Extra Bases: 2 From Baseball’s Front Offices, Not Its Fields, Get a Cooperstown Moment

Selig worked for his father’s auto leasing business and became a minority owner of his hometown Milwaukee Braves. After the Braves left for Atlanta, he worked tirelessly to bring the big leagues back to the city. He succeeded in 1970, buying the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and christening them the Brewers.

Twenty-two years later, when the owners ousted Fay Vincent as commissioner, Selig took over and stayed on the job longer than any commissioner except the first, Kenesaw Mountain Landis. Selig oversaw baseball through periods of not only strife — the 1994 strike, which canceled the World Series, and the steroids scandal that mutated the record book — but also modernization, making several sweeping changes.

Some of those were reflected in the final World Series of his tenure, between the Royals and the San Francisco Giants, both of whom reached the postseason as wild cards. Selig had expanded the playoffs to include wild-card teams, and pushed for an economic system that helped small-market teams like the Royals become more competitive.

The Royals had not appeared in the World Series since 1985, when a team built largely by Schuerholz won its first championship. Schuerholz worked as an eighth-grade teacher before arriving in baseball in 1966 as a personal assistant to the Baltimore Orioles’ director of player development. He went on to guide the Braves to their remarkable run of 14 consecutive division titles, through 2005.

“The only person you could compare him to is George Weiss, as far as protracted success,” said John Thorn, Major League Baseball’s official historian, referring to the Yankees’ general manager from 1947 to 1960. “Schuerholz had an unprecedented career.”

A veterans’ committee votes on executives for the Hall of Fame. The last living executive to be honored was Pat Gillick in 2011. Like Schuerholz, whose Atlanta championship came in 1995, Gillick presided over World Series winners in two cities: Toronto in 1992 and 1993 and Philadelphia in 2008.

One current executive, Theo Epstein, has won titles with two teams and seems destined for his own plaque someday. Epstein’s Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs both ended notorious title droughts, the Red Sox in 2004 (with another championship three years later) and the Cubs last fall. Thorn said those achievements should make Epstein, 43, a Cooperstown lock.

Jim Bowden, the former general manager of the Cincinnati Reds and the Washington Nationals, said Epstein had made a powerful gesture during the postseason last fall by inviting his entire department of player development and scouting to circle the warning track in a pregame ceremony.

“Theo understands that in this era, you run it like a corporation,” said Bowden, who now hosts several shows on SiriusXM Radio. “Like, ‘I may be the C.E.O., but we’re going to have a lot of brains, we’re going to pay to keep them, and we’re going to beat teams by having the best front office and scouts we can.’”

For pure impact, Billy Beane should be part of the discussion. Beane’s low-budget Oakland Athletics have reached the playoffs eight times since 2000, and his heavy reliance on analytics to find undervalued talent — building off the work of his Oakland predecessor, Sandy Alderson — has spread throughout the game.

“I would like for impact, or historical importance, to be the criteria,” Thorn said. “The Hall of Fame has in its name the principal criteria: Are you famous? And if you aren’t, is there a case to be made that you ought to be?”

As the subject of an Oscar-nominated movie, “Moneyball,” Beane clearly is famous, but he would need a championship to merit stronger consideration. Another executive in his market — Brian Sabean — keeps a lower profile but has won three World Series titles in San Francisco. Sabean also served as a scouting executive in the early 1990s for the Yankees, who have won four championships with Brian Cashman as their general manager.

Bowden endorsed Epstein and Sabean as executives who should someday be enshrined, with Cashman and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Andrew Friedman next in line.

Cashman may end up with the most wins of any general manager, said Bowden, who added that Cashman’s recent track record in trades “has been extremely lopsided in his favor, which is very rare.” He praised Friedman, who worked as an analyst for Bear Stearns and as an associate for MidMark Capital before getting into baseball, for his influence on front-office strategy. Friedman has not won a championship, but his Dodgers have the best record in the majors.

“He’s ahead of everybody,” Bowden said. “Andrew Friedman brought Wall Street thinking to baseball, and it’s worked. His ability to build depth is as good as we’ve ever seen in baseball, and it’s not because of money. He got to the World Series in Tampa Bay.” Friedman was general manager of the Rays when they lost the 2008 World Series to the Phillies.

Larry Lucchino, the president of the Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2004, ’07 and ’13, could also be considered someday. When Lucchino worked in Baltimore years earlier, with the Orioles, his vision of an old-fashioned ballpark with modern amenities led to the creation of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It spawned an industrywide construction boom that greatly improved the stadium experience in almost every market.

For now, though, the Hall of Fame includes only 35 executives — with two wise, old rookies on deck for their speeches.

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Cincinnati Reds’ Scooter Gennett, right, during his four home run game on June 6.

Credit
John Minchillo/Associated Press

It’s All Intent

When Scooter Gennett slammed four home runs for the Cincinnati Reds on June 6, it was more than a fluke. It was a sign of things to come. Gennett did not hit for much power in his first four seasons, but he has continued to slug ever since that big night. From June 7 through Friday, he had 11 home runs in 40 games, with a robust .583 slugging percentage.

“The biggest reason why I didn’t go in a crazy slump — like you hear about guys going into slumps after the Home Run Derby — is all intent and mental approach,” Gennett said recently. “You’re gonna fail. You’re gonna have bad games. You just try to stay humble through the failures and the successes, and stay consistent.”

Gennett had a .420 slugging percentage in four years with the Milwaukee Brewers, who lost him on waivers in March. He said he had not changed his swing path to hit more homers, and he is not preying on the coziness of Great American Ballpark, either. Half of his 18 homers this season, as of Friday, had come on the road.

Gennett, 27, said he had worked out more diligently last winter, training at night with a cousin, Brent Skogen, who is a middle school gym teacher, instead of in the morning with friends. But mainly, he said, he found a mental approach to harnessing power he always had.

“I’m just trying to relax,” Gennett said. “One of my thoughts is, if I’m gonna get in a fight, I’m not gonna be tight. You look at boxers, they’re nice and loose. That’s kind of the same thing when I hit — I want to be loose, and I want to put myself in a position where my hands are able to work better.”

If he tried to hit a homer, Gennett said, he might connect every 20 or 25 at-bats — but those would probably be his only hits. As long as he generates hard contact, on the ground or in the air, he said, he’ll be happy.

A few years ago, trying to give himself a better chance, Gennett chose a small Ohio company, SabreCat Bat, to be his bat provider. Gennett and his father, Joe, and other partners have since started a company, Show Bats, using SabreCat as their manufacturer.

“I’m the only guy that swings ’em, but I’ve been telling the guys and we’ve gotten some orders,” Gennett said. “That’s the thing, when they don’t have a lot of guys, the quality of wood’s usually better. That’s kind of the reason I got involved with them in the first place — I want to make sure I’m getting the best wood I can, and that was the only way I knew for sure.”

Now, the lumber from his four-homer night — 34.25 inches, 32 ounces, made from Canadian maple and colored red — resides at the Hall of Fame. Some players prefer to keep their bats until they break, but Gennett donated his to Cooperstown right away.

“I decided to give it to them before it was broken,” said Gennett, who hopes to make his first trip there this winter. “If it was in like 20 pieces, it wouldn’t be a good look at the Hall of Fame.”

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Texas Rangers’ Adrian Beltre, with hit No. 2,996.

Credit
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

The 3,000th Looms

Adrian Beltre, the stalwart third baseman for the Texas Rangers, closed in on a milestone Friday night, when he had two hits to reach 2,998 in his career. With two more, Beltre would become the 31st major leaguer with 3,000, and only seven of those players had more home runs than his 454 as of Friday.

Beltre reached his career high in homers (48), average (.334) and hits (200) in the same season, 2004, with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It seems unlikely that a 3,000-hit man would have just one season with 200 hits, but five members of the club have none: Cap Anson, Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield and Carl Yastrzemski. Six others have one: Craig Biggio, Eddie Collins, Al Kaline, Willie Mays, Rafael Palmeiro and Robin Yount.

One pursuit drives Beltre more than anything else: a World Series championship. His Rangers twice came within a strike of winning the 2011 World Series in St. Louis, but the title slipped away. They have not been back.

“For me, that’s what it is,” Beltre said in an interview late last season. “Numbers, I don’t really care about that much. Winning the World Series would be the thing to define my career as a success, to say I was a champion.”

Beltre’s career has been outstanding by any other measure, but the Rangers are struggling to meet his goal this season. They have been stuck around .500 for months and are considering whether to deal their ace — Yu Darvish, who can be a free agent after this season — before Monday’s nonwaiver trading deadline.

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