I don’t know about you, but I thought I pretty much had life by the short curlies when I reached 30 years of age. After all, I finally had a job that paid me enough money to get my second and third tattoos and I even had a couple kids to prove my arrival into adulthood, halting and pockmarked though the journey may have been.
In keeping with the nomenclature of the day, I was boss ballin’. Or something like that. I had a mortgage, two auto loans, and enough student loan debt to choke Linda Lovelace. Yes, I was living the millennial American dream and feeling pretty damn good about it. Still do.
Then I opened up my browser to find that the Milwaukee Brewers had hired 30-year-old, Harvard-educated David Stearns to be their next GM. 30 years old and the GM of a Major League Baseball team. Well, okay, it’s just the Brewers. But they’ve got a pretty sweet ballpark and actual uniforms and everything. They’ve even got those cool sausage races and a guy who designs Affliction t-shirts when he’s not busy dodging steroid suspensions.
As I sat there reading about this latest wunderkind to climb from the bubbling cauldron of baseball intelligentsia and grasp the careworn reins of a team in his uncalloused hands, I found myself wondering whether I had really done anything with my life after all. Sure, I had once participated in a drunken dizzy bat race during an Indianapolis Indians game. But this guy is actually running an entire organization. Again, it’s just the Brewers. Still kind of a big deal though.
Where had I gone wrong? I’d love to look back with Robert Frostian wistfulness and wax poetic about two roads in a yellow wood and all that, but I’m not so sure I was even aware of the choices before me. When I grew up, baseball was presided over by grizzled old dudes who knew about the game from playing it. They lived their lives by rules both written and otherwise. Harvard? Hardly.
Players were evaluated by the rigorous — and rigorously subjective — scale of the eye test, decisions made from the guts of men whose discernment was forged from grit and guile and heated in the fire of competition. The only WAR took place between the lines and the measure of a man was in how much chaw juice he could swallow without retching and how many times the clubhouse attendants had to wash his jersey in order to get it clean.
Had I realized baseball would be morphing into the sporting equivalent of ComicCon, run by nerds getting off on spreadsheets, I’d have applied myself in college. Maybe even in high school. As it was, I only ever learned to sum columns in Excel, which is still probably makes me overqualified for a role on Ruben Amaro Jr’s next staff.
Rather than matriculate through the school of hard knocks, Stearns established an Ivy League pedigree by earning a Political Science degree from Harvard. Poly-Sy? Really? The only Machiavelli I was interested in during my college years was The Don Killuminati. But at an age when I would have been bumpin’ Hail Mary and To Live and Die in L.A., Stearns was interning for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
After graduating from college, I passed up management-training-track position for the glamour of life insurance and annuity sales. Full commission, at that. Nine months later, I was slinging Lightning Lunch at Applebee’s. I then moved on to health club membership sales before entering the the fast-paced world of big-box electronics retail. Basically the perfect resume for a guy who wanted to be the future GM of a beer-league softball team, spending money earmarked for child support on having his new bats rolled.
Stearns, on the other hand, has put together a fairly impressive resume, as reported by MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy:
Since graduating from Harvard in 2007, Stearns has worked in the baseball operations departments of the Mets, Pirates, Indians and for the Arizona Fall League and Major League Baseball. His tenure with MLB spanned 2008–11, ending with a stint as manager of labor relations. In that role, Stearns assisted in the arbitration process and worked on the league’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.
From 2011–12, he was director of baseball operations for the Indians, then joined the Astros and GM Jeff Luhnow. Stearns was Houston’s assistant GM for the past three seasons.
If we look past the part about a majority of his jobs involving teams whose respective histories are steeped in failure and infamy, it’s really a pretty nice body of work. Then again, perhaps his familiarity with rebuilding efforts in the wake of abject disaster is what drew the Brew Crew to Stearns. When you really think about it, it’s no different from the folks at Fukushima bringing in a nuclear physicist who’d been at Chernobyl and Three-Mile Island to assist in their recovery efforts.
Having been a part of an organization on the receiving end of the hacking scandal earlier this summer may be germane to the hiring as well. Stearns’ time with the Pirates would have made familiar with the on-field tendencies of his NL Central adversaries, and now he’s got a better sense of the origins of their purported devil magic as well. That’s what Charlie Weis might call a “decided schematic advantage.”
Regardless of the reasons, a man six years my junior has reached the apex of his industry while I toil away running a blog that might get a dozen or so readers outside of those bound by familial duty to visit on a daily basis. Would that I had made a different decision — or, rather, a series of dozens of different decisions — lo, those many years ago. I sigh as I tell you this, looking back as I am now. Two roads diverged in a (Kerry?) wood, and I took the one more traveled by.
Ah, who am I kidding? While I’ve made more than my fair share of questionable decisions, I am very happy with my lot in life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. David Stearns is a baseball savant. I’m mainly just an idiot. So to compare my own accomplishments to his in completely disparate fields is a futile endeavor at best. Rather, I am choosing to take this hiring as a sign of great things to come in the National League Central.
While it’s nice as a Cubs fan to use that team north of the Cheddar Curtain as a doormat, a little competition never hurt anyone. As such, the advent of smarter baseball in mill-e-wah-que — which is Algonquin for “the good land” — should be good for every team in the division not named the Cincinnati Reds. Smart, metrics-driven baseball coming out of the Midwest? That’s, like, a thing now and stuff.
So rather than lament the choices I did or didn’t make and how this recent hiring highlights my intellectual inadequacies, I’m going to look at what this move means for baseball in general, specifically when it comes to the use of advanced statistics and analysis. Yeah, that’s it. Eeyore pinned his tail back on and stopped eating thistles.
Then I remembered that Theo Epstein had been named GM of the Boston Red Sox when he was but 28 years old and my apoplexy came roaring back. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shake my fist at a cloud or three.