|Thursday, March 7
Updated: March 8, 11:50 AM ET
DePodesta continues Oakland's lineage
By Alan Schwarz
Special to ESPN.com
Talk about the Law of Diminishing Returns. Paul DePodesta sunk a hundred grand into a Harvard economics degree, and instead of making a killing on Wall Street -- something Harvard grads tended to do in the mid-'90s -- he grabbed a job for $800 a month. But when your dream is to work in baseball, you're seduced into doing crazy things.
DePodesta joined hundreds of other pilgrims who trekked to the 1995 winter meetings in Los Angeles pursuing that dream. After tantalizing offers from the likes of the Amarillo Dillas of the Texas-Louisiana League, one cropped up from the Cleveland Indians as a player-development intern for that $800 monthly salary, working 100 hours a week and including such delectable duties as faxing, typing and driving an airport pickup van.
"Very glamorous," DePodesta cracks.
Perhaps not, but seven years later DePodesta now stands on the verge of the most glamorous baseball position of them all -- major-league general manager. The Oakland A's assistant GM, just 29, is considered by many executives to be the brightest young mind in the game, the industry's top general manager prospect.
"Just a brilliant kid," says his boss, A's GM Billy Beane, who knows that the days with his top assistant are numbered. If DePodesta is hired away by this December, which is possible, he will succeed Randy Smith as the youngest GM in major-league history.
DePodesta is taking the modern path to a GM job, which no longer requires playing in the big leagues or spending decades in the player-development department. Men such as Brian Cashman (Yankees) Ed Wade (Phillies), Joe Garagiola (Diamondbacks) and Mark Shapiro (Indians) never even played a day in pro ball. But thanks to the budget-balancing demands of the current job, as well as having to crawl through the jungle of the waiver rules, the position involves versatility far beyond just evaluating talent.
DePodesta's top baseball moments came in high school in Alexandria, Va. But that hasn't limited him. Just as Sandy Alderson had done with him in 1989, Beane, upon hiring DePodesta away from the Indians in November '98, had him do everything, from contracts to trades to scouting. DePodesta now can juggle financial ledgers as well as lineups, so much so that he was the favorite to be hired for the Toronto job this winter before another member of the A's front office, J.P. Ricciardi, got it. (That should tell you something about the strength of the A's management team the last few years, considering that scouting director Grady Fuson was tabbed by John Hart this winter to be his top assistant in Texas.)
Oakland has been to general managers what Miami (Ohio) was to college football coaches. From 1986-90 Alderson, the Branch Rickey of his generation, assembled an organization that included young up-and-comers such as Beane, Walt Jocketty and Ron Schueler, who all built division champions as GMs in 2000, as well as future leaders Dusty Baker, Ricciardi, Dave Stewart and Bob Watson. DePodesta belongs to the third generation, sharing many of his ancestors' affinities, from on-base percentage to shorts in spring training.
His self-deprecating lack of pretension doesn't hurt around baseball lifers, either, who don't tend to bow to twentysomething Harvard grads.
"He's real open-minded," A's hitting coach Thad Bosley says. "He's got a quiet temperament and asks a lot of questions. At the same time, when he speaks, it's qualified. You want to listen. As a former major-league player, to me that says a lot."
Beyond that, DePodesta is no priggish intellectual. Far from it. He's been known to quote "Austin Powers" and "Caddyshack" during meetings with Art Howe -- utterly flummoxing the Oakland manager -- and along with Beane has placed the occasional crank call to his old Indians friends. (One classic had them pretending to be radio hosts and sucking Shapiro into thinking he was being interviewed live, whereupon they heckled and lambasted him.)
It was during his days in Cleveland that DePodesta proved his precociousness. During a year of charting games pitch-by-pitch he quickly demonstrated the insight to write the scouting reports rather than input them. Under the tutelage of Shapiro and Josh Byrnes (another young GM prospect now with Colorado), DePodesta was made the club's advance scout for 1997 and '98, during which time he also helped analyze trades, contracts and free-agent signings for assistant GM Dan O'Dowd.
When O'Dowd left Cleveland, he called Beane, who needed an assistant. "I promise you, this is the guy," O'Dowd told him. Beane hired the then-25-year-old DePodesta after a brief interview simply because he crackled with intelligence.
"Like Sandy always did, I was looking for a guy who could be a great GM -- a potential star," Beane says. "When I told John Hart I wanted to interview Paul, I could hear him kind of gasp. I knew then I had the right guy."
He probably won't have him much longer.
Alan Schwarz is the Senior Writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.