The 2002 season began pretty bleakly for the Oakland A's, as anyone who's seen the film "Moneyball" knows.
During the offseason the club lost outfielder Johnny Damon, pitcher Jason Isringhausen and first baseman Jason Giambi to free agency. Basically, most of the key players who had taken the A's to the playoffs had just left for better paychecks, leaving wide statistical holes in offense and defense. And the franchise couldn't offer much budget to use as backfill. It's a classic problem experienced by smaller-market teams across the U.S.: The big-budget teams snatch up all the best players.
To solve their problem, general manager Billy Beane and his assistant Paul DePodesta mined the data of the league's scrapheap to identify some of the most affordable and overlooked players. While it was a key strategy to the team's success that year, you could argue that the team already had a good base of players in place, making its return to the playoffs not such a surprise [source: Corcoran].
Either way, winning 20 games in a row is no accident. Starting at game 120 of their season, the A's worked their way through the Blue Jays, Whitesox, Indians, Tigers, Royals and the Twins [source: Baseball Almanac]. That's when the baseball teams, fans and pundits started taking Beane and DePodesta's experiment very seriously. Without that streak and their subsequent trip to their league playoffs, their strategy might have been written off.
Some say they reinvented the game. Others say they reinvented the game for teams with smaller budgets by creating a blueprint for making the most of what they have. It should be said that they also changed the game for every fan who ever won a baseball argument by boring their opponent into submission with a wall of statistical minutia. You can't argue with the numbers, and for the A's, that number is 20.