Stanford's Jim Young reflects on Moneyball and his time with the A's
Among those anticipating the Sept. 23 release of the new Brad Pitt movie Moneyball is Jim Young, senior assistant athletic director for communications and media relations. Before coming to Stanford, Young was head of public relations for the Oakland A's and had a ringside seat for the 2002 season that is chronicled in the best-selling book on which the movie is based.
On Sept. 23, the movie Moneyball, starring Brad Pitt, will open. The film is based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by best-selling author Michael Lewis. The book chronicles the heroics of the 2002 Oakland Athletics and the team's general manager, Billy Beane. Beane is considered a pioneer of the sabermetric approach to baseball, which emphasizes objective data in the evaluation of players and the development of competitive strategies.
Among those planning to catch the film is Jim Young, Stanford senior assistant athletic director for communications and media relations, and former head of public relations for the A's. Young is mentioned in the book and credited by Lewis with making "life easier than it should have been in the press box."
Young talks about his time with the A's and the difference between piloting a college and professional athletic public relations office.
Are you going to go see Moneyball?
Absolutely. I will be watching with a very educated eye.
You are recognized by Michael Lewis in the book. Are you also represented in the movie?
I don't believe so. Matthew McConaughey wasn't available to play the PR guy, so they went in a different direction.
What's the difference between doing media and public relations for a college versus a pro baseball team?
While the goals and objectives are largely the same, the process of implementation and duties are drastically different. There are different challenges in both positions. My position with the A's required more hands-on media relations with the beat writers, local and national columnists, electronic outlets, etc., who covered the team on a regular basis. I had daily interaction with the media from the first day of spring training in mid-February until the end of the season in early October.
I also traveled with the club on a regular basis (60 percent of road trips), which presented its own set of challenges. I've been to Cleveland, Baltimore and Detroit far more times than I've been to Yosemite. It was not unusual to get back to the hotel at midnight and then spend three or more hours preparing the game notes for the next day. Day games after night games were especially challenging.
On the collegiate level, communication departments now take on the role as "providers" as opposed to "facilitators" when building out coverage for their teams. Outside of football and basketball, collegiate sports aren't covered regularly by traditional media outlets. In order to meet the demands of our fans, we bridge that gap by becoming our own beat writers, columnists and video producers. Our website and social media platforms have allowed us to transition from a media relations department to a multimedia relations unit. It's very organic in that sense.
While a baseball PR director's position may be the ultimate media relations position, working on the collegiate level may be the ultimate communications position. My position at Stanford combines the best elements of media and public relations, sports writing and video producing, along with other unique administrative challenges.
How did you end up working at the Oakland Athletics?
Prior to joining the A's in January of 2000, I had served as the athletic media relations director at Santa Clara University for 10 years. In addition to my full-time duties at Santa Clara, I also moonlighted for a national wire service, covering San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's home games for 15 years. If there was a Giants game played at Candlestick Park between 1984 and 1999, there was a 90 percent chance I was covering it.
I've always had a deep passion for baseball. Serving as director of public relations with the Oakland A's for eight seasons afforded me the opportunity to combine two of my passions – baseball and communications. I caught the organization at a very exciting time. We went to the playoffs five times in my eight seasons, had two MVPs, a Cy Young Award winner and two rookies of the year.
Were you an adherent of sabermetrics before you got there?
I was familiar with sabermetrics, but I was never one to participate in fantasy leagues or Rotisserie baseball. Starting with [former A's General Manager] Sandy Alderson in the early and mid-90s, the A's were the first organization to utilize sabermetrics in evaluating players. Sandy saw the value in statistics that were virtually ignored by other organizations, such as on-base percentage, WHIP [walks plus hits per inning pitched] and VORP [value over replacement player].
Billy Beane continued embracing that organizational philosophy when he was appointed general manager. Where the Yankees were quick to sign Roger Clemens for $15 million a year, the A's got the same, if not better, production out of Cory Lidle, for example.
The concept of Moneyball was more than a means on how to interpret statistical data. It's about taking a critical eye and challenging conventional thinking in all parts of your organization.
What was it like being part of the A's organization in 2002?
Unbelievable. After winning 102 games the year before and then losing Jason Giambi in the offseason, many had picked the A's to finish last in the American League West that season. But the club still had some of the best young talent in baseball, with Eric Chavez, Miguel Tejada, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito all in their prime.
We acquired David Justice and Scott Hatteberg in the offseason, two players who were thought to be at the end of their careers. Cory Lidle, rest his soul, was the best pitcher on the planet for two months. The 20-game winning streak was amazing. Early on in the streak, Justice had a ritual of saying, "Well, you can't win four in a row until you win three in a row," and so on. The mantra kept growing and became more prophetic as the weeks went on.
Tejada had a huge series in late August against Minnesota that I think clinched the Most Valuable Player award for him. I was on the field near the dugout when Hatteberg hit the walk-off home run against Kansas City for the 20th straight win. Unfortunately, the season didn't end the way we would have liked. We lost to a hot Twins team in the [American League Division Series] in five games, but what a run.