Monday, September 26, 2011

Moneyball and Fuson

Reading or watching Moneyball, you would think Grady Fuson drafted Curly, Larry and Moe, not Hudson, Mulder and Zito for the Oakland A's.

You would've thought statistical analysis drove Oakland's improbable success, less so the three frontline pitchers Fuson chose from colleges in the South, Midwest and West after drawing on scouting reports and some statistical profiles.

If the characterization bothered Fuson, who worked for the Padres from 2005 through 2009, I've never sensed it.


"I was big on statistics," Fuson told me last week, "but at the same time, there was a balance on how we did things with the A's. You could tell statistics were certainly being used in a much higher part of the evaluation scheme -- but the stars of that club were still signed through the draft or international scouting."

Fuson knows a good story when he reads or sees one. Moneyball, like most everything Michael Lewis has written, is a good story extremely well told. Nor does Fuson confuse Hollywood with C-Span.

"The movie obviously is bringing things from the book back to fruition to some degree," he said, "but, hey, it's a movie."

His lone gripe about the book Moneyball was the mocking of a few A's scouts who worked for him. And he winced when executives with other clubs came off as dopes.

"When it was all said and done," he said, "I think the thing that bothered people the most  were certain comments that took personal hits at people."

When Brad Pitt persuaded Hollywood to make the book into a movie, Fuson heard from Ken Medlock, the actor assigned to play him.

"He did all of the talking," Fuson said, laughing.

Later, the moviemaking took an unexpected turn that touched Fuson's friend Tom Gamboa, a former instructor in the Padres' farm system. Moneyball's director had Gamboa play one of the scouts in a scene in which Billy Beane, then a star outfielder at Mt. Carmel High in Rancho Penasquitos, works out for several major league clubs in 1980. The pay wasn't bad -- $300 per day plus another $700 if Gamboa's lines made it past the editing room. The kicker: Gamboa, in fact, was at one of Beane's workouts 30 years ago but had forgotten about it until the scene jogged his memory, Fuson said.

Fuson hadn't seen Moneyball when we chatted last week, but he associates Lewis' book with good times in the late 1990s through late 2001, when the Rangers hired him away from the A's.

 "When I think about it now, it means more about a time of winning," Fuson said. "Oakland just had this very good run during that period of time. And let's face it, it would never have taken place without Zito, Mulder and Hudson."

Fuson defined Moneyball, the philosophy, as "trying to find ways to strive for excellence in the evaluation process."

"Everybody is trying to strive for that, and everybody has different ways of doing it," he said.

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