Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Crony Island

We had to rub our eyes and check the TV again to believe them. There on the MLB Draft ticker last week, it said: In the 39th round, the Oakland A's select USC infielder Shane Boras, son of the famed superagent, Scott Boras.

Why do we care? Well, the selection is part of the problem with the A's, who are well on their way to a fifth consecutive non-winning season. The problem is that the A's front office, once the proud and celebrated home of critical thinking and "Moneyball," clearly has an illness.

The disease? Cronyism. And the Shane Boras draft selection is the biggest symptom. See, in the late rounds, the A's also took Brett Geren, ex-manager Bob Geren's son, and sons or nephews of A's first base coach Tye Waller and A's scouts Jim Coffman and Jeff Bittiger.

So, how did a money-mad agent like Scott Boras make his way into Billy Beane's notoriously frugal "A's family?"

This migh be the reason: In January, Scott Boras was quoted in a Jan. 20, 2011, Ken Rosenthal column saying that "the A's could become a success if moved to San Jose."

The facts don't support Boras' opinion -- that's been well-chronicled.

But it was a strange column for other reasons, too. Why would Boras, who is known for being a pain for owners, especially cheap ones like Fisher and Wolff, seem to be reading from Wolff's personal list of PR talking points about moving the team? And out of all the "experts" to comment on the matter, why would Rosenthal talk only to a money-obsessed players' agent who clearly has a personal financial stake in how much teams spend?

At first glance, it seemed Boras was doing Fisher and Wolff a favor, for whatever reason.

Nearly five months later, Beane and the A's repaid Boras the favor by picking his son in the draft. It's a lot like how Beane hired his wedding's best man, Bob Geren, to be the A's manager instead of a qualified candidate like Ron Washington. It's a good ol' boy network where buddies hook each other up, and where favors, back-scratching and going along to get along rule the day.

The downside to cronyism? Hooking your buddy up -- and having that favor repaid -- starts to take a backseat to other goals like winning or pleasing your customers.

For more than four seasons, Geren made one head-scratching, bad decision after the other, sending the team in a depressing downward spiral, and it took a near team mutiny before he finally was held accountable. Why? Because he is Beane's buddy.

On Crony Island, unfortunately, things like accountability, professionalism and competence are afterthoughts as long as you don't make waves and kiss up to the powers that be that hooked you up.

We've seen the corrosive, negative results of cronyism with Fisher's and Wolff's Oakland A's in the past five losing seasons. And, after the last day of the draft last week, when the A's had lost their 9th game in a row, Beane finally did fire Geren. But he also went out and gave A's fans more of the same on draft day: more cronies, the next generation.

Just ask Scott and Shane Boras.

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