On the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything extraordinary about
Oakland Athletics first baseman Scott Hatteberg. His build is average, his career batting average of .267 is, well, average,
and, entering the 2004 season, he’d never hit more than 15 homeruns or driven more than 61 runs in a season -- average
If you still don‘t agree, just ask him. "I am pretty hard on myself,"
said Hatteberg, who spent the first 11 years of his professional career as a catcher. "I’ve got a long way to go, but
I am definitely average (as a first baseman) as far as compared to the other guys."
Hatteberg had spent seven years as a reserve catcher for the Boston Red
Sox when he signed with Oakland in December 2001. Instead of putting him behind the plate, A’s general manager Billy
Beane anointed him the team’s starting first baseman. Oh yeah, and the guy he was replacing, Jason Giambi, had won the
MVP in 2000 and finished second in the voting in 2001. Needless to say, the decision raised eyebrows around the league.
Beane couldn’t have cared less about Hatteberg’s mediocre .245
batting average the previous season; instead, he focused on his command of the strike zone, ability to bleed out long at bats,
and his knack for simply getting on base. Those are the facets of the game that Hatteberg has mastered far more than the average
player. They are also the qualities often overlooked and undervalued in baseball’s market place, which is exactly why
Beane and the cash-strapped A’s covet them.
Beane’s gamble paid off. In 2002, Hatteberg posted a .374 on-base-percentage,
learned the new position quickly, and the A’s won 103 games and reached the playoffs for the third straight season.
Meanwhile, best-selling author Michael Lewis was documenting Oakland’s entire season for what would become Moneyball,
the most important baseball book since Ball Four.
Not only is Hatteberg mentioned in the book, there is an entire chapter
dedicated to him, entitled "Scott Hatteberg: Pickin‘ Machine". "It was pretty odd," the Oregon native said of his role
in the book. "I got to know Michael (Lewis) and it was fun being part of it. I never dreamed I’d have a chapter written
"It was completely accurate as far as what he was writing about me," he
continued. "As far as (Lewis’) conclusions, that’s up to whoever wants to draw them."
The notoriety did have a slight downside, mainly the ribbing he continues
to get from teammates, "They call me ‘pickin’ machine’ and funny stuff like that," the 34-year-old explained.
Now in his third season with Oakland, Hatteberg has developed a close relationship
with the man that gave him his big break. "(I know Billy Beane) very well," the 10-year-veteran said. "He’s always around,
we talk all the time -- he’s very hands on. I love his philosophy and all, and just because I’ve always done what
he’s preached, it’s pretty interesting to speak with him."
When asked what Beane has meant to his career, Hatteberg replied, "(If
it weren’t for him), I could be shoveling snow, who knows?"
By early August of this season, Hatteberg had matched his career high in
RBI and was well on his way to establishing personal bests in batting average and homeruns. As always, his on-base-percentage
is stellar, hovering in the .370 range.
The transplanted backstop is even finally settling into his new position,
"I will always feel like a catcher, but I am finally getting a little more comfortable at first base," the unassuming veteran
explained. "(I’m) getting better."
While the Athletics have enjoyed remarkable regular season success this
decade, they have been unable to win a postseason series. Like everyone else in the organization, Hatteberg is at a loss to
"I wish I could tell you," he commented. "A little luck wouldn’t
hurt, I mean last year we could have come out of that series (ALDS vs. Boston) 3-0 with just any luck. A five game series
is short and we’ve got the guys who can do it. If you keep showing up there, you are going to win one sooner or later."
He is however quick to point out that just getting to the postseason is
an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly, "We play for eight months and if we make it to the playoffs and come up
short in the playoffs, it would be a disappointment, but I would never call it a failure."
Thanks to the vision of Billy Beane, nobody should call Scott Hatteberg
-David Zingler, September 2004