudson, a borderline great pitcher in his time. After Beane had Hudson for six brilliant seasons, Beane traded him to the Braves for some guys. This one move helped set up Atlanta’s pitching staff for years and showed, once again, Beane is a generous man who likes to share. Good sharing by Beane.
You can see Hudson pitch against Barry Zito in Oakland on Saturday, although on the Giants’ website Saturday’s pitcher is listed as TBD. If the two former teammates square off against each other it will be a moment fraught with emotion. A Beane special. Of course, the Dodgers, who have not yet eliminated the Giants in their division race, might prefer the A’s pitch someone better than Zito, a minor-leaguer.
In 2008, Beane traded Carlos Gonzalez to Colorado for Matt Holliday. Beane also included reliever Huston Street in that deal because — I cannot emphasize this enough — Beane is one generous son of a gun. He has good generosity. Holliday played one-half a season for the A’s before Beane traded him to St. Louis for some guys. Which means Beane ultimately traded Gonzalez for some guys. As of Thursday morning, Gonzalez had 37 home runs.
But Hudson and Gonzalez and, what the heck, Holliday were warm-up acts for Beane’s greatest move. The historic trading of Yoenis Cespedes. This was an all-timer even in the Beane canon.
Beane traded Cespedes to Boston in July 2014. After Cespedes bounced around a little — follow the bouncing Cespedes — he ended up with the Mets, where he has helped them catch fire. They lead the NL East.
Through a mere 49 games in New York, Cespedes had 17 home runs and 42 RBIs. The Mets and Beane’s longtime mentor Sandy Alderson never would be where they are without Beane. The Mets thank you, Billy.
Beane is the best talent-scouter in the bigs. Name someone better. For his current work with the Jays and Mets, MLB should make him Major League Executive of the Year. Not AL or NL Executive of the Year. He transcends mere leagues. He should get a special award for the whole shebang. Rarely has a man had such profound influence on the game as a whole.
And if the Blue Jays and Mets meet in the World Series — Donaldson against Cespedes — Beane, and no one but Beane, should throw out the first pitch. It would only be fitting. A good fit.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.