In baseball, as in life, money alone is not the answer. The Angels and Dodgers have spent as if they believe otherwise. And they are a combined 66-85 this season.
Culture and continuity matter. That is why the 2010 Giants, 2011 Cardinals, and 2012 Giants won world titles despite Opening Day payrolls that ranked ninth, 11th and eighth in the majors, according to the USA Today salary database.
Derrick Hall understands that.
In fact, Derrick Hall understands a lot about the present realities and future possibilities of Major League Baseball.
Hall is president and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who lead the National League West division that the Dodgers were supposed to win. Despite never throwing a pitch or collecting a base hit in professional baseball, Hall is a major reason the Diamondbacks are in that position. They are competitive on the field despite ranking 11th among the 15 NL franchises in average attendance, while playing in a market that Hall said has the lowest per capita income of any in the major leagues.
If you didn’t know Hall’s name before, you would be wise to learn it now. Hall, 44, is set up to be a central leadership figure in the game for decades to come. Some in the industry mention him as a possible commissioner.
Hall, a member of MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s on-field diversity task force, participated in a panel discussion with other senior executives last week at the MLB Diversity Business Summit in Houston. Twice, his remarks elicited spontaneous applause from an otherwise businesslike crowd of job seekers and entrepreneurs. Once was after he said franchises and the sport at large must “look in the mirror” and ask if they are fully reflecting the diversity in their communities while expanding the game’s reach to young people.
“I want to make sure we have the best athletes,” Hall told FOXSports.com in an interview as the conference ended. “If an athlete is from the inner city and has a decision to make, what scares me is they’re going to decide to go to another sport because they don’t have the access to fields, or they don’t have the access to equipment. It becomes a very expensive sport. Travel is involved.
“With this new task force, we’re going to conquer it. We’re going to figure out ways. (MLB) has made a (difference) with the Urban Youth Academies. We’re going to have to work closely with colleges and universities and the NCAA, to figure out how we can increase scholarships or if we can support them somehow — because right now we can’t. All of that is very important.”
Hall also recognizes baseball’s international trend for what it is — a business opportunity. He realizes that fans in new global markets care more about what your franchise is doing to engage with them than how long it has been around.
So, Hall is taking his 16-year-old franchise to Australia next March for a season-opening series against the Dodgers in Sydney. Part of the thinking: If an Aussie baseball fan knows the name of only two MLB franchises, one of them might as well be the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hall has become baseball’s happy diplomat, not merely talking about the nationalities represented within his organization but actually traveling to those countries. His visit to the Dominican Republic this month was front-page news in the country. He even had a meeting with Dominican President Danilo Medina.
Hall took a goodwill trip to Japan last year and hopes that a Japanese or Korean professional team will hold spring training at the Diamondbacks/Rockies complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2014. He makes multiple trips to Mexico every year — with a particular focus on Sonora, the state that borders Arizona.
When Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora, hosted the Caribbean Series in February, Hall was there.
“We’re very popular there,” he said. “We have a lot of fans who come up and watch our games. We have a ticket outlet there. We’ve played spring training games in Hermosillo. The simple fact that we haven’t really had a Mexican-born player on our roster for the last couple years is concerning to me, because they would like to see that. The more we can have a strong presence there, it only helps us in the recruiting and identification of players in Mexico.
“But more so, it should be about the relationship we have, being a border state, with not only Sonora but the country of Mexico. They are very passionate baseball fans. We’ve got tremendous relationships over there. We visit Mexico probably more than any country outside the US. . . . As long as we can help spread not only the Diamondbacks brand, but baseball goodwill internationally I think it’s all of our responsibility. But I think we embrace it more than most.”
The Diamondbacks’ philosophies seem to be working in business and baseball alike. The team was criticized early in the season when Justin Upton — dealt to Atlanta in the offseason after ceaseless trade rumors — had a scorching April with his new team. But the fact both the Braves and Diamondbacks are in first place has quieted the second-guessing.
If the season ended today, they would meet in the National League Division Series.
“I think it’s too soon to judge,” Hall said. “He got off to a great start, and, naturally, there was a lot of focus on that trade. Things have obviously balanced out since. I think it was good for both teams. We feel really good about [right-hander] Zeke Spruill. Nick Ahmed, as good as our shortstops are, [general manager] Kevin Towers just went to see him and the reports we’re getting from our Double-A staff is he’s the best shortstop in our system.
“I feel good about the trade. [Martin] Prado is not performing like he has in his career, but we know he’s going to. And he’s changed that clubhouse. He really has. He’s as good a teammate as there is. Our team just idolizes the guy. . . . Justin’s a great kid. I love Justin. I’m happy for him. . . . I got to see him when (the Braves) came out to our place. . . . He seems real happy, and I know our team is happy, too.”
Hall is a prostate cancer survivor and plans to launch a charitable foundation later this year to help those affected by the disease. Since his diagnosis in 2011, Hall has become an outspoken advocate for men to get live-saving screenings — the sort of cause that makes wins and losses seem insignificant.
And yet Hall is very cognizant of the Diamondbacks’ record, even as he plans his next trip to expand his team’s brand and promote the game itself.
“I’m in a dream job right now,” he said. “Baseball doesn’t become part of you. You become part of it. It’s a life of its own, full of characters. This is a huge point of pride for me — what we’ve been able to accomplish, the culture we’ve created in Arizona, the success we’ve had. I credit all of our staff and employees. I couldn’t be happier.”