We're going to run the organization from the top down. We're controlling player personnel. That's our job. I don't apologize for that. There's this belief that a baseball team starts with the manager first. It doesn't.
- Billy Beane, quoted in the Boston Herald, January 16, 2003
The Oakland A'S clubhouse was famously the cheapest and least charming real estate in professional baseball and the video room was the meanest corner of it. Off-limits to reporters, just a few yards down the hall from the showers, the video room was where the players came to hide from newspaper reporters, and to study themselves. One wall was stacked with old tapes of A's games, the other with decrepit video equipment. Stained Formica desks, a pair of old video screens on each one, squatted on either end of the room. The only decoration was a plastic map of the United States-because occasionally the players wanted to see which states they'd fly over on the next road trip-and two pieces of a bat split against one of the Formica desks by former A's outfielder Matt Stairs. About six baseball players could fit inside the room at once, and often did.
Between Matt Stairs's broken bat and the U.S. map usually sat a young man named Dan Feinstein-Feiny, everyone called him Twenty minutes before game time all that was left of the players in the video room was Miguel Tejada's Fig Newton wrappers. Feiny spotted them and shook his head. The A's shortstop was one of those people who had to be told to clean up his own mess, and Feiny was one of those people who wouldn't hesitate to do it.
Feiny was putting his college degree in medieval European history to work preparing videotapes for the Oakland A's. He took pride in his decrepit little space. Feiny argued that while rich teams had far more expansive and tasteful facilities, they paid a price for their luxury: their players never had to share close quarters. They weren't forced to get to know one another by smell. Feiny came to know all of the Oakland players, by smell and swing, and he was determined that they should also know themselves. The night I arrived, the A's were playing the New York Yankees, for whom David Wells was scheduled to pitch. Next to Feiny there was a long row of tapes: Tejada vs. Wells. Menechino vs. Wells. Chavez vs. Wells. I looked at the tapes, and then at Feiny, who said, "I don't have a good feeling about tonight." "Why not?" I asked. "They're better than us," he said.
Next to Feiny, at one end of the video room, sat David Forst, twenty-five-year-old former Harvard shortstop. Two years earlier, after he'd graduated with an honors degree in sociology, Forst had been invited to the Red Sox spring training camp. Dismissed in the final cut, he sent his resume around big league front offices and it caught Paul DePodesta's eye. And so, surely for the first time since the dead ball era, the Harvard Old Boys' network came to baseball. Paul himself sat at the desk on the other end of the room. I ask them if it ever troubled them to devote their lives, and expensive educations, to a trivial game. They look at me as if I've lost my mind, and Paul actually laughed. "Oh, you mean as opposed to working in some deeply meaningful job on Wall Street?" he said.
It wasn't hard to see what Billy had seen in Paul when he'd hired him: an antidote to himself. Billy was an undisciplined ornnivore. He let everything in and then worried about the consequences later.