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This is my first day back from vacation and while I was gone Billy Beane dismantled the A?s pitching staff and yanked his team out of contention, and ? this absolutely kills me ? everyone is praising the guy.

I don?t just mean the average fan. I mean sportswriters are praising him, sportswriters who should know better, sportswriters who are my friends and seem sane in all contexts except when it comes to Billy Beane. Where Beane is concerned they are chronic Beanists, Beanophiles and, worst of all, Beanoholics.

Beane never has asked for this worship, never has demanded that a cult form around him ? the Cult of Billy ? never has asked sportswriters to drink the Billy Kool-Aid. But they have, anyway. People are praising this guy when he so clearly deserves hard scrutiny and, yes, criticism.

Call me crazy but I think the A?s are a better team with Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, whom Beane recently traded for a bunch of minor leaguers, prospects, unknowns. Call me crazy but I think Beane soon may trade pitchers Justin Duchscherer and Huston Street. Call fans and writers crazy because they will laud Beane?s genius if he does. Please, cease and desist. Please stop being crazy.

The pro-Beane argument ? and I?ve heard it until I?m woozy ? goes like this: The A?s ? whip out the violins here ? are a poor, small-market team and can?t be expected to compete with big, rich meanie teams like the Angels and Yankees. So they must ? I emphasize ?must? ? trade their good players for nobodies in order to make money, in order to afford being a baseball team in these economically unfair times. I feel like weeping just writing those words.

In exchange for really good players like Harden, they get players who will be good in a few years. This is where the Beanists kneel and kiss Billy?s ring. He is the messiah. When these players mature, the A?s will be one honking good team. In this regard, Beane?s philosophy is like communism. It never ever works in the present but it will work in some far-off mythical moment that never comes.

That?s right, it never comes.Because when the good young players get older, Beane trades or unloads them as he unloaded Miguel Tejada, but kept Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez, a baseball sin if there ever was one. Do you honestly believe Beane will hold onto outfielder Carlos Gonzalez when Gonzalez is 27 and at the top of his game and could demand a $100 million contract? Beane will cry poor and trade Gonzalez to the White Sox for six minor leaguers and a potato peeler from Ronco, and everyone will praise Beane. And the A?s rebuilding process will extend into the future ? to infinity.

Beane does not run a baseball team in the sense of really running a baseball team. He is a baseball-player middleman, a wholesaler who acquires and sells players. Under him the A?s are a player clearinghouse. A?s ownership imposes no expectations on him. Other GMs actually try to win, maybe even get to the World Series. Not Beane. He tries to do ?well enough.?

Well enough is not the same as excellent. Well enough keeps up appearances and prevents fans from bellyaching. Well enough preserves the bottom line. But well enough is not nearly good enough in real baseball organizations.

If Beane wanted to compete in the dynamic, scary world of the big leagues he could have become the Red Sox general manager. He toyed with the idea but backed out. He had his reasons. He likes the Northern California lifestyle.

You can look at it another way. Why would Beane test himself in Boston and perhaps fail when he has it made in Oakland? Of course, he could win a championship in Boston and he never will with the A?s, but he and the A?s don?t want championships. They want the appearance of succeeding, not the reality.

Sometimes I wonder if Beane is as confident as he seems. He surrounds himself with people who are beholden to him. His manager is his childhood friend. His team is mostly a bunch of young guys or mediocre or over-the hill veterans, guys who owe their big-league existence to Beane. He hired his assistant GM when the guy was still in his 20s.

Where are the people who might stand up to Beane, tell him he?s all wet? Where is the stud superstar, the Manny Ramirez, the Vladimir Guerrero? You never will find someone like that on the A?s because that someone would have his own sphere of influence and that would diminish Beane.

People who root for the A?s do not root for a team ? if by a team you mean a bunch of players you get to know and pull for. A?s fans root for a uniform and an economic business model. ?Gee, Gladys, we unloaded our best player but got seven minor-leaguers who haven?t started shaving and we saved $10 million. That?s great, and Billy sure is terrific.?

Beane has the best job in the world. He?s a part owner of the team and makes a ton of money and the standards are so low he never can fail. Getting that job was his true genius. Check that. Convincing everyone he?s a genius is his true genius.

You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at 521-5486 or lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.