Billy Beane believes the next great era of baseball general managers will come from what he calls the video game generation. "They're learning the business, how to make trades, how to build teams in these games. It's amazing," he says.
"Does that mean I can send you a resume with my win/loss record in MLB Front Office Manager attached?" I ask.
"It wouldn't bother me," he laughs. "The generation who plays video games, these are very bright people. The executives of baseball today are very bright young men who grew up scanning the Web for statistics and mining metrics. In a weird way, playing video games, despite this being entertainment, this will be a part of the upbringing of future general managers. People who play these games are bright people and they go on to be brighter successful people, and a few of these will be running baseball teams in the near future, I'm sure of it. This isn't the age of Pong. These are complex games. People who play this game, some of them are going to be general managers some day, I have no doubt in my mind."
And Beane not only talks video games, the man knows what he's talking about as he not only played an advisory role in 2K's new GM-sim, he's conquered everything from Call of Duty 4 to Halo to Age of Empires. "My dad's really into video games too," Beane says. "He's really into Gears of War."
Here's what else Beane had to say as we talked trades, his job as GM, and his role in MLB Front Office Manager:
ESPN: What advice do you have for me to play the role of GM in MLB Front Office Manager? What am I in for with this job?
Billy Beane: It's challenging, it's realistic, and it's something you need to put time into. If you're successful the first time in this game, then you're in the wrong profession and you need to put down this game and come do it for real. I can never play this game from start to finish because it's too humbling. I'm afraid to see where my team will end up. [laughs]
There are things about this job in real life that when I first took over, they took me three times as long as they do now. Things just become second nature. I remember my first year as a general manager, I could've worked from the time I woke up until midnight and never run out of things to do. That's what's neat about this game. You get to experience things like waivers, things you hear about as a fan, and when you play the game, you learn exactly how the system works.
As a fan, you always want certain things from your team, everyone wants, everyone wants, but what they don't understand is that every decision you make has ramifications on decisions you make somewhere else. So when you take over a team like the Yankees in the game, it's great, because you have a lot of money, but you better win with that. If you have the A's or Minnesota or Kansas City, you are going to have different goals and the understanding is that to win, it's going to take longer. Just like in real life, the challenges are unique to every situation.
ESPN: You've kept the A's competitive for so long on such a small budget. What would you do if you had the budget of the Yankees?
Billy Beane: You never know, but I know one thing's for sure in the game: If I have the Yankees, I better win every year. [laughs] My expectation level will be higher. At least in Oakland, you're allowed to rebuild. You're given more time because that's expected of you due to the marketplace. That's not the case in New York, either in real life or the game.
ESPN: How did you get involved in the making of the game?
Billy Beane: At the time when I was first approached, I think they were choosing between me and Theo Epstein, so I was flattered when they finally decided and chose me to be in the game to play the role of mentor. And as a gamer myself, it's something that I was really excited to be involved with. My involvement was really about giving them as much advice as possible on the baseball end, and what's funny is, first time I saw the game, I said: "If I was still a kid, this is what I'd be playing."
My own history in professional baseball, I was a mediocre at best player who was fortunate enough play the game and use it as a means to an end to become general manager. They didn't have games like this when I was a kid. I'm really amazed at the detail because it really encompasses everything about my job from managing a budget to allocating your resources to even picking your style of general managers from the ex-player to the lawyer.
And one thing I find fascinating about the game is something they call ownership confidence. In real life, that's always part of the equation. Your owner's confidence in your ability to do your job affects how many resources you're given. That's real life. We all live that every single day.
ESPN: Can I use the game to try to prove or disprove Moneyball?
Billy Beane: That's going to be the case in anything. There's no template for success that stays the same no matter what. Nobody has invented in any business something that works forever all the time. Usually people take some idea and make it better. Some of the things that we might've done six or seven years ago, teams are doing beyond that now, so we're trying to go beyond where they're going. That's the competitive environment that's out there.
ESPN: When I trade a player in the game, it's just a name. I'm just trading his stats. What's it like trading a real human being?
Billy Beane: Some are harder than others because some players you're closer to. But at the end of the day, if you do enough of them, players know it's just part of the business. The more you do, the easier it gets. [laughs]
ESPN: What's the one trade you wish you had back?
Billy Beane: There are always going to be those feelings, but to bring it to light, that's just going through the pain again, so I'm not going to get into it.
ESPN: Have you ever hung up the phone and immediately thought you made the wrong move?
Billy Beane: I've hung up the phone before and thought, "That might've been a mistake." [laughs] I signed a player years ago, and I was with my wife, and as soon as I got the deal done, I hung up and said to her: "I might regret this." And I did.