One of the buzzwords of the business world, particularly start-ups, is “disruption.” It has been seen as a virtue. An end goal. Something to aspire to. It has even jumped from business to politics.
What many have missed is that disruption for disruption’s sake can have some bad, unintended consequences.
When Billy Beane and the Oakland A‘s baseball operations department decided to go a new direction, there were a number of factors at play. For the most part, since the franchise’s founding in Philadelphia, the A’s were either world beaters or just plain horrible. There was no in between.
In addition, by the late 1990’s everyone was complaining about the “haves” and “have nots” in baseball. Making matters worse, many small market teams were, speaking bluntly, guilty of holding “woe is me” pity parties.
Billy wanted to do something different. He wanted to disrupt. The ends of his disruption were to stabilize the franchise so that a down season was defined as at or near .500. Then when core elements of the team developed, the A’s were in position to take advantage because they were in the post-season.
Now, there has not been success in terms of a league pennant or a World Series championship—in Oakland. But, small market teams such as Kansas City and St. Louis have won World Series and that has proven the disruption had a point. There was a way to level the playing field and make baseball about the merits of the organization.
I was fortunate to have a seat at the table during the early part of the “Moneyball” revolution. Now, Billy may be leaving Oakland.
Frankly, what disturbs me about people’s reading of the book is that it was about more than college players and on-base percentage. We wanted to compete and the only way to do that was to find overlooked attributes and go where others weren’t going. Billy disrupted with a purpose and he has changed the way not only Major League Baseball and its teams operate, but other sports and businesses as well.
Billy, it was great to work in Oakland with you. If someone had said in the late 1990’s that the organization would revolutionize the business world, they would have been given sedatives.
Whatever Billy Beane decides to do, I wish him well.
Here is the FiveThirtyEight piece analyzing Billy and the A’s operation since 2000.