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What Exactly Is Ruben Amaro, Jr. Good At? Part 4 - Developing and Utilizing Talent

In the fourth part of this never-ending series, I look at an under-publicized aspect of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s tenure -- his ability to develop and utilize talent from within the organization.

From PR intern to twice failed GM . . . then hired by Amaro.  And look at those pants!
From PR intern to twice failed GM . . . then hired by Amaro. And look at those pants!
Bob Levey

So far in this series looking into Ruben Amaro Jr.'s skill set as a general manager, I've argued that the current team is his responsibility and then looked at Amaro's development (or lack thereof) of the Phillies hitting and base running. In this piece, I'm going to look at something a little different -- Amaro's ability to develop and utilize talent within the organization.

A good organization head knows how to find hidden gems. The team that can turn the 1,390th pick in the draft into Mike Piazza is the envy of the league. The team that can regularly do that has an advantage over all others.

Unfortunately, the Phillies weren't the team that lucked into Mike Piazza, but they are the only team in the league that has developed their own front office program to do the same. Dubbed "Operation Bat Boy" (OBB), the Phillies have created an internal talent development program where they put low-level employees to work at high-level jobs they have no business doing. The goals of the program are simple -- avoid the trouble and expense of recruiting talented and qualified individuals while rewarding good company men with some of the most important jobs in the organization.

The idea for the program was already in existence before Amaro took over the Phillies, but it was formalized under his tenure. The poster boy for OBB is Ed Wade. Wade started his career in baseball as a public relations intern with the Phillies. Eventually, he worked his way up and became the team's general manager. Public relations has zilch to do with being a team's general manager, but that didn't deter the team. Wade got the job and put his PR skills to good use by overpaying every veteran middle reliever in baseball.

After Wade left the Phillies, Amaro formalized the program that elevated his former boss. And, in an act of cosmic jujitsu, Amaro expanded OBB by re-hiring Wade -- after he was fired by the Phillies, hired by the Astros, and then fired by the Astros. Amaro put Wade's PR and failed-GM background to no use whatsoever by employing Wade to scout major and minor league teams and help in arbitrations. A good organization might just keep a public relations person in the public relations department, especially after seeing him fail repeatedly in other areas, but not the Phillies and not Amaro now that he had created OBB.

More under the radar, the Phillies have two guys working in their statistics "department" who have been the beneficiaries of OBB. Jay McLaughlin is the Phillies stats guy, aka their "baseball information analyst." McLaughlin has been with the team since he was 21 (in 1984). Originally hired to look at pitch tracking data in the days of the TI-99, he now heads up the team's entire statistical approach to the game. Again, the Phillies and Amaro have shown how they can take a low-level employee and make him an integral part of the organization.

McLaughlin at least has an argument for being promoted along normal lines, but not so Chris Cashman. Cashman started with the Phillies as a ticketing office intern. He is now the other part of the statistics "department," hired in 2011 as "baseball operations representative" to work with McLaughlin. Naturally, Cashman has a degree in marketing. Using him to work in baseball statistics shows the brilliance of OBB. If the program is about taking a PR guy and putting him in charge of the entire team or re-hiring a twice failed GM to scout players and negotiate contracts, then at the very least it can take a ticketing intern with a marketing background and make him a statistics expert.

The sister program to OBB is Operation Leonardo DaVinci. Named after the quintessential Renaissance Man, OLD is also Amaro's brainchild. The program aims to get everything possible from each employee by giving them job responsibilities that have nothing at all to do with one another.

The same three Phillies employees are also beneficiaries of OLD. Wade's jobs involve scouting at multiple levels as well as contract arbitration. McLaughlin not only heads up the statistics "department" but also manages the front office's technology, is the press box announcer during home games, and does play-by-play data entry for the team's computers. Cashman works with McLaughlin but also mans the team's radar gun during home games. If there's any team in baseball making better use of its employees' time, I'd be shocked.

OBB -- developing talent from places no other rational human being would look for it. OLD -- using people who could fill a full-time job doing sophisticated work to do completely unrelated and menial jobs. Just two aspects of Ruben Amaro Jr.'s brilliance in developing and utilizing talent.

The next frontier for Amaro is translating both OBB and OLD to the baseball field. When Amaro does that, the Phillies will finally have that steady major-league-quality third baseman they haven't had for about a decade. And amazingly, he will have been discovered from the pool of CBP concession stand workers and will also be able to pitch the high-leverage inning late in games.