Years later he would say that when he'd decided to become a professional baseball player, it was the only time he'd done something just for the money, and that he'd never do something just for the money ever again. He would never again let the market dictate the direction of his life. The funny thing about that, now he was running a poor major league baseball team, was that his job was almost entirely about money: where to find it, how to spend it, whom to spend it on. There was no more intensely financial period in his life than the few weeks, just after the regular season opened, leading up to the amateur draft. There was also no time that he found more enjoyable. He didn't mind living with money at the center of his life, so long as he was using it on other people, and not having it used on him.
He began that day in the summer of 2002 facing a roomful of his scouts. Billy Beane, now in his fortieth year on earth and his fifth as the Oakland A's general manager, had changed. He'd lost the ramrod posture of his youth. The brown mop of hair had thinned, and been trained, poorly, to part. Otherwise the saggings and crin-klings of middle age were barely discernable on him. The difference in Billy wasn't what had happened to him, but what hadn't. He had a life he hadn't led, and he knew it. He just hoped nobody else noticed.
The men in this room were the spiritual descendants of the older men who had identified Billy Beane, as a boy of sixteen, as a future baseball superstar. Invisible to the ordinary fan, they were nevertheless the heart of the game. They decide who gets to play and, therefore, how it is played. For the first time in his career Billy was about to start an argument about how they did what they did. Calling them in from the field and stuffing them into a dank room in the bowels of the Coliseum for the seven days before the draft had become something of an Oakland custom. It was the point of the exercise that was about to change.
A year ago, before the 2001 draft, the goal had been for the general manager of the Oakland A's and his scouts to come to some mutually satisfying decision about who to select with the top picks. Billy had allowed the scouts to lead the discussion and influence his decisions. He had even let the scouts choose a lot of their own guys in higher rounds. That changed about five seconds after the 2001 draft, which had been an expensive disaster. The elite players that Billy and the scouts had discussed in advance had been snapped up by other teams before the A's turn came to make their second and final first-round draft pick. All that remained were guys the scouts loved and Billy knew next to nothing about. In the confusion, Grady Fuson, the A's soon to be former head of scouting, had taken a high school pitcher named Jeremy Bonderman. The kid had a 94-mile-per-hour fastball, a clean delivery, and a body that looked as if it had been created to wear a baseball uniform. He was, in short, precisely the kind of pitcher Billy thought he had trained his scouting department to avoid.
It was impossible to say whether Jeremy Bonderman would make it to the big leagues, but that wasn't the point. The odds were against him, just as they were against any high school player. The scouts adored high school players, and they especially adored high school pitchers. High school pitchers were so far away from being who they would be when they grew up that you could imagine them becoming almost anything. High school pitchers also had brand-new arms, and brand-new arms were able to generate the one asset scouts could measure: a fastball's velocity. The most important quality in a pitcher was not his brute strength but his ability to deceive, and deception took many forms.