The other bad sign was that Billy kept saying he didn't want to play pro baseball. He wanted to go to college. Specifically, he wanted to attend Stanford University on a joint baseball and football scholarship. He was at least as interested in the school as the sports. The baseball recruiter from the University of Southern California had tried to talk Billy out of Stanford. "They'll make you take a whole week off for final exams," he'd said. To which Billy had replied, "That's the idea, isn't it?" A few of the scouts had tried to point out that Billy didn't actually play football?he'd quit after his sophomore year in high school, to avoid an injury that might end his baseball career. Stanford didn't care. The university was in the market for a quarterback to succeed its current star, a sophomore named John Elway. The baseball team didn't have the pull that the football team had with the Stanford admissions office, and so the baseball coach asked the football coach to have a look at Billy. A few hours on the practice field and the football coach endorsed Billy Beane as the man to take over after John Elway left. All Billy had to do was get his B in math. The Stanford athletic department would take care of the rest. And it had.
By the day of the draft every big league scout had pretty much written off Billy as unobtainable. "Billy just scared a lot of people away," recalls scout Paul Weaver. "No one thought he was going to sign." It was insane for a team to waste its only ¬first-¬round draft choice on a kid who didn't want to play.
The only one who refused to be scared off was Roger Jongewaard. The Mets had three ¬first-¬round picks in the 1980 draft and so, Jongewaard figured, the front office might be willing to risk one of them on a player who might not sign. Plus there was this other thing. In the months leading up to the draft the Mets front office had allowed themselves to become part of a strange experiment. Sports Illustrated had asked the Mets' general manager, Frank Cashen, if one of the magazine's reporters could follow the team as it decided who would become the first overall draft pick in the country. The Mets had shown the magazine their short list of prospects, and the magazine had said it would be convenient, journalistically, if the team selected Darryl Strawberry.
Strawberry was just a great story: a poor kid from the ¬inner-¬city of Los Angeles who didn't know he was about to become rich and famous. Jongewaard, who preferred Billy to Strawberry, argued against letting the magazine become involved at all because, as he put it later, "we'd be creating a monster. It'd cost us a lot of money." The club overruled him. The Mets front office felt that the benefits of the national publicity outweighed the costs of raising Darryl Strawberry's expectations, or even of picking the wrong guy. The Mets took Strawberry with the first pick and paid him a then fantastic signing bonus of $210,000. The Blue Jays took Garry Harris with the second pick of the draft. Darnell Coles went to the Mariners with the sixth pick, and Cecil Espy to the White Sox with the eighth pick. With their second first-round draft pick, the ¬twenty-¬third overall, the Mets let Roger Jongewaard do what he wanted, and Jongewaard selected Billy Beane.