March 8, 2018 at 6:29 AM
MESA, Ariz. — Out of the armies of fresh-faced job-seekers who annually descend upon any gathering of baseball executives, holding prestige-school degrees and seeking to become the next Brian Cashman or Theo Epstein — preferably in a matter of months — came one who was different. This one was smart and eager, like the rest, but also humble and curious and insatiable of mind, perfectly splitting the difference between being knowledgeable and knowing there was everything still to learn.
This one, who came out of the University of Virginia already fluent in the language of spin rates, release points and launch angles, was up for any task, from the menial to the clerical to the analytical, and had by that point, in the spring of 2015, already completed a series of internships in baseball, doing everything from selling tickets to analyzing draft prospects.
This one, this Haley Alvarez, is also a woman.
In the realm of baseball, which until very recently had been essentially a males-only domain, that above all else made this one stand out.
But now, three years after departing Charlottesville to make her mark in the game she loves, Alvarez, the Oakland Athletics’ scouting coordinator, is less a curiosity than a force, someone who has advanced steadily through the sport via talent and effort, and who, when the time comes for baseball to see its first female general manager, just might be the one.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all,” said Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor, who gave Alvarez her start in baseball as a student manager for the Cavaliers for all four years she was there. “She certainly has the qualities and the knowledge and intelligence.”
At 24, Alvarez already has a résumé that rivals those of Cashman and Epstein — wunderkinds of previous generations who now run the New York Yankees’ and Chicago Cubs’ baseball operations, respectively — at a similar age. She has worked for the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds, as well as Major League Baseball’s central offices, and has extensive experience in both scouting and analytics, the divergent disciplines that form the foundation of a well-rounded front office.
“Every experience I’ve had in baseball has just reinforced” the decision to pursue a career in it, Alvarez said. “There hasn’t been a time yet when I’ve doubted wanting to work in this industry. Every step has made me more involved, and that’s just made me want to work harder and learn more.”
Asked if she aspires to be the game’s first female GM, she said, “Ultimately, yeah. I’d love to be GM or an assistant GM. But right now, I’m just trying to become a well-rounded executive within the industry. … There are not too many females who have crossed into this area.”
Baseball, of course, has never seen a female GM and has produced only a handful who have come close. Elaine Weddington Steward was the game’s first female assistant GM, with the Red Sox in the early 1990s, and Jean Afterman serves as Cashman’s assistant GM with the Yankees. Kim Ng, a former assistant GM for the Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, now serves as MLB’s senior vice president of baseball operations.
In all, MLB counts 113 women working in baseball operations — defined as front office or on-field jobs — among its 30 teams, though the majority are in non-executive administrative or medical/training staff roles, as opposed to talent evaluation.
Even the A’s, considered among the most progressive franchises in pursuing diverse hires — in 2015, Justine Siegal became the first woman to serve as a coach in a big league organization when she worked with A’s prospects at their instructional league — had never had a woman working as a talent evaluator in their front office before hiring Alvarez away from the Reds in November.
Alvarez, a Bay Area native, grew up a San Francisco Giants fan, learning the game in the stands at the side of her father, Michael, who taught her how to keep score. Playing softball never appealed to her — she played soccer and golf in high school — but baseball quickly became her passion. By the time she got to Charlottesville, she had already reached out to O’Connor about a student-manager job and aced her interview once she got to campus. It was the first of many barriers she would cross: the Cavaliers’ first female student manager.
“You could tell really quickly how much passion she had to be around baseball. She understood the game and was willing to work hard,” O’Connor said. “And she wanted to be involved in as many things as possible. She was one of those people who just separate themselves from the others.”
When Virginia, an early adoptee of advanced analytics, installed a prototype of the TrackMan video and analytical system (now used by all 30 MLB teams), Alvarez was one of the people tasked with operating it and translating its data.
By the time she graduated in 2015, the A’s were quick to snatch her up as an intern, and the organization was impressed enough with her performance there to sponsor her for scout school, an annual clinic where select candidates learn the intricacies of the art of scouting. Of the 60 students there, two from each team, Alvarez was one of only two females; her roommate, Amanda Hopkins, is now a full-time area scout for the Seattle Mariners.
But at the end of her internship, the A’s didn’t have an open position for her, so Alvarez went to work for the Red Sox as a baseball operations assistant. In the spring of 2016, A’s GM David Forst ran into her in the stands behind home plate at a Boston College game. Forst was there scouting a University of Louisville outfielder for the draft, and Alvarez was tasked with videotaping players for the Red Sox. Other days, however, she would go to the stadium on her own time and sharpen her scouting skills.
“She had stood out as an intern, with her work ethic and how much she loved the game,” Forst said. “At the time, we didn’t have any openings. But when I saw her in Boston, and she was there on her own time — it was obvious how much drive she had. As soon as we had an opening, I knew she was someone we’d keep our eyes on. And it worked out great to bring her back home.”
As Oakland’s scouting coordinator, some of Alvarez’s duties are administrative, such as taking reports from the team’s amateur scouts in the field and logging them into a database, which will inform the team’s decisions ahead of the June draft. But this summer, she will get her first experience in pro scouting, having been assigned two teams to cover in the short-season Class A Northwest League.
“This organization is really on the cutting edge of every aspect in baseball — whether it’s analytics, their database or women in the front office,” Alvarez said. “The fact I was given two teams [to cover] definitely gives me a reassurance they think I can go out there and be a talent evaluator for the organization.”
She expects to be the only female scout at pretty much every game she covers, just as she has been for most of her career. It makes for the occasional awkward moment, as when an unsuspecting usher tries to shoo her out of the scout seats. But for the most part, she said, she hasn’t had to face any incidents of outright sexism in the job. She isn’t looking to be treated any better than anyone else — just to be treated the same.
“People mostly see me the same as anyone else in my job,” she said. “Of course, there’s people out there wondering why a woman would want to be in a man’s sphere, but I’ve never been directly confronted with it. Knowing that’s out there and hearing it makes me want to work harder and kind of lights a fire in me to prove to people that I can do it.”