Saturday, March 12, 2011
Ruben Amaro Jr. a GM of many talents
By Jayson Stark
STRIKE ONE -- GM TRIVIA DEPT.: It isn't often around here that we ask you a trivia question about general managers. But it's your lucky day. So here goes:
Only three current general managers ever played in the big leagues. Can you name them?
OK, time's up. And of course you can.
There's Billy Beane (A's) ... and there's Kenny Williams (White Sox) ... and then there's the GM who got a four-year contract extension Saturday, Ruben Amaro Jr. (Phillies).
I got to thinking about that Saturday after the press conference announcing Amaro's new deal. These days, you almost never see a team trot a former player up to the podium to try on his general-manager hat. Right?
If you want to run a team some day, you have just as good a shot at it if you go get an MBA at some prestigious institute of higher learning as if you know how to execute a hit-and-run. But I'm not sure why exactly.
Beane has been to the postseason five times. Williams has won a World Series. And Amaro's teams have made two postseason visits in two years, and are the Vegas favorite to make it to the World Series again this year.
So what's the down side here? Seems to me that if you find the right guy, there are actually advantages to having a fellow run your baseball operation who understands what it's like to go 0-for-4, what it's like to go 4-for-4 and what it's like to spend six months in a big league clubhouse during good times and bad.
In fact, Phillies president Dave Montgomery said Saturday, that's one of the qualities that impresses him most about his current GM.
Ruben Amaro Jr. also had a little something to do with bringing a certain left-handed ace back to Philadelphia.
"The beauty of it," Montgomery said, "is, not only does Ruben have the education background that some of these guys have, but he also has the field background. You know where he's really comfortable? He's comfortable in the clubhouse. And not every GM is comfortable in the clubhouse. This is where his background fits us perfectly."
It's safe to say that not everybody viewed Amaro as a future GM when he was on his way to being a career .235 hitter in parts of eight big league seasons. But as his front office looks at him now, that was just part of the process that led him to this time and place.
He went to Stanford. He played on a College World Series championship team. He was the son of a big leaguer (Ruben Amaro Sr.), grew up in Philadelphia, played in the big leagues in Philadelphia, even served as a bat boy in Philadelphia.
He was an assistant GM under Ed Wade and Pat Gillick, had some scouting duties in that job, has a great connection with his scouts and advisors. And because he's bilingual, he has the ability to communicate with baseball people in English and Spanish. So if there's some sort of hidden issue with hiring a GM with that array of talents, it sure isn't apparent to his boss.
"A big part of it is communications, and Ruben has great communications skills," Montgomery said. "Ruben has a skill set where he's comfortable in that clubhouse, and he's comfortable in that coaches' room, and he's comfortable in a conversation with the manager. He can ride in a car with Dallas Green and Pat Gillick, and be very comfortable in that dialogue. And explaining any of our moves to the general public, our ownership or anybody else, he's gifted, from a communications standpoint."
If there was one major reservation Montgomery said he had about Amaro when he first arrived in the front office, straight from his playing career, in 1998, it was whether a man who was an ex-player would learn to think over the horizon the way front offices need to.
"You knew he was a bright guy," Montgomery said. "What I wasn't sure about was whether, with his desire to go full speed ahead, he would be able to gather as much information, and research things, and think through the consequences of his decisions. And that's what he's done very well.
"He doesn't have what I call a 'suit' background, where you've always been trained to think about today and tomorrow. That, by nature, is what I think about. But as a player, his background is like the [coaching] staff. So for him to make that adjustment to where he can think about, 'How does this [decision] affect 2011? How's it affect '12? What's it do for '13? Etc.?' that's been very important, because that's the puzzle [these days]."
So who knew the pieces in that puzzle could be connected by a guy who grew up wanting to play for a baseball team, not run one? Not a lot of the owners who are out there looking to hire somebody to play with those puzzles. That's for sure.
STRIKE TWO -- MORE GM TRIVIA DEPT.: And now two lists we bet you won't see anywhere else except this demented corner of cyberspace -- from our player-turned-GM files.
List No. 1 -- Most career hits by current GMs
Kenny Williams 252
Ruben Amaro Jr. 218
Billy Beane 66
List No. 2 -- Ex-player GMs whose teams have won WS (Division-play era)
2005 White Sox -- Kenny Williams
2002 Angels -- Bill Stoneman
1982 Cardinals -- Whitey Herzog
1969 Mets -- Johnny Murphy
Did we miss anybody? Tweet us if we did, at @jaysonst.
STRIKE THREE -- IN OTHER NEWS DEPT.
• It's been fun to listen to scouts gush about Bryce Harper all spring. Here's the review of one scout who thinks that if the Nationals wanted Harper to make their team, he'd be a lock:
"It's the first time I've seen an 18-year-old kid walk in and look that comfortable since Manny Ramirez. This guy makes unbelievably hard contact. He can throw. He runs hard. He plays hard. He's a pleasure to watch."
• The same scout on the Nationals: "I could see them finishing around .500. I mean that. Their pitching is better than people think. [Ross] Detwiler has been 92-93 [mph] all spring with a plus curve. They've really fixed his delivery. [Jordan] Zimmerman is back to what he was. [Danny] Espinosa looks a lot better than I remember him. I really like [Mike] Morse. He reminds me a lot of Jayson Werth. They've got that kid catcher, [Wilson] Ramos, who can really catch and throw. I like the talent there. They've not only moved past the Mets, they've moved way past the Mets."
• Scouts who have been checking out Bartolo Colon's act with the Yankees say his great spring (9 IP, 3 runs, 1 walk, 12 whiffs) is for real. But he still scares the heck out of them. "I firmly believe two things," said one scout. "One, he can still pitch. The other is, it's only a matter of time before he breaks down."
• Rays GM Andrew Friedman may not be sold on his resemblance to Brigham Young scoring machine Jimmer Fredette. But Friedman's No. 1 starter, David Price, remains totally onboard with this lookalike competition. When the Jimmer knocked down 52 points Friday night, Price said: "I almost tweeted that Andrew Friedman has 33 at halftime."
• In more momentous David Price developments, he's throwing great. After watching him twirl five dominating, two-hit, six-strikeout innings Saturday, one scout said: "He was awesome. He was All-Star Game sharp today. Best pitching performance I've seen this spring." Price said he's using a new grip on his slider, taught to him by his old college pitching coach, and pronounced it "the best my slider has been probably in two years. Pretty exciting."
• Spring box-score line du jour -- Phillies reliever Ryan Madson versus Tampa Bay on Saturday: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K. So how rare is it to see one of those lines from any reliever -- six outs, six punchouts? There were only two outings like that during the entire regular season last year -- by the Dodgers' Hong-Chih Kuo, July 4 versus Arizona, and by the Marlins' Clay Hensley, April 28 versus San Diego.
• With Brad Lidge still topping out at 88 miles per hour this spring -- with a slider that's puttering along at 79-80 -- one scout says: "Madson has got better stuff than Lidge right now. Lidge has the experience, and he still has pretty good confidence he can handle the ninth inning... . But if I were the Phillies, I'd be worried. He's having a tough time getting his arm strength this spring."
• Finally, it's time for the Joe Maddon-ism of the day. I've often thought somebody should start a Joe-a-pedia, with all the one-of-a-kind twists and turns that the Rays manager's vocabulary has taken over the years. Well, if that ever happens, you can add Saturday's phrase:
So what's up with that? Too long a story. But the short version is that Rays coach Dave Martinez hasn't shaved his beard in weeks, and Maddon is jealous. So he's decided to let his hair grow all season, with some occasional trims so he can avoid the cave-man look. But what's bumming Maddon out is that he's not follically capable of growing a beard like Martinez's.
"Those guys that can work both sides of the head, I'm very jealous of," he said.
So where'd that "facial-follicle power" come in? Here's the quote:
"In an optimal world, if I could grow a beard, it would not be that color [of Martinez's beard], but if I could do that, I would do it. But I cannot. I do not have that facial-follicle power."
Impressive as that catchy little phrase is, Maddon was actually frustrated that he couldn't find an "f" word to substitute for "power."
"Yeah, I was hoping for alliteration all the way across," he said. "But I couldn't find it."