'He was going to be GM someday'
Jed Hoyer's path to Cubs general manager has been swift and unconventional
CHICAGO -- He was a bullet point in weeks of Theo Epstein stories; his hiring part of a dual-release issued on a Wednesday night after the 6 p.m. news and during a back-to-back rerun of "Glee."
The new general manager of the Cubs? The guy technically in charge of all player transactions and of assembling the coaching staff and roster that will ultimately determine everyone's fate?
We interrupt the Theo Show for the brief and anticlimactic announcement that Jed Hoyer has been added to Team Epstein as executive vice president/GM along with Jason McLeod as senior vice president/scouting and player development.
Understated, to be sure. But this was no small move.
While Hoyer was a natural fit as Epstein's assistant when the two were in Boston, to view the Padres' GM of the past two years as little more than a Theo aide is underestimating both the position and the men.
"That's a huge mistake that on the surface, people who don't know those two men could easily conclude," said Dave Roberts, a special assistant for San Diego's baseball operations under Hoyer in 2010. "But I don't think anybody in the game has more respect for Jed than Theo, and I don't think he would ever put him in position to just follow his orders. Jed is going to have the autonomy he needs to be successful."
While Hoyer and McLeod will no doubt form the sort of think-tank philosophy that Epstein espouses, those who know Hoyer also know that he shed the training wheels a long time ago.
"Jed and Theo and [new Boston GM] Ben Cherington have all followed the same path, but you would be doing a disservice to any of them to talk about one mentoring the other," said former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. "They made an effort to not be the story. In this day and age, that's very uncommon."
Also uncommon has been the path Hoyer has taken, emerging from neither a traditional baseball road map nor gene pool.
He is the son, grandson and nephew of doctors but also a kid who, like practically every other young boy growing up in New England, was more interested in his fantasy teams, his sports -- baseball, basketball and football -- and the Red Sox than sabermetrics.
"Our family finds it sort of hilarious the way he's portrayed as this computer nerd or stats guy because while he was good in math, he was never particularly interested in it," said his mother Annie Hoyer, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, with a laugh. His father, Robert, is also on the faculty there and runs the Pediatric Outpatient Center.
"He just loved baseball," she said.
He played Division III baseball at Wesleyan, served two seasons as an assistant coach there, then worked in admissions for Kenyon College before returning to his alma mater where he was an assistant dean of admissions and assistant baseball coach.
Before talking the Red Sox into hiring him as a 28-year-old intern in 2002, Hoyer also had brief stints working for a tech start-up and as a management consultant.
But to squeeze the above qualifications into two paragraphs of a résumé doesn't quite do him justice, either.
"He was an exceptional player," said Mark Woodworth, head baseball coach at Wesleyan and a teammate of Hoyer's when the school advanced to the championship game of the 1994 Division III College World Series. (They lost to Wisconsin-Oshkosh with pitcher Jarrod Washburn, who went on to an 11-year career with the world champion Angels, Mariners and Tigers.)
I think Jed is one of the brightest people I've ever been around, in or outside the game. Also one of the best listeners, and for a person in that position, I have not seen that very often. To work under a person who is confident enough in his knowledge and ability to surround himself with people who are also very good and knowledgeable in what they do to ultimately make the best decision, says lot about him. Not only about him as a professional but as a man.” -- Dave Roberts on Jed Hoyer
Hoyer, then a sophomore, was a shortstop but when the team needed a left fielder that season, he volunteered to play outfield, was a .400 hitter in the No. 3 hole and also the closer (he still holds the school record for saves). In his junior season, Hoyer played short, catcher and was a starting pitcher.
Once, he started both ends of a doubleheader and got the win in both games.
"He threw six innings in the first game, five in the second and just dominated," Woodworth said. "What was telling was that he could do it all, but he also embraced whatever the coach asked of him."
Hoyer also played second base in the highly regarded Cape Cod League (a summer league for top collegians), sharing the infield with shortstop John McDonald, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and future Cub and now-Giant Mark DeRosa at third.
Barbara-Jan Wilson remembers that summer because when Hoyer was called to the Cape Cod League, he had to leave the job she gave him as an admissions tour guide. So impressed was she with Hoyer, however, that she brought him back to Wesleyan two years later to work for her in admissions.
"In admissions, you market and you evaluate and he was just terrific, a natural," Wilson said. "Then I was promoted to vice president for university relations, and the only person I took with me was Jed.
"People asked, 'Why bring Jed when you have a lot of senior people?' He was very young. But he has the mind to really analyze problems, he comes up with solutions and was the one person I knew could make me successful at my job. He works incredibly hard, does a lot of research but also makes friends well, gets to know people, learns what people need and then tries to provide it.
"When the Red Sox called me for an evaluation of Jed for a very low-level starting position [in video as part of the scouting department] I told them the same things, and I knew he'd go straight up."
Woodworth, still a close friend who had Hoyer stand up at his wedding, was just as confident.
"It sounds crazy," Woodworth said, "but knowing him, I just knew he had it all and if he just got that interview for the entry-level job, he was going to be GM someday."
Indeed, the college history major, who did his first Excel spreadsheet while working for Wilson, worked his way quickly through the ranks to assistant to the general manager under Epstein. Along the way he became involved in player development, major league scouting, quantitative analysis and advance scouting.
He became Epstein's confidante and more importantly, a trusted advisor and sounding board, traveling with Epstein and Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino to Arizona in the fall of 2003 in an effort to lure then-Diamondbacks pitcher and two-time world champion Schilling to Boston.
"Jed looked 11," Schilling said.
"They both did," said the pitcher's wife, Shonda, referring to Hoyer and Epstein. "And we almost looked at them like, here's these two kids and they have nowhere to be on Thanksgiving."
When Lucchino went back to Boston on Wednesday, Epstein and Hoyer stayed on. And the Schillings invited them to their Thanksgiving dinner.
The trip was later remembered most for the horrific stomach distress Hoyer suffered the day after Thanksgiving.
"My mother joked that she cooked every Thanksgiving dinner her entire life, and I cook one and it's in every major newspaper," Shonda said.
But what the couple remembers eight years later was how Hoyer and Epstein, who cleaned up after Hoyer in their hotel room, went about their business.
"Their preparedness was what won us over," Shonda said. "We were so blown away by the amount of work they had done to prove to us that this was the best choice for us."
Among the points they made was an entire report on how one of Schilling's beliefs -- that short fences such as the ones in Fenway Park were a negative -- was actually a myth. Also included was a case for how Boston could further the charities the two worked with.
"That whole kid thing, that goes away minutes after you start a conversation with them," said Schilling, who was 37 at the time, eight years older than both men. "[Epstein] did it right and in a way that I respected and made me want to play for him. And I didn't feel Jed was any different. These were very mature, very respectful and very, very astute guys.
"The thing they worked hardest on was to understand that there's a chemistry piece to baseball that's not statistically quantifiable but has as much to do with the success of a team as any statistic. ... It's that other piece that every good GM is in search of and both those guys are cut out of the same mold in knowing what it is."
If Hoyer is pictured manning a laptop -- and he did plenty of that -- it is nonetheless, as his mother said, a computer-geek stereotype that doesn't fit.
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"He's much more than that," said Darren Smith, host of a weekly show with Hoyer on San Diego's XX Sports Radio. "I think anybody who thinks that's what Jed Hoyer is about is mistaken, and I was mistaken. Paul DePodesta [formerly a Padres front office assistant and Dodgers GM known for his devotion to sabermetrics] doesn't take his head out of his laptop, and I thought that's who we were getting.
"But [we were told] not to be fooled into thinking he's a seamhead sitting on a pile of statistics and that's true," he said. "This guy knows how it feels to throw a sinker or a two-seam fastball and that's a little currency that goes a long way with baseball people ...
"Theo and Jed both have one foot firmly in two camps -- traditional scouting and [statistical analysis]."
"I think Jed is one of the brightest people I've ever been around, in or outside the game," Roberts said. "Also one of the best listeners, and for a person in that position, I have not seen that very often. To work under a person who is confident enough in his knowledge and ability to surround himself with people who are also very good and knowledgeable in what they do to ultimately make the best decision, says lot about him. Not only about him as a professional but as a man."
When Hoyer arrived in San Diego, the organization and fans were reeling from the surprising firing, after 15 years, of the popular Kevin Towers. Padres owner Jeff Moorad termed the transition as getting a "department-builder" for a "gunslinger."
"[Hoyer] walked into a tough situation, not just being in a first-year situation but succeeding a guy who had done wonderful things and was very highly respected, and he hit the ground running," said MLB.com writer Corey Brock.
Preaching the time-honored tradition of pitching and defense, and just minimizing mistakes, something which the Padres had been woefully short on, Hoyer had to fight against the assumptions free-agent position players had of the cavernous PETCO Park.
Almost immediately and working with a $37 million payroll, he acquired Jon Garland, Jerry Hairston Jr., Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Stairs, and was rewarded with a 90-win season -- a league-best 15-game improvement -- as the Padres fell just one game shy of a playoff berth.
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While some fans were critical of Hoyer for unloading Adrian Gonzalez that offseason, the cash-strapped Padres picked up solid prospects from the Red Sox in first baseman Anthony Rizzo, pitcher Casey Kelly and center fielder Reymond Fuentes.
While losing 91 games last season leaves a sour taste among Padres fans bitter over Hoyer's departure after just two years, there is still the belief that Hoyer left the team in better shape than when he arrived.
"They didn't ask him to win the World Series," Smith said. "They asked him to repair the minor league system over the next four to five years and then make a run for it, and damn if he didn't do that."
"Absolutely," Roberts said, "what [Hoyer] and Jason McLeod did just by putting the right people in place with signing and drafting, we're going to see the fruits of their impact for years to come."
Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn is reserving judgment.
"I think when Jed came over from Boston where scouting and development were at the top of his list, he thought it was exactly how it was going to be here, and he quickly found out that with the kind of budget he had, it was going to be much tougher," said Gwynn, a part-time Padres broadcaster and head baseball coach at San Diego State. "How do you really evaluate what kind of job he did when he has only been here two years?"
Still, Gwynn said: "I like the direction he was going, I like the players he drafted. And he got Rizzo and Kelly from Boston. But Rizzo was the only guy who got to the big leagues and until the rest do, it's hard to judge."
One mark that Hoyer left on the Padres is a considerably more organized operation.
"Their farm system was a mess two years ago with 12 amateur scouts and because of [Hoyer] and McLeod, they revamped the entire system," said Padres beat writer Dan Hayes of the North County Times. "Their communication levels and who people reported to was also [a problem] and they really streamlined the process. It made it significantly easier for information to move up the chain and you could see the way everyone bought into it and how it paid off with a fantastic draft."
Even with the few gray hairs he claims he has picked up along the way, Hoyer, who is expecting his first child with wife Merrill in January, will seemingly always have to fight a certain image problem.
Last year a security guard at PETCO Park stopped him and demanded identification, something the self-deprecating Hoyer later joked about. The son of a doctor, he also laughs that he is the least successful member of his and his wife's high-achieving family.
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Smith jokes that Hoyer, the product of a prestigious New Hampshire prep school where he was a day student, and a university commonly referred to as one of the "Little Ivies," is "a walking Benetton ad."
"It's Southern California, come on, we wear Hawaiian shorts and flip flops," Smith said. "And [Hoyer] walks in with khakis and a button-down shirt. The only thing missing is a pink sweater around his neck. But put him around baseball players or any scratch-and-spit types, and no one feels awkward. He's a good guy, has a great sense of humor and everyone likes him. He's a guy's guy."
Whether that has significant currency with a Cubs fan base longing for more than a pal in the GM of their languishing club, remains to be seen.
"Absolutely I think he's up for the job," Gwynn said, "but the expectations are through the roof. All these guys were together when they took over in Boston and two years later, they were world champions and people just automatically think because they're there, that's what going to happen.
"But a lot of pieces were in place there for it to happen and that's not the case in Chicago. The biggest piece is drafting and development and no matter how much you like them, that's going to take some time."
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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