Villanova University Law School celebrated a $5 million donated by ex-super agent Jeffrey Moorad by hosting Billy Beane to discuss Moneyball with ex-Governor Ed Rendell and Omar Minaya. The Phillies Bill Giles was one of the 1700 interested baseball fans in the audience.
Moneyball came to Villanova University on Thursday when Billy Beane came to the Philadelphia Main Line to honor Jeff Moorad, CEO of the San Diego Padres. Moorad, a 1981 Villanova Law School graduate and the CEO of the San Diego Padres, was in town to be honored for his $5 million donation to help establish the Jeffrey Moorad Center for Sports Law at his alma mater. Villanova now joins Duke, Marquette, and Tulane as one of the few universities that offer a degree program in Sports Law.
The event has attended by 1700 university students, professors, businesspersons, and friends of Villanova in the aging Pavilion–a facility better suited for a Division III program than a top college basketball program presided over by one of the best coaches in the NCAA, Jay Wright.
The visitors seemed restless in waiting over 45 minutes for the Moorad ceremonies to conclude, but when you donate $5 million to a university, I guess you deserve a 45 minute tribute.
The event began with ex-Governor Ed Rendell, a 1968 Villanova graduate, who was the moderator of the event. Rendell, who also did the Philadelphia Eagles pre-game and post-game show while governor of Pennsylvania is a huge sports fan and his pointed and well thought out questions were outstanding. The Governor’s introduction of Beane, however, was a bit out of line when he said Billy “wouldn’t be here if he could have hit the curve ball.” Beane’s ability to laugh at himself is well documented, but the guy was a first round draft pick and didn’t deserve an introduction like that from Rendell, despite the fact that Beane’s MLB career never lived up to its potential.
“Sports is the great leveler,” said Rendell. ”The opinions of the bank president and the shoe shine guy are equally relevant.”
<WATCH THE VIDEO of Billy Beane talking about encounters with Lenny Dykstra and Steve Carlton after the jump.>
The first guest panelist was Omar Minaya who became the first Hispanic general manager in MLB. Minaya discussed the difficulties in analyzing the talents of Latin players in his native Dominican Republic where there is no high school or college baseball. That makes the analysis to be purely subjective and there’s no way that the sabermetrics of Moneyball would help in this pursuit so the money paid to Latins is often riskier.
Phil Griffin, president of MSNBC spoke after Minaya. The selection of Griffin to the panel seemed a bit out of place given that he has no tie-in to baseball. Most in the audience were there to hear about baseball and while Griffin has certainly had an impressive career in the broadcasting industry, the audience wanted to hear from the baseball executives, especially Billy Beane who may just inspire Brad Pitt to the Academy Award next month.
Beane Counter: Oakland was the Perfect Test Market for Moneyball
“We were the lowest team on the totem pole so we had to do something different,” said Beane. ”So, wheat we did was totally rational. We could do things in Oakland that you could never do in New York. We did have a market advantage.”
One of those things was to sign Scott Hattieberg, the poster child for Moneyball’s success in the movie. Beane talked about telling Hattieberg to not mention that the Athletics were planning on moving him from his catcher position to first base when he was signed in the off-season just to hold off the inevitable negativity that would inevitably occur when the press and fans found out about Beane’s plans. Beane and staff didn’t want to hear the negativity that would have proliferated after the Athletics fans found out that the $900,000 per year Hattieberg was replacing the $18 million Jason Giambi.
Beane added that the Athletics didn’t have a New York budget and needed to get the best value for their money. ”We had to get players who had the highest probability of return. We had to look at it like an actuary would.”
“What kind of value could we get for $900,000,” said Beane. ”Well, basically we were under-paying our players,” he laughed.
Today’s Scott Hattieberg is Yadier Molina
When asked who was the Scott Hattieberg of today, Minaya promoted Yadier Molina–a player who is clearly a star on the field, but not so much in the fantasy baseball game. ”His value defies statistics. To win championships, you have to have a good receiver.”
Rendell followed up Beane’s analysis of the Athletics strategy by asking what team is doing the best job of following the Moneyball philosophy. Moorad thinks its the Tampa Bay Rays who have been able to compete in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. ”They’ve drafted at the top of the draft a lot, but they’ve stuck with their philosophy,” said Moorad.
When asked if he was a Moneyball follower or more of a traditionalist, Moorad added that the best strategy is that “you have to have both.”
Kotsay Adds Chemistry to Padres
Beane agreed that its not all about statistics, but that is just one part of the equation for success. Team chemistry is also a big factor in the long baseball season. Beane joked, however, that you never hear a team say: “we sucked, but we had great chemistry. We’re bringing everybody back next year. You never hear that.”
The Padres CEO Moorad, however, added that poor chemistry was a major part of his team’s decline from 90 wins in 2010 to 71 wins in 2011. Moorad pointed to the losses of David Eckstein and Yorvit Torrealba who were not great producers on the field, but positive forces in the clubhouse.
“They out-perform their value, because they were leaders,” said Moorad.
And, the Padres agreed to set aside $5 million this year to help pick up guys like Eckstein and Torrealba that they think will make a difference. One such guy that the Padres picked up in the off-season was Mark Kotsay who was seeking $1.3 million. Moorad candidly discussed Kotsay by saying that the outfielder was only worth $750,000 to $1 million, but the Padres agreed to pay him $1.25 million this season thanks to Kotsay’s intangibles (not mentioning Kotsay’s wife Jamie). ”I told him (Kotsay) that if you win the World Series, I’ll give you the $50,000 in your name to make a donation to the charity of your choice.” Slim chance on Kotsay collecting that.
“I like Kotsay too,” said Beane, “but give me 9 Albert Pujols’s and I’ll beat you every time.”
(VIDEO: Watch as Billy Beane discusses his time with roommate Lenny Dykstra and when the two faced Hall of Famer Steve Carlton.)