Interview with a Champion
Indy talks with Marlins assistant GM Michael Hill '93
(extended online version)
By: Victor Hu
Issue date: 5/6/04 Section: Sports
Article Tools: Page 1 of 1
So there I was. On a Saturday morning, sitting in the bleachers next to O'Donnell Field, watching the Brown Bears pound out a 9-3 lead in the fourth inning of the Harvard-Brown doubleheader. The two teams were scheduled to play another doubleheader the next day, and Harvard really needed to win three out of four to be in good shape when they play leader Dartmouth next weekend to determine the winner of the Red Rolfe Division in the Ivy League. But at this point, things were looking bleak. All of my friends took off after Brown extended the lead to six, but as I've never been one to leave a game early, I decided to stick it out and hope for a comeback. (Incidentally, I didn't have to pay for a ticket, so I wasn't trying to get my money's worth.) I figured the weather was nice, and fittingly enough, I was waiting for a return call from Michael Hill '93, assistant GM of the Marlins, and a former Crimson baseball player.
It turned out to be well worth the wait. In the eighth, Harvard scored six runs to tie it; most of the players reaching on walks, hit batsmen, or Brown errors. Then, in the ninth, they held the Bears scoreless, and Trey Hendricks '04 won it for the Crimson with a walkoff double to score Bryan Hale '04. From lost season, to tremendous victory in minutes. Absolutely amazing.
Of course during all of this, I miss Hill's call and only until after the game do I sheepishly return his call, carefully explaining the situation. He seems to forgive me gracefully, and we launch into the interview.
Indy: Tell me a little bit about your background.
Michael Hill: I graduated from Harvard in '93, and I was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 31st round. After graduation, I played two and a half years of minor league baseball, and really saw an opportunity for myself to get into the front office because of my educational background and the fact that I had played the game on a professional level. I was fortunate enough that the Tampa Bay franchise had just been awarded the expansion, and they were starting to fill their team, make their hires. I sent my resume in, and took an entry-level baseball operations position.
I: What kind of work did you do in that position?
MH: Just about everything. When you come in on any entry-level standpoint, you do everything administrative you can imagine. I was fortunate enough that I was in Tampa Bay that I went out and evaluated players. I would do scouting reports and evaluated players at the high school, college, and professional levels. So from that standpoint, it was great experience because I got to see some of the most talented players in the country come through Florida.
I: In your very first job you were able to scout players? That doesn't sound like a bad job at all...
MH: My official title was Scouting and Player Development Assistant. So obviously I had administrative duties within the office to assist our scouting director and all of our scouts in the field in doing their jobs, our minor league, our farm director and our minor league team. It was really great exposure for me to everything in baseball operations and it definitely sped up the curve in terms of my growth in the game.
I: How do you think you were able to get such a lucky break? Was it just the situation you ended up in, or were you purposely aiming for something like with the Tampa Bay organization where they were just starting up?
MH: I think you always have what your goals and aspirations are, and I've always worked towards becoming a general manager of a major league ball club. Over the course of my years in the game, you just try to prepare yourself the best that you can to eventually do that. And my first job was a great introduction because it exposed me so much and gave me experience in all of the aspects of baseball operations. I was promoted within Tampa Bay, and if you follow my development in the game, I went from Baseball Ops Assistant to Assistant Scouting Director, to Director of Player Development in Colorado. So gradually you try to build your resume and knowledge base within the game, and you hope people take notice and give you opportunities to progress within the game.
I: Going back to the beginning, how did you first get bitten by the baseball bug?
MH: I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, so I grew up in the era of the Big Red Machine. Cincinnati's a huge sports city so I grew up playing three sports and I actually played two sports at Harvard, football and baseball. I've always been around athletics and when it came decision time when I was at Harvard as to whether I would try to pursue a career in football or baseball, it was an easy decision for me considering my love and passion for the game.
I: Who are some of your first influences?
MH: In the Big Red Machine, Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey, Sr., Pete Rose, and Joe Morgan. Those guys are all pretty special athletes and I was able to see them at the prime of their careers. I had an appreciation for Pete Rose who played the game the right way, and it made a mark as that's what I wanted to do.
I: How did you rise through the organizations you worked for so quickly to become assistant GM of the Marlins?
MH: I would really say determination, persistence, and hard work. There are a lot of sacrifices you make in this game, a lot of hours on the road traveling away from friends and family. You have to commit yourself to see as much as you can, learn as much as you can, and that's the approach I take.
I: Can you tell me about some of the things you've done with the Marlins, or the Rockies, or any of your past clubs?
MH: As director of player development as I was in Colorado, you oversee the minor leagues. You oversee two hundred players, domestically and internationally, oversee their development, and make sure they're on track for their rise into the major leagues.
I: Any specific players that you had a fondness for or particularly wanted to sign?
MH: The player I'm most proud to be associated is the starting center fielder here; his name is Juan Pierre. As soon as I came on board with the Rockies, I went through a winter league where he was actually playing left field. As part of my position, I changed his position to center field and we worked on different things with his approach offensively and defensively. The following season, he came into the league and went from A-ball to Double-A. In August of that year, 2000, he was called up to the minor leagues. I was fortunate to be a part of his development in the minor leagues and I was actually the one who was able to make the phone call to tell him he was coming to the major leagues.
I: That's real nice. Were you involved in his trade to Florida?
MH: That's another story. I had just come over to Florida in October of 2002. Just as you go through your off season planning and your team evaluation of what your needs are, it was a good fit with Colorado in terms of what Colorado needed to do in terms of getting a power-hitting center fielder in Preston Wilson, and what Florida wanted to do, in terms of building the team around speed and defense. It was a pretty easy assessment, and it worked out nicely that there was a fit between the two clubs.
I: Before we go on to more Harvard-related questions, let me sneak a few more baseball questions. What do you think were some of the keys to the Marlins' success last year?
MH: A lot of people were maybe not expecting the Marlins to go all the way.
The so-called baseball experts, no one believed in the Marlins. But from an organizational standpoint, we knew exactly what we put together in terms of talent, chemistry and character. Obviously you give a lot of credit to the players because they go out and do the job, but we felt like we put together a mix of players, talent-wise, character-wise, that could compete with any team in major league baseball. If you pitch you're going to be in more games than not. Then we went out and filled some holes from an offensive standpoint, with Juan Pierre, with Pudge Rodriguez. After the injury to Mike Lowell, we went out and got Jeff Conine. Really, it was taking advantage of what your strengths are, and trying to build a team around that.
I: The Marlins are off to a great start this year. Do you think the loss of players like Ivan Rodriguez will hurt the team, or are they strong enough to overcome these losses?
MH: Unfortunately, we all have our parameters and our budgets that we have to work within. As great a player as Pudge is, and as he was for us last year, within our payroll constraints we couldn't keep in. We were really comfortable moving forward with our catching combination that we have in place now, and obviously it would have been nice to retain Pudge, but understand that it's a business, and you try to build a team as strong as you can. Bringing this club this year keeping the core position-wise together, and most importantly, all our pitching, we feel like we're in a position to defend our crown.
I: Well, you're definitely off to a great start.
MH: Yeah, knock on wood. Solid pitching, that's really how we're built. We're not going to score a ton of runs and hit a lot of balls out of the park, but we're going to pitch, we're going to play defense and do all of the little things to be successful.
I: Fair assessment. Now a few things about your Harvard background. Did you ever feel as though there was a stigma in baseball attached to being an Ivy Leaguer?
MH: I've never really thought about that. I know what kind of person I am, I know my abilities. The fact that I went to Harvard, I would hope that nobody would ever stereotype me or label me as anything. My experiences are different from other Ivy Leaguers within baseball. There are Ivy Leaguers who are GM's, who never played the game beyond high school or junior high. I'm proud of the fact that I played in the minor leagues, I rode on the buses, and from that standpoint, I feel like I have a perspective in dealing with players that some other people may not have.
I: You point out there are a lot of other Ivy Leaguers in baseball. Is that a relatively recent trend, or just something that people have been noticing more?
MH: I think that in any industry you want to hire the best people available. If you look at baseball, you have to look at the money involved in the game. The game will always be about what happens on the field, but in terms of building a team and putting a team together for long-term success, you have to do more than just the talent evaluation because of how much money is involved. Clubs are running their teams like Wall Street business in terms of how they operate within those budgets, and I think they are trying to find the most qualified people. In more instances than not, they feel like those people have Ivy League backgrounds.
I: Finally, what kind of advice would you have for people who are trying to get into baseball now, just like you were a few years ago?
MH: I think there are a few common denominators outside of experience and exposure to baseball, and that's really a dedication and commitment to doing whatever you need to do to get involved. There are only thirty clubs, and if you're looking to get involved on the baseball operations side, there's normally anywhere from five to ten positions within each front office. There's limited opportunity. If you are fortunate enough to get your foot in the door, just be open to any and everything. Your education doesn't necessarily prepare you for everything that you're going to come across working for a major league organization. So keep your eyes and ears open, try to absorb as much as you can, and analyze as much as you can.