It was a crisp Friday November morning, Howie Freiling, 42, had just returned home from a weeklong business trip. Freiling, who lives in Apex, removed his Blackberry from its case and laid it down on his charcoal granite kitchen island with black backless stools surrounding it, waiting for an 11 a.m. conference call. As ordinary as it seems, this was not a typical conference call. Yes, the men on the phone discussed their industries’ future, but they are not a part of your standard profession. These employees are apart of the National League Philadelphia Phillies front office.
Freiling grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and attended Northeast high school. He loved participating in sports, as he played football, basketball, and baseball. Freiling called himself the “worst football player,” while he said basketball was second, but baseball was always his preference. Freiling said he started playing the nation’s pastime when he was six years old, joining different all-star and travel teams. After high school, the First Team high school All-American first baseman chose to continue his education at the University of North Carolina.
“My final choices came down to Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Virginia, and University of Pennsylvania,” Freiling said. “I chose Carolina because it was the best baseball program.”
Freiling said it was all a part of a plan; he would attend UNC for three years, majoring in business, while playing baseball, and once he was drafted after his junior year, he would sign; Freiling was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eighth round of the 1987 amateur draft.
“[The Dodgers] made me an offer, and I counter offered, and the next day they came back and I said ‘I’m ready,’” Freiling said.
After only two years with Los Angeles, the Dodgers determined that Freiling had become expendable due to other first base prospects they had within the organization, and traded Freiling to the New York Mets. At the end of 1991 spring training, the Mets told Freiling that they no longer saw him as a player, but wanted him to stay in the organization as a hitting coach in the minor leagues.
“It’s a backhanded compliment,” Freiling said. “Because no matter how good or bad things are going, you always think ‘I can do better, I can make it to the major leagues.’”
Despite having to hang up his cleats, Freiling said he was happy that the Mets saw potential in him as a coach and wanted to keep him in the organization. Freiling became a minor league manager after two years, which expanded to eight years, all in the minor leagues for the Mets. As a skipper, Freiling managed numerous all-stars, including Mets current third baseman and shortstop David Wright and Jose Reyes.
In September of 2000, Freiling finally received his big league call up, but as a coach. Usually in the final month of the season, major league teams ask for some of their minor league coaches and coordinators to join the big league team to help out. The Mets, under the helm of manager Bobby Valentine, were in the heat of the playoff race in the National League East.
“He was outstanding to work for,” Freiling said. “He’s one of the smartest guys in baseball.”
Despite Freiling being in a new atmosphere as a coach on a World Series major league team, Freiling felt it was just like being a coach in the minor leagues.
“Mike Piazza, Robin Ventura, Todd Zeal, they were like the star hitters, and I was in the batting cage, working with those guys,” Freiling said. “And it was no different than working with an A-ball kid.”
After the Mets lost to the Yankees in five games, Freiling managed the Double-A Binghamton Mets for two years before he became a scout for the Mets.
After he had a son and another on the way, Freiling decided that all the traveling he would have to endure as a manager would be too much for his wife, Jenny, to take care of two children on her own. Freiling made the decision move into the scouting department with the Mets.
Freiling said that his managerial experience helped ease his transition into scouting.
“As a manager on a team, I had to write scouting repots on all the players in the league,” Freiling said. “I had done all that stuff, but it was just part of my job.”
Freiling also said that even though he was still a part of the game, it was hard to not be in the dugout.
“It was hard to take the uniform off,” Freiling admitted. “I was not wearing a baseball uniform anymore, I’m wearing regular pants.
“In baseball there’s always the expression that says ‘you still got the uniform on,’” Freiling said. “Whatever you’re doing, playing, an extra player, a manager or coach, A-ball, or Triple-A, you got the uniform on. You take the uniform off, it’s a big step.”
As a professional scout, he has to go to minor and major league games and compose reports on the players on both teams. The scout then sends his reports in to his respective front office. If a team is looking to acquire a player, the general manager may talk to one of his scouts who has seen the player to obtain more insight.
“I have to evaluate all their tools,” Freiling said of the players. “How they throw, how fast they run, power, whatever. Then I have to try and evaluate what they are on a winning major league team. Is the guy an extra outfielder or is he good enough to be a starter?
“I turn all that information into the front office via email and when trades come up, we have all the information on the players,” Freiling said. “I get involved, talking to the general manager and the assistant GM anytime trades are made, anytime waiver claims are out there.”
After six years as a scout for the Mets, scouting both the major and minor leagues, Freiling left the Metropolitans and joined the Philadelphia Phillies as its Special Assignments Scout. His new position became available after a fellow Philadelphian, and childhood friend, took the reigns on the National League East franchise.
Ruben Amaro, Jr. was named general manager, succeeding Pat Gillick at the conclusion of the 2008 season. Freiling and Amaro met during their youth playing travel baseball; a friendship developed and the two stayed in touch.
“Ruben called and asked the Mets for permission to talk to me about becoming one of his major league scouts, which was a promotion,” Freiling said. “With the Mets, I had half major leagues and half minor league. Now basically I have the American League.
“I was under contract with the Mets at that time, but usually when a team is offering an employee a promotion or higher position, and that person is under contract with someone else, the teams usually grant permission,” Freiling said.
Freiling’s promotion keeps him away as he travels to see every American League team 12 to 17 times a season per team. Freiling said that he asked the Phillies if he could scout a few minor league teams that the Durham Bulls and Carolina Mudcats play so he could spend more time at home during the season.
Freiling said that his job is grueling at times, not just because of the hectic schedule, but because of the added pressure of being right.
“That’s the nature of our job. Our job is to make a prediction of the future on how good a guy’s going to be,” Freiling said. “We’re not always right. They are human beings. Things happen and they play better and they play worse.
“Basically you want to be right more than you want to be wrong,” Freiling said. “But you know what, the Mets did it this way and the Phillies do, it’s not just my opinion saying to Ruben Amaro, ‘yes, claim this guy,’ and he says ‘OK Howie, I’ll do it.’ What it is, it’s a conglomeration of information; all of us put in our input.”
Despite Freiling being with the Phillies for only two seasons, he has already been involved in two of the biggest trades that have occurred in the past few years. The Phillies traded for left-handed ace Cliff Lee in July of 2009 and six-time all-star Roy Halladay in December of 2009. Because both players were with an American League team, Freiling had his hands involved in both blockbusters.
When the Phillies acquired Lee for a package of four prospects, Freiling said that the disposition within the organization changed to a win-it-all mentality.
“That was my first year with the Phillies,” Freiling said of the Lee deal. “ I had several reports in on Cliff Lee. I watched him play through July, as did other scouts. I was in Toronto and we had another scout there. Then Cleveland went and played somewhere else and we had another scout go look at him that time. He was very heavily scouted by all of us.”
But Freiling notes that trades cannot just happen, that a lot of investment and decision-making has to be made before trading for a top player.
“For trades like that to happen, it’s almost a question of how much do we want to give up to get the player,” Freiling said. “The reason why some trades happen and don’t happen is what are you going to give back? Are you going to give up your whole minor leagues for him? Well maybe that’s not so smart. It has to be the right fit of what you’re giving up to make the trade happen.”
Freiling said that the period of time leading up before they acquired Lee at the 2009 trade deadline was “exciting.” He did say that sometimes he isn’t as involved with what’s going on. He referred to when the Phillies acquired right-handed pitcher Roy Oswalt from the Houston Astros this past July. Because Oswalt was playing for a National League team, Freiling did not have an opportunity to scout him.
“We traded for Roy Oswalt--I didn’t see him,” Freiling said. “It was like I wasn’t really involved. I was on phone calls when we were talking about different guys that I had seen and Roy Oswalt as well, but in the end we traded for Oswalt, so I was kind of out of the loop so to speak.
“When you have a chance, when it’s a guy you’ve seen and your reports are in the system, it’s exciting. It’s like draft day, you know, ‘we’re going to get this guy!” Freiling said. “It’s exciting, it’s not stressful, but it’s important. When you’re talking about getting a guy to take you to the World Series, the stakes are high.”
Even though Freiling enjoys his current position, he said that if higher-ranking job were to become available, he would consider accepting it.
“I like scouting, it’s fun, and it’s good for the family,” Freiling said. “I’m not actively perusing anything else but let’s say a major league coaching job comes along, I’d have to think about that. If I got a chance to be an assistant GM, I’d have to consider that.”
Freiling pointed out that he and his family would have to move if he was named assistant GM, something he is hesitant to do.
The clock finally struck 11 a.m. and Freiling joined the conference call with other high-end members of the Phillies organization all over the United States. They were putting up a list of what positions the team needed and ranked each available player within their respective position.
“We were talking about all the different possibilities of free agent signings,” Freiling said. “We basically evaluate and line up all the free agents. For instance, we are looking for a left-handed reliever for our bullpen. We lined out all of the left-handed relievers and try to figure out who’d be the best fit.”
As for whom the Phillies will fill the bullpen void with, his name in the lineup card reads, for now, as a common baseball term—a player to be named later.