SBJ/November 7 - 13, 2005/Other News

Baseball Calls Up Young Guns

Andrew Friedman, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ 28-year-old executive vice president of baseball operations, has spent less than three years in baseball. Gerry Hunsicker, the Devil Rays’ 55-year-old senior vice president of baseball operations, boasts nearly three decades of work in nearly every facet of the game, and played a key role in assembling the roster of the National League Champion Houston Astros.

A look at some under-30 senior executives around baseball

Matt Silverman
President, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Birthdate: May 20, 1976
Hometown: Dallas
Favorite MLB teams growing up: Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers
College: Harvard University
Professional background: Worked in Goldman Sachs’ real estate finance division. Served a brief stint as CFO of a real estate software company that died in the dot-com crash of 2000. Returned to Goldman Sachs and struck up a relationship with current Devil Rays owner Stuart Sternberg. Spent the last two years in front-office roles such as director of strategic planning and vice president of planning and development.

Andrew Friedman
Executive vice president of
baseball operations,  Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Birthdate: Nov. 13, 1976
Hometown: Houston
Favorite MLB team growing up: Houston Astros
College: Tulane University
Professional background: Former investment banking analyst with Bear Stearns. Spent three years as an associate with private equity firm MidMark Capital, and the last two years as the Devil Rays’ director of baseball development.

Jon Daniels
General Manager, Texas Rangers

Birthdate: Aug. 24, 1977
Hometown: New York
Favorite MLB team growing up: New York Mets
College: Cornell University
Professional background: Former intern with the Colorado Rockies. Started with the Rangers in 2001 as a baseball operations assistant. Promoted to director of baseball operations in 2003.

Peter Woodfork
Director of baseball operations,
Boston Red Sox

Birthdate: Oct. 16, 1976
Hometown: Swampscott, Mass.
Favorite MLB team growing up: Boston Red Sox
College: Harvard University
Professional background: Former coordinator, contract and salary administration, Major League Baseball. Joined the Red Sox in his current role in 2003.

Yet, it will be Hunsicker who will be reporting to Friedman, and on up the line to Matt Silverman, Tampa Bay’s 29-year-old team president, as part of a new front-office structure announced last week.

The ascendancy of Friedman and Silverman highlights a front-office youth movement that shows no signs of stopping, even amid last week’s high-profile departures of 31-year-old Boston Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein and Los Angeles Dodgers General Manager Paul DePodesta, 32.

Rather, the trend is only accelerating and deepening as MLB teams in growing numbers are turning over key parts of team operations to executives who have yet to hit their 30th birthdays, and whose backgrounds are not in baseball but in business.

In Texas, Rangers owner Tom Hicks has entrusted his club to 28-year-old general manager Jon Daniels. And in Boston, 29-year-old Peter Woodfork, who played a key role in last year’s championship team as director of baseball operations, is weighing his options after Epstein’s departure and could be promoted. If Woodfork leaves the Red Sox, he will easily be in high demand around the league.

If Epstein, who three years ago became the youngest GM in history at the age of 28 and helped end an 86-year title drought, cracked opened the door of baseball’s front-office youth movement, the latest crop of hires is bursting it open.

“I think it’s pretty clear that Theo helped open the minds of owners and fans that a young executive can work in this game and do the job at a high level,” Silverman said. “My age is still a factor in terms of perceptions, meeting people for the first time. But once I get a chance to talk to someone, I think that issue fades away very quickly.”

What makes the latest youth-driven hires even more striking is that most of them do not have a long track record within baseball such as Epstein, who began his career as an 18-year-old intern with the Baltimore Orioles and moved on to the San Diego Padres before landing in Boston. Silverman, Friedman and Daniels each came from the world of business and Wall Street finance, not at all planning for a career in baseball when they were in college.

But as MLB’s economic fortunes continue to rise sharply and each team faces rising competition for the entertainment dollar, the rush to youth represents a search for fresh ideas and a strong intellectual background in management and business development.

“I’ve developed relationships around the game I don’t believe are based on or dependent on age,” Daniels said. “There’s still a lot of a continuity around this organization. But I do think I bring some strengths in terms of asking the right questions of people, bringing a very high energy level.”

The move also shows baseball’s continued reliance on the Ivy League, as Woodfork and Silverman graduated from Harvard and Daniels from Cornell. Epstein graduated from Yale and DePodesta from Harvard.

“I have all the confidence in the world in these guys,” said Devil Rays owner Stuart Sternberg of Silverman and Friedman. “If I didn’t, they wouldn’t have jobs with me. It’s that simple. But they’re very sharp, immensely talented, and have a clear vision of what we need to do to improve this franchise.”

The youth movement seems exclusive to the front offices of Major League Baseball, and has not filtered into the NFL, NBA or NHL. However, it is not universally embraced within MLB, a sport that in many corners still puts a premium on experience and contacts. Despite seeing both Epstein and DePodesta on the open market, the Philadelphia Phillies last week filled their general manager post by hiring veteran baseball man Pat Gillick, who harrumphed, “I thought I was pretty smart when I was 32, too. But there’s also a lot more I’ve experienced in the last 30 years or so. If some teams want to hire and entrust their club to young people, that’s their prerogative.”

Said Houston Astros general manager Tim Purpura, who has been in baseball for the last 15 years, “I don’t know the background of these young guys, but as for me, I still believe that experience in this game is the greatest teacher you can have. I’m very thankful for my years in this game and what I’ve learned.”

Some whispers among baseball insiders are even more strident, suggesting the young executives are little more than puppets for their owners or powerless bean counters for their field managers. It’s a charge that’s strongly denied.

“I really think Jon’s put all that talk to bed. In terms of the baseball operations, Jon’s the boss, not [field manager] Buck [Showalter]. There can only be one boss, and Jon’s it,” said Hicks, who at 28 was running a venture capital organization and preparing his first leveraged buyout. “I’ve watched Jon the last 14 months very closely, and he’s really impressed me. He holds a very thorough knowledge of the game and has a maturity and ability beyond his years.”

“I think it’s pretty clear that Theo [Epstein, above]
helped open the minds of owners and fans that a young
executive can work in this game and do the job at a
high level.”

Matt Silverman
Tampa Bay Devil Rays President

What the younger executives do represent, however, is a cheaper source of labor. Financial compensation was a key part of Epstein’s negotiations with the Red Sox, and Hicks admits he used that contract as an example when he signed Daniels to a deal virtually identical to the $350,000-per-year pact that Epstein had. The sum is a mere fraction of the seven figure salaries commanded other general managers and team presidents such as Brian Cashman in New York and Atlanta’s John Schuerholz, and barely one-sixth the $2 million per year Hicks paid Daniels’ predecessor, John Hart.

“Theo was really the only comparable I knew on that,” Hicks said. “You really can’t compare Jon that way to a John Hart.”

Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers president, was perhaps baseball’s first high-profile wunderkind of the front office, taking the general manager reins of the Montreal Expos in 1988 at the age of 31. He doesn’t foresee a mad rush toward more young hires, but praised the intellect of the recent hires.

“There are a lot of parallels to corporate America that teams are looking for, being able to lead people and being able to lead a process,” Dombrowski said. “That’s obviously the background of a lot of these new guys. We’ll have to see how much that fully correlates to this industry. It will be important for these guys to find a mentor and continue to work on their weaknesses.”

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