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September 25, 2007
Weighin' in at 19 Stone, Part One of Two
I recently sat down to talk with two executives, one from an AL club, and one from a NL club. They agreed to the interview only if their identities were protected. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, the executives had final edits of their statements in this two-part interview. To answer the inevitable questions, no, I won't tell you who these guys are, nor are you the only person to email in, either asking for their names, or certain you know who they are.-Gary
GH: Okay, let's get this out of the way at the very beginning. The two of you have been kind enough to agree to sit down and talk with us, and we really appreciate it. Our readers enjoy these conversations a great deal, and I always get a bunch of emails trying to find out the identities of the front office execs who sit down with us. So, just to set the record straight, have either of you ever worked, in any capacity for Baseball Prospectus?
NL Exec: No, I've never made that kind of money.
AL Exec: No, so your posse is safe.
GH: Excellent. Okay, let's get started. I'd like your opinion on the front offices that have done the best job this year, and why. And don't be falsely modest.
NL Exec: Believe it or not, I think the Oakland team's done very well.
AL Exec: Oh, come on.
NL Exec: No, I'm serious. They've been destroyed by injuries, and they're within breathing distance of .500. They're not going to win the World Series, but Forst and Beane have done great. They lost Loaiza, the Harden kid, Crosby, Chavez, Street, and they keep finding guys like Gaudin, Hannahan, and Buck. That's good work, no matter what the results end up being. And Jack Cust has worked out great for them.
AL Exec: I see it another way. Two ways, really. They were in trouble because of some really bad contracts. Kendall was a total disaster, and if they'd done their homework there, they wouldn't have gotten him. I know the perception's different, but Beane's hurt himself with some pretty bad contracts. Remember Terrence Long?
GH: What's the other way?
AL Exec: Not valuing durability highly enough. It's a good thing to have a bunch of talent, but you've got to have dependability, too. It's not surprising to see Crosby, Harden, and Chavez out with injuries, is it? If you have a portfolio of six guys that are very good but fragile, that might be enough, but it might not. Everyone knows Chris Snelling can play if he's healthy. And everyone knows he'll never be healthy. He's just not.
GH: So who'd you nominate for best 2007 front office work?
AL Exec: Maybe Arizona, Milwaukee, or Cleveland.
AL Exec: It's not a fluke that Arizona's way outperforming what they should be doing in terms of runs scored and allowed. Having a real outlier bullpen, one way or another, will distort the team's performance relative to expectations. That should be obvious, but it's not talked about enough in the blogs. The reason is simple. If you have great relievers, you can control their tactical deployment, and use them in higher leverage situations. You can't control when your sluggers will hit home runs. You can't know, in advance, when your number one starter is going to have his dominant stuff. But you always know the score of the game. And the Snakes have shown they know how to do that.
GH: Okay, so the D'backs understand the value of leverage, and have multiplied the amplitude of their strength. What about Cleveland and Milwaukee?
AL Exec: Look at the young talent Milwaukee has. It's not 2007 front office work, really, but it's pretty impressive-that's some serious scouting. Cleveland took a bunch of good gambles. Two of them, Dellucci and Nixon, haven't worked out, but that's really just bad luck. And not many teams could survive having their core offensive guy just totally tanking for the year. Hafner's not a much different hitter than Pujols, and where would the Cardinals be if he [Pujols] fell off the face of the earth for a year?
NL Exec: I think they re-upped him to a deal that will look cheap a year from now, too.
AL Exec: If he was just hiding a one-year injury. If not, it's going to hurt.
GH: Let's talk about Barry Bonds.
NL Exec: Do we have to?
AL Exec: He'll play 110 games next year, start 65 as a DH.
AL Exec: Won't step over the line on anything close to tampering. Uh-uh.
NL Exec: Sorry, you're the press.
GH: You'll have total anonymity!
NL Exec: We'd only be guessing anyway.
AL Exec: Next question.
GH: Hmph. What do you think would surprise our readers the most about your jobs?
NL Exec: Probably the hours. I don't know how it is everywhere else, but I work pretty much around the clock. Always have, since I've been in the game. And as you move up to higher positions than mine, it only gets worse. I know that policemen have problems keeping their families together because of the stress, but the same goes for our [jobs]. I don't know too many people whose marriage can stand the hours of the jobs. We've always got tons of stuff to work on, and we never have enough people to do the work. Never. Not even close. You talk about scientific decision-making a lot, and that's kind of your thing, but a lot of times, you don't have the time necessary to do that kind of studying on something. You have to move, and everything's always a fire drill.
AL Exec: I agree. I think everyone knows we work a lot of hours, but when we say 'A lot of hours,' we're not talking about 50 hours a week. Things kind of come and go. There are weeks where I actually sleep in the office with a duffel bag of clothes. We really can work 90, 100 hours a week, and that's out of 168 in a week to do everything, including eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. But there are quiet times, too. Most of those are during the season.
GH: How do the decisions about players get made in your office?
AL Exec: In our office, guys like me respond to requests that can come at any time when we're considering a tender or a pickup or something. I put together an information packet, which gets passed up the line. Usually, the decisions are discussed by several people above my pay grade. It gets kind of complicated, because it's never a question of "should we get this particular guy?" It's usually picking the best available option out of a whole bunch, and I haven't been privy to most of those discussions. The ones I have been involved in have been pretty thorough, and the money usually complicates things.
GH: Always does.
NL Exec: I think it's a little bit different for us-the money doesn't enter into it as much. Not because we're the Yankees or anything, but because there's a pretty close relationship between the baseball up-or-down guy [GH Note: that's a decision maker.] and the finance people. I've seen other teams have to make decisions all the time where they have to decide on say, a second baseman, and they're looking at four possible candidates, and they don't know how much two of them will cost, or for how long. That would be hard, and I've seen that from the outside.
AL Exec: And that's one of the big differences between baseball, or really any entertainment, and other businesses. Can you imagine buying a house where you've narrowed it down to three houses, and you knew two of their locations, and two of their prices, leaving certainty for only one house, and then having someone point a gun to your head to decide on which one to buy? It's messed up, but it's the way things are.
NL Exec: The agents make it that way.
AL Exec: They certainly don't make it easier.
GH: How much contact do you have with agents?
AL Exec: I don't have much. I talk with them occasionally, and it's usually one of the people in the office, rather than the specific agent.
NL Exec: I have some, but it's usually on behalf of someone whose been DFA'd, and is scrambling for a job somewhere. There's a pretty substantial network of friends and people you just talk to more. Some are agents, some are GMs, some are scouts. That's probably true anywhere, though. I mean, if you have 20 people at Baseball Prospectus, how many do you talk to on a very regular basis, and how do you learn about things? So the people in the agency that know me, they talk to me, and I talk to them.
GH: Come to think of it, those kind of informal networks do track exceptionally well with communication patterns. And to answer your question, the people I talk most with at BP are Nate Silver, Joe Sheehan, Dave Pease, and Will Carroll. And there's about 40 people total, I think. Interesting.
AL Exec: One big difference is that you're paid more than we are.
NL Exec: Stone.
NL Exec: I agree completely. You're old.
GH: I may be old, but I've never heard that expression.
AL Exec: I haven't, either. But I'll use it from now on.
GH: I've heard salary horror stories, and had an offer that I couldn't come close to accepting, but is there really a massive difference compared to what you could make elsewhere?
AL Exec: Yes, absolutely. But I have fewer expenses, too. Since I have no time, I don't spend any money. And I can't remember the last time I paid for food at lunch or dinner. But I'd easily give up the extra $50,000 a year I could make somewhere else for the life I have now. You just can't beat it. No way. It's as cool and fun as people dream it is, and there's thousands of qualified people who would take my job at half the salary I make now. Which is why I don't get paid much.
NL Exec: For me, there's not that much of a difference. I never considered doing anything else, so I really don't know what I could make elsewhere.
GH: I still get probably 50 emails a month from people wanting to break into the game. Most of them have perseverence to offer over qualifications. Is that enough?
NL Exec: If they have an 'in', and a reference that someone will actually read, then it might be enough in the right circumstances. But they've got to know that if they can do that, so can everyone else, and we get people that dedicated with college degrees from MIT every week. So that guy's going to get a look first. But there's also just not that many job openings.
AL Exec: I can only say that for us, it's not enough. We get at least a hundred unsolicited resumes a month, in a slow month. If it didn't get handed to us by someone we trust who's willing to vouch for the guy, it won't get a serious look.
GH: Is it always guys?
AL Exec: I don't remember a woman's resumé showing up this year, but there were a couple last year.
NL Exec: We get a lot from women-maybe five, 10 a month.
GH: Hired any?
NL Exec: No, but no men either, at least recently.
GH: I'll ask this, knowing I won't get an answer.
AL Exec: You already destroyed our consulting budget. No, we don't want your study.
GH: Darn. My question is about discrimination. Do you see it, at your club or others?
AL Exec: I really don't. I'll grant you that there's a lot of white guys in the game, and that hiring tends to go that way. But I don't see it as racist, or sexist, or discriminatory. The hiring and promotion is so much based on relationships and comfort. Loyalty is everything in this game. I'm loyal to the guy that hired me, and the guys I've worked with, so if I move on and have hiring authority, I'm going to want to bring someone in who I know does work well, and who I'm comfortable with.
NL Exec: That's part of the hours thing. If you're working as much as we are, in close quarters, you absolutely have to get along with your friends on the team. Otherwise, work becomes a bad place to be, and you can't do that if you're spending more than half your life at work.
AL Exec: Exactly. And so if someone moves, they try to bring in the people they know, which is one reason you see movement of people, rather than an influx of new people. It's all driven by connections.
NL Exec: How many calls and emails have you made on behalf of your guys, trying to introduce them to people and singing their praises?
GH: I don't know. Probably a hundred.
NL Exec: Why?
GH: Because I want to help.
AL Exec: See? There you go. How many of those people have been African-American or female?
AL Exec: That's all part of it. And let me ask you this: How many of the people you've made calls for are highly skilled?
GH: All of them. Wouldn't make the calls otherwise.
AL Exec: Because your reputation is on the line.
GH: Sure. If I recommend or introduce a bozo, then I take a credibility hit. The communication network is more complex than that, too, as you know.
AL Exec: So the team adds someone great, but the diversity isn't there.
NL Exec: And think of how many people there are like you, making those calls, passing on resumés, IMing about how great someone is. You're not even an insider, but you can get an ear of someone. Think of how many people there are in your shoes. We get calls and resumés and lunches out with agents, sports information directors, people from other teams, broadcasting teams, local sportscasters, radio guys…it never stops. And most of the time, they're pushing a pretty well-qualified white guy.
AL Exec: Almost always. So if I get a resumé and a note from you for some 22-year-old kid who just graduated Pepperdine, where he played ball, and worked as an intern for you on research projects, I'm going to read his resumé. But if it arrives in a stack, no chance.
NL Exec: You're just more likely to be pushing someone who's white and male. You just are. There's no grand plot, it just works out that way.
GH: Do you think clubs need to do more in terms of building a more diverse management mix, in terms of race and gender?
AL Exec: I think that if there's going to be progress made on that, it's going to take a considered, planned effort, really. We really do try, but as I said earlier, that takes time, and it makes it more likely that you'll make a bad hire, because you won't necessarily have someone vouching for someone.
GH: Whoa, whoa, whoa-I want to clarify this, so you don't get pilloried because of a lack of context. You're not suggesting that a woman or a minority is more likely to be a bad hire, right? You're suggesting that anyone, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, religious affiliation, political affiliation, or affiliation affiliation who doesn't come with a trusted recommendation is more likely to be a bad hire?
AL Exec: Yes, that's right. And we're not going to edit that out or ever release my name, right?
NL Exec: It's all about the networking. True everywhere.
[Here ends Part One; you can expect Part Two in two weeks.]