Open (Re)Source-fulness

I present to you The Man Who Staked His Future On Open Source, starring:

Billy Beane …. as Lou Gerstner
Oakland A's …. as IBM
Bill James …. as Linus Torvalds
Paul DePodesta …. as Sam Palmisano

Or vice-versa.

(Hey, I know that I haven't found roles for everyone yet, or that the characters listed aren't exact fits … that's what the people in Casting are for!!)

The point is this: both Beane and Gerstner steered the future direction of their respective companies based upon tools that developed in an open source fashion. For Beane and the Oakland Athletics, it was the decision to use sabermetric analysis to field competitive baseball teams for less money; for Gerstner and IBM, it was the decision to build support for Linux — freely available operating system software — into their general corporate strategy.

The question though, is where does Beane go from here? IBM has the ability to change the rules of the market: once upon a time they were a hardware company, then they became a software company, and now with their support of Linux, they are becoming a consulting company — for there is a great deal of money to be made in integrating free (though more secure) server software into the corporate world.

Beane has no such luxury: the object of baseball is and always will be to score more runs than the other team, and thus win more games.

So what happens to Beane when the window of his competitive advantage begins to close? DePodesta, who was set to take over the reins in Oakland when Beane was on his way to Boston, is now the GM of the Dodgers. When Beane balked at the move, Theo Epstein became the youngest GM in baseball by assuming that mantle with the Red Sox. And another Beane protege, J.P. Ricciardi, is now at the helm of the Toronto Blue Jays. Each brings with him the sabermetric bag of tricks to his new job, and in the first two cases at least, arrive to find far more money waiting for them to spend.

Beane will have no choice but to innovate technologically or change jobs, and since he just turned down the Boston post, it seems safe to say that the latter option is out for the foreseeable future. So he must become even more precise with his statistical modeling to stay ahead of DePodesta, Epstein, Ricciardi and the other GMs around Major League Baseball. He must embrace the entire open source core of sabermetrician prosumers, and somehow convert that high identification into proprietary knowledge. The entire culture of baseball, right down to developing grade-school athletes, will begin to revolve around this model and OPS will become the new sign of success.

He might never win his championship, but he will have changed the game forever.

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