For D-Backs' GM, Path Never Lacked Direction
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
When the fresh-faced young man shagging fly balls in the outfield to Ron Shapiro's left sauntered over and asked for help breaking into the business of baseball 15 years ago at the Haverford College alumni baseball game, Shapiro's natural inclination, assuming he liked his first impression of the young man -- and in this case he did, immediately -- might have been to offer him a low-level job in the player-representation agency he ran in Baltimore. With clients such as Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray and Kirby Puckett, Shapiro could afford another entry-level employee.
Instead, Shapiro gave the young man the same advice he had given his own son several years before.
"I told them both, 'If I were choosing a path in baseball, it wouldn't be as an agent -- it would be on the management side,' " Shapiro recalled, " 'because that would keep you closer to your passion, which is the game of baseball.' "
By that time, the spring of 1993, Shapiro, Haverford Class of '64, was in a position to go even further for Josh Byrnes, Haverford Class of '92 -- because Shapiro's son, Mark, had taken his old man's advice and was a rising star in the Cleveland Indians' front office. A storybook moment in the annals of professional networking was about to be written. "Ron really mapped out a game plan for me," Byrnes said, "and his first order of business was arranging an interview for me in Cleveland."
Fifteen years later, Byrnes, a star second baseman for St. Albans in his pre-Haverford days, still marvels at his good fortune. Perhaps someone as sharp and driven as he was would have wound up in the same position he is in today anyway -- general manager of the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, who open a three-game series today at Nationals Park -- but there is no doubt his connection to the Shapiros put him on this path.
"A lot of people at that stage offered encouragement," Byrnes said. "Ron offered a real plan."
When Byrnes achieved his dream of becoming a big league general manager in October 2005, he was only 35 but had spent nearly 12 years in the game -- as an intern, a scout, a scouting director, a farm director and an assistant general manager -- in the Indians, Rockies and Red Sox organizations. That fact was often overlooked by critics eager to lump Byrnes into the group of young, so-called "Moneyball" executives who supposedly valued stats over scouting.
"That label has brought something like partisan politics into baseball," said Byrnes, who once logged 250 nights on the road in a single year as the Indians' scouting director. "I did lot of traditional scouting stuff in my career. My background is in scouting."
Like most folks who work in baseball, instead of at baseball, Byrnes played the game until it became painfully obvious he had gone as far as he could. At St. Albans, he made the varsity team as a freshman at a time when the prestigious D.C. private school was winning the IAC championship every year, and made a large impression with his preternatural composure.
"People started calling him 'Sire,' because he had this regal air about him -- and it was never said derogatorily," said Mark Naples, a former assistant at St. Albans. "He was more an adult than a kid."
Mostly ignored by Division I schools, Byrnes walked on to the team at Haverford and became, in the estimation of Naples (himself a former Haverford baseball player), "one of the top two or three players in school history." ("No offense to Josh, because he was a good baseball player," added Ron Shapiro, who never played organized baseball until college, "but Haverford is probably the only team in the U.S. where I could have made the baseball team.")
Within months of his fortuitous meeting with Shapiro in the outfield before the annual alumni game, Byrnes, then 24, was driving to Cleveland to start an internship with the Indians (salary: $200 a week, pre-tax). He moved into an apartment with a handful of Indians employees (rent: $180 a month), all of them poor and in love with the game.