It probably feels to you (as it certainly does to me) like we’ve done this particular edition before, seeing as how TCM and I are both unapologetic giant nerds and Joss Whedon fans, and have made those things clear many times over. But, nope: the show itself was a simile in my first-ever post on this site, and it’s been mentioned in passing around here a few other times, but it’s never been given the full Monday Metaphors (or whatever) treatment. Until now.
I’m still slogging my way through Buffy, actually, and in fact, I’m only a season or so further along than I was when I wrote the piece linked above nearly eleven months ago (I believe the next episode in the queue is the celebrated musical episode in the middle of season six). I’ve really enjoyed the show, but things get in the way: work, writing, kids, video game habit, etc. So I’m going to be doubly unfair: the below contains a lot of spoilers from seasons one through (part of) six, in case you hadn’t seen any of it and were somehow still planning to; but if you comment below (and I hope you do), please don’t reveal any spoilers from seasons six and seven.
With that out of the way, here are four big-league GMs and their BTVS doppelgangers:
Billy Beane is Spike.
Across the early seasons of Buffy, Spike emerges as the most consistent villain, probably the most complete character, and certainly the most badass. He’s a heartless, psychopathic vampire, kind of the counterpoint to Angel (who was a bit of a sad-sack romantic wuss while he was on Buffy, really, the precursor to what the “vampires” in the Twilight series seem from my extremely limited understanding to be). He had his leather jacket and sassy British accent and plenty of bitingly funny lines, but he could also be legitimately scary from time to time, on account of the unpredictability of the whole psychopathic, do-anything-to-anyone-at-any-time-with-no-remorse thing.
Then at some point, they kind of took his fangs out, almost literally. A chip was implanted in Spike’s head that caused him excruciating pain whenever he attempted to harm any human. That was actually a pretty clever concept, and it was a lot of fun, for a while, to watch how this monster adjusts to not really being able to be a monster anymore. He eventually turns to beating up other vampires and demons just because he has to hit something, which was fun. For a while. Then, though, he fell in love, with Buffy, the one person who’s supposed to be his mortal enemy. He still has his moments, but they’re much fewer and farther between; for the most part, it’s just been a sad transformation Spike has gone through, from kickass villain to whiny love-sick loser.
You might remember (they just made a whole movie about it, it was kind of a deal) that Billy Beane used to be considered quite the badass himself, as GMs go. Much more of a hero (to geeks like me) than a villain, but the salient point is that he, like Spike, was awesome at what he did. It seemed, for several years, like Beane could do no wrong. From where I am in season six, Spike’s awesome-villain days seem like forever ago, and Beane’s best-in-the-business days are starting to feel that way, too. He’s made some good moves — the acquisitions of Cespedes and Manny this year are, at least, interesting — but the A’s have, by and large, been bad, and so that reflects badly on Beane. I don’t actually think he’s at fault; I think he’s continued to do the best anyone could under the circumstances, but in the meantime those circumstances have gone from bad to untenable. From fifty feet of crap to a mile of crap, if you will.
Either way, whether it’s fair or not, the perception of Beane, even in a the minds of a lot of the sabermetrically inclined, is of a guy who has slid from unstoppable powerhouse to kind of ineffectual exemplar of mediocrity. Just like Spike.
Brian Cashman is Willow.
Willow (played by Alyson Hanigan, whose talents, like so many other great actors’, are currently being wasted on How I Met Your Mother) had an evolution that was kind of the opposite of Spike’s (but that’s not really how she’s like Cashman). She started out as Buffy’s nerdy shrinking violet of a best friend, and has grown, by season six, into an incredibly powerful witch (and an out-and-proud lesbian, one of the first openly gay TV characters that didn’t depend on a set of tired stereotypes or easy jokes). But even the transformed Willow is always kind of the surprise, reluctant hero. She’s typically still rather quiet and unsure of herself, but then when the situation calls for it, she has the one brilliant idea the group needs that no one else could have thought of, or uses her powers in an awesome and unexpected way, and saves the world just in time. She’s like a nerd-ninja.
…And Cashman has his own ninja-like qualities. It’s legally, certifiably wrong to say that anyone associated with the New York Yankees flies under the radar, and Cashman is probably the most scrutinized GM in professional sports, but I do think he is “under the radar” when it comes to great GM discussions. People assume his job is easier than others’ because he operates on a virtually unlimited budget — and make no mistake, it is easier. Much easier. But that doesn’t mean Cashman isn’t great at it, and every now and then, he comes out of nowhere and pulls off a really interesting, potentially brilliant move that doesn’t just come down to throwing more money at his problems than other teams are able to. This January 13, when he pulled off Pineda-for-Montero and the Hiroki Kuroda signing in the space of a few hours, was one of those moments. As with Willow, he’s done it dozens of times, but every time it does, it’s at least a little surprising.
Kenny Williams is Anya.
Anya was introduced to the show as a “vengeance demon,” spending eternity granting the vindictive wishes of women who had been wronged by men. She’s forced to become human again, though, and never quite readjusts, after thousands of years as a demon. Anya is shrewd (particularly with money, evidently), strong and courageous, but all her good qualities are overshadowed by her extreme awkwardness and uncomfortable bluntness, providing much of the show’s comic relief. That awkwardness is also used for more poignant purposes as the character develops, but for the most part, the story with Anya is awkwardness.
So with Kenny Williams. He’s made some good moves as GM of the White Sox (and some awful ones), but when Williams’ name has been in the news, it’s as likely to be because of some big awkward situation as it is because of more…GM-y things. Like Anya, he has a bit of a problem with that filter that’s supposed to exist between one’s brain and one’s mouth, publicly feuding with his manager and occasionally current or former players.
Terry Ryan is Buffy.
Obviously, Buffy is the star of the show, the one destined to protect Sunnydale from vampires and other hellish threats. She’s essentially unbeatable physically — with a combination of strength and agility that physics just couldn’t possibly allow to exist together on Sarah Michelle Gellar’s five-foot-nothingish frame — but for her physical perfection, she’s a mess of mental and emotional fallibility. She’s a great TV heroine, but (and because) deeply flawed.
At the end of season five (remember what I said about spoilers?), Buffy dies. It’s not actually the first time that’s happened, but that one seems a lot more permanent (the first time was, like, a couple minutes). At the time, no one was sure if the show was coming back, which would’ve made for a brilliant, if terribly sad, series finale. But then it did come back (on a different network), and in the first episode of season six, we see the gang trying to get on without her, and failing. They’re emotional wrecks without her, and while they’ve got their own little system of hunting vampires as a team, demons are starting to figure out that the slayer is gone, and the town (and world) is in serious danger of total destruction. In short, they just need Buffy. So the gang goes through a very dark, complicated, dangerous ritual to try to bring her back. Which, of course, they ultimately do; Buffy probably doesn’t last two more seasons without Buffy.
Terry Ryan is, all in all, an excellent GM. Like Buffy, he’s probably the best in the world at what he does well (in his case, running an amateur scouting and development system from the GM’s chair). Like Buffy, he also has a number of vital flaws and weaknesses (in his case they’ve historically been big-league free agent signings, though this year’s haven’t been bad at all).
Ryan has never been dead, as far as I know, but he’s been gone from the Twins’ GM position, and like Sunnydale without Buffy, it was a dark, awful time. As the gang did with Buffy, the Twins needed Ryan, and were willing to take extraordinary measures to bring him back (just firing a GM at all is extraordinary for the Twins, and their doing it in November as they did was virtually unprecedented). The hero is back in action, and here’s hoping he can eradicate the demons called to this team by Bill Smith’s unholy reign of terror.