The Toronto SkyDome is nearly empty on this May afternoon. While concessionaires busily prepare their stands, a dark-haired young man dressed in a gray sport coat and navy-blue trousers sits in the first row of seats with his legs crossed. The Seattle Mariners trickle out of the visitors' dugout for batting practice, and several players notice the young man, who is reading a green notebook that bears the insignia of the Oakland Athletics.
Dave Cochrane, a utility infielder, looks over, squinting. "Beanie, is that you?" he asks, concealing a smile with his fielder's glove. "Ni-ice jacket. And what are those? Loafers, Beanie? And that hair, it's all preppy."
Beanie is the nickname of Billy Beane, baseball's youngest advance scout. He retired from the playing field earlier this year at 28, an age at which most pros are just reaching their prime. Players such as Cochrane, who rode the buses with Beane during his playing career, can't figure out what he is doing in such stylish clothes.
"People don't believe me," Beane says, "but I'm happier scouting than I ever was playing."
An advance scout is the chief spy in a baseball team's intelligence network. He is the man sent out to gather information on his club's next opponent and pass on his discoveries to the coaching staff and the players. No team in baseball has a network quite like that of the A's, nor do many teams put as much time and effort into major league scouting as the A's.
Ron Schueler, Oakland's special assistant to the vice-president of baseball operations, was the main brain of its major league network during the A's championship season of '89. Among baseball people, he is regarded as the game's best advance scout. The A's also know him to be a sound judge of young talent, so in an effort to give Schueler more time to work on the '90 spring draft (the A's had seven picks in the first two rounds) as well as his other duties, they decided to bring in another advance man.
Beane, a first-round draft pick of the New York Mets in 1980, spent the better part of four months in the big leagues with the A's last year after signing as a minor league free agent. He filled in for the injured Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, in the outfield and at first, respectively, and also made his first major league appearances at catcher and third base. His contributions on the field were not large (.241, 11 RBIs), but he made such an impact in the clubhouse and the dugout that it led to his current position.
"He was incredible," says A's shortstop Walt Weiss. "Every time we faced a young, unfamiliar pitcher, Tony [A's manager La Russa] would turn to Billy and ask, 'Do you know this guy?' He knew everybody. He'd tell us what a pitcher's tendencies were and what we could look for on certain counts."
Beane relished his role on the Athletics' bench. Ten years of discipline and attentiveness in places like Portland, Ore.; Toledo; and Tidewater had not gone to waste. "I couldn't help but study every opponent; it was my favorite part of the game," he says. "I think I was just too much of a fan to be a great player, though. I remember facing Tom Seaver in an exhibition game and thinking, ——, will you look at the way he dips and drives! How was I supposed to hit?"
At one time, the Mets envisioned Beane as one of the cornerstones of their outfield, opposite another '80 first-rounder, Darryl Strawberry. " Billy Beane can do just about anything," Strawberry said in 1985 when Beane was at Tidewater hitting .284 with 19 home runs and 77 RBIs. Beane was tabbed by the New York media as a replacement in leftfield for the Mets' aging George Foster, but Beane was sent to Minnesota early the following year as part of a trade for Tim Teufel. He spent the next three seasons bouncing back and forth between the big leagues and the minors. In August '89, when Beane's wife Cathy told him they would be having their first child, Beane's perspective on his baseball career changed.