Billy's coach, Sam Blalock, didn't know what to make of the scouts. "I've got this ¬first-¬round draft pick," he says, "and fifteen and twenty scouts showing up every time we scrimmage. And I didn't know what to do. I'd never played pro ball." Twenty years later Sam Blalock would be selected by his peers as the best high school baseball coach in the country. His teams at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego would produce so many big league prospects that the school would come to be known, in baseball circles, as "The Factory." But in 1979 Blalock was only a few years into his job, and he was still in awe of Major League Baseball, and its many representatives who turned up at his practices. Each and every one of them, it seemed, wanted to get to know Billy Beane personally. It got so that Billy would run from practice straight to some friend's house to avoid their incessant phone calls to his home. With the scouts, Billy was cool. With his coaches, Billy was cool. The only one who ever got to Billy where he lived was an English teacher who yanked him out of class one day and told him he was too bright to get by on his athletic gifts and his charm. For her, Billy wanted to be better than he was. For the scouts?well, the scouts he could take or leave.
What Sam Blalock now thinks he should have done is to herd the scouts into a corner and tell them to just sit there until such time as they were called upon. What he did, instead, was whatever they wanted him to do; and what they wanted him to do was trot his star out for inspection. They'd ask to see Billy run. Sam would have Billy run sprints for them. They'd ask to see Billy throw and Billy would proceed to the outfield and fire rockets to Sam at the plate. They'd want to see Billy hit and Sam would throw batting practice with no one there but Billy and the scouts. ("Me throwing, Billy hitting, and twenty big league scouts in the outfield shagging flies," recalls Blalock.) Each time the scouts saw Billy they saw only what they wanted to see: a future big league star.
As for Billy?Sam just let him be. Baseball, to Blalock's way of thinking, at least at the beginning of his career, was more of an individual than a team sport, and more of an instinctive athletic event than a learned skill. Handed an athlete of Billy's gifts, Blalock assumed, a coach should just let him loose. "I was young and a little bit scared," Blalock says, "and I didn't want to screw him up." He'd later change his mind about what baseball was, but he'd never change his mind about Billy's talent. ¬Twenty-¬two years later, after more than sixty of his players, and two of his nephews, had been drafted to play pro baseball, Blalock would say that he had yet to see another athlete of Billy's caliber.