What do a pitched water battle, the Oakland A's, Medicare and Sarah Palin's literary efforts have in common?
All were discussed in a rousing first-ever Leadership Forum on Thursday that drew a near-capacity crowd to Hutchins Street Square.
The water analysis was provided by lawyer Dante Nomellini; the scoop on the Oakland A's was given by keynote speaker Billy Beane, the club's general manager; the health care presentation was provided by Anne McLeod, with the California Hospital Association; and the political wit was offered by the irrepressible political comedian Will Durst.
Along with the speakers, attendees enjoyed breakfast, lunch, and numerous business networking opportunities. The day was sponsored by the Lodi Chamber of Commerce and numerous local businesses.
Beane, the featured speaker, is a former major-leaguer who is now the general manager and minority owner of the Oakland Athletics. His innovative approach to selecting undervalued baseball talent was the subject of the bestseller "Moneyball," by Michael Lewis, who is also the author of "The Blind Side."
The book is being turned into a movie, also titled "Moneyball," to be released in September, featuring Brad Pitt as Beane.
Tall and angular, Beane roamed the stage at Hutchins Street Square, speaking without notes and then taking questions from the crowd. Among the highlights:
On his successful use of hard data to evaluate players: Beane's once-radical approach is to evaluate players based on quantitative analysis, not their personality or physical stature. The use of such metrics has been widely copied since "Moneyball" was released in 2003.
"Lewis said we were basically bringing arbitrage to baseball ... . We were looking at trading older players with higher salaries for younger players whom we felt were undervalued. ... There was some friction at first because we were taking the emotion out of the process. The revolution that happened in baseball is happening all over the world now," Beane said.
He's worked with international soccer, rugby and cricket teams to help with player evaluations, he said. And now, many major league teams are run by data-savvy managers with Ivy League degrees. The days when a club executive had to have playing experience to gain respect are over, he said.
On how other teams have caught up with the "Moneyball" strategy: "The secret is out, so I guess I will retire to St. Baart's," he joked.
Beane said it is indeed harder to find value among players now, because so many teams have adopted data-driven evaluations. Yet there are other areas that might prove profitable to mine analytically, such as whether players may become prone to injury. For instance, he said recent studies show that the biggest predictor of whether an NFL team makes the playoffs is how many injuries their players suffer over a season.
On the Central Valley: Beane was raised in Southern California but spent summers in Merced with his grandparents. "I may be the only kid from San Diego who vacationed in Merced," he said.
He has fond memories of watching the old Lodi Dodgers minor league team that once played at Tony Zupo field in Lodi.
On the best team he's ever seen: "That would have to be the 1998 Yankees ... they just beat the tar out of you, but they did it with such class, you just said, 'Thank you.'"
The best A's team ever: "The 1989 team that won the World Series. It was a great, great team, but everybody remembers the earthquake, not the World Series. I was on the team, but I still refer to them as 'they' because I didn't feel like I contributed much."
On being played by Brad Pitt in the upcoming movie: "At first, I said it was better than being played by Zero Mostel. Then I realized no one under 50 knew who that was. Then I said it was better than being played by Ernest Borgnine. Then I thought, well, he's still alive and he may not appreciate that. So now, I just say, 'Well, they nailed it. I can't think of anyone more fitting for the role than Brad.'"
On whether his analytics led to the A's to not re-sign star pitcher Barry Zito, who has been a disappointment with the San Francisco Giants: "No, our wallets determined that. And I will say this about Barry — he is the most focused player I have known in terms of trying to improve and succeed. I am a huge fan of his. He's a good man."
Contact Editor Rich Hanner at firstname.lastname@example.org.