DETROIT -- As much as he respects Billy Beane, Dennis Eckersley admits he didn't make it through the Moneyball book. Too much sabermetrics statistical stuff for his taste, and not enough drama.
But Eckersley has been riveted by Beane's latest work, the 2012 A's.
"C'mon, five rookie starters getting you to the playoffs down the stretch? All these guys nobody's ever heard of?" Eckersley said. "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen in the game, but I love it.
"Maybe they wrote the book on Billy too soon."
Eckersley, who'll be a studio analyst for TBS during the divisional series round, may have a point. This latest Beane creation reveals a general manager who has come out from under the more negative stereotypes Moneyball engendered and has become a more benevolent, smell-the-roses executive.
As much as Beane may have enjoyed being portrayed by Brad Pitt, he has tired of the myths born out of the book and the movie and the scrutiny and backlash that came with them.
"I've been called a micro-manager and I've been called disengaged," Beane said after the team won the American League West on Wednesday. "And on a few occasions, I've been called both at the same time."
The disengagement is explainable. Unlike past seasons, when he was an almost constant presence in the clubhouse, this year he was intent on giving manager Bob Melvin and the players distance to operate. He wasn't even present for the celebration when the A's clinched a playoff berth Monday.
Part of that is that he doesn't feel like one of the boys anymore. He turned 50 recently and doesn't feel the need to rub shoulders with the players as much as he once did. He doesn't feel as comfortable doing it, either, being that a number of the A's players are younger than his daughter, Casey.
"True story, and Jarrod Parker can verify this," Beane said. "In May, we're playing in San Francisco. I'd gone into the clubhouse for a workout. A guy walks in -- he's looking at me, I'm looking at him -- and I'm thinking, 'Who the heck is that?' We didn't say anything to each other, but then he finally put on his cap and it dawned on me it was Parker, and he was pitching that day. So I went over, stuck my hand out and said, 'Jarrod? Billy Beane, general manager.' "
Even though he's distanced himself from his players, Beane maintained he's had more fun putting this team together and watching it than any other. It has shown in his demeanor.
"The two times I've seen Billy this year when I was out in Oakland, he seemed more relaxed than I'd ever seen him," said Eckersley, the former A's star closer.
Beane said it's a function of savoring his team's achievements a lot more.
"When I first came here in the late '80s (as a player), we always won," he said. "Then when we were good again (in the early 2000s), you sort of got used to it and took it for granted. But when you hit bottom, you realize how hard it is to get back."
With the Moneyball teams, he said, "I didn't really take time to understand what the guys had accomplished. So this time, I really wanted to appreciate everybody's contribution from top to bottom. Maybe that's the nostalgic part that kicks in as you get older."
That's one of the reasons Beane decided to come to the team's celebration of the A.L. West title, not so much to spout any personal triumphs but to savor the celebration and congratulate the participants.
While he admits a lot of what has happened this season defies explanation, Beane has issues with anyone who calls this team a fluke.
"I hate using the word 'surreal,' even though I know it's meant in a positive way," he said. "If anything has made my teeth grind the past couple of weeks, it's that too many people have talked about this being a Cinderella story.
"After 162 games, you're not a Cinderella. Surprises come in May, they don't come in October. I don't think it recognizes the talent of the players. You don't play through a season like we've had and get lucky."
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