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Angels' Torii Hunter aspires to be a GM

The All-Star center fielder says he would love taking on the challenge of running a major league team after his playing career is over.

July 10, 2010|By Bill Shaikin

For the All-Star with the perpetual smile, this could be the ultimate challenge.

The guy sitting in Section 511 knows he cannot hit a 95-mph fastball, or leap high above the fence to intercept a home run. But the guy sitting in Section 511 absolutely believes he knows which players his team needs to get — and get rid of. The general manager that pays no heed must be an idiot.

Torii Hunter wants to be a general manager.

"I would like to build my own team," he said, "show that I have a little talent for scouting, picking great athletes, putting a team on the field."

That would be the easy part. That job description fails to include the 24/7 calls, e-mails and text messages, negotiations with agents and other general managers, construction of a front office, navigation of ever-tighter budgets, and meetings upon meetings.

And the fans' calling you an idiot.

Hunter will have earned more than $130 million by the time his Angels contract expires in 2012, and he might have one more contract left in him. He would not need another job. Many of his peers would cash in and go home.

"I love baseball," he said. "That's all I know. I've been around baseball my whole life. Why would I want to give it up just because I retire?

"I'm still learning about the game."

Dave Stewart said much the same thing when he retired in 1995, with four 20-win seasons and three World Series championship rings.

He worked as a special assistant to Oakland Athletics General Manager Sandy Alderson in 1996, as a special assistant to San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers in 1997, as the Padres' pitching coach in 1998.

The Toronto Blue Jays hired him as assistant GM that fall. In four years, he got two GM interviews and no jobs, and he gave up on his dream to become an agent.

"All the things you thought would apply didn't apply," Stewart said. "I thought having played the game and being on the inside would help."

To be a black man, he said, did not help. Tony Reagins of the Angels and Ken Williams of the Chicago White Sox are the only black GMs, although Michael Hill has the title in the Florida Marlins' organizational structure.

Omar Minaya of the New York Mets and Ruben Amaro of the Philadelphia Phillies are the only Latino GMs.

"I don't think it's very helpful if you're a minority," Stewart said, "but that can be overcome."

Find the right mentor, Stewart said, and you'll probably get your chance. Today's game is not as much about an old-boy network as about a get-the-hot-assistant network.

"Flavor of the month," Stewart said.

At the height of the Moneyball era in Oakland, Billy Beane assistants were hired to run the Dodgers (Paul DePodesta) and Toronto (J.P. Ricciardi, who beat out Stewart for the job). John Hart mentored his successor in Cleveland, Mark Shapiro, as well as DePodesta, Dan O'Dowd (Colorado), and Josh Byrnes (Arizona).

Theo Epstein's Boston Red Sox staff has included Byrnes and Jed Hoyer, the Padres' rookie GM.

"I had an opportunity to align myself with Dave Dombrowski," Stewart said of the Detroit Tigers GM. "I didn't. That might have put me on a fast track to be a general manager. At the time, he was the top guy in the business."

The get-the-hot-assistant trend devalues playing experience, to Hunter's astonishment. Amaro, Beane and Williams — and Jerry Dipoto, the interim GM in Arizona — are the only GMs to play in the majors.

"They're all numbers guys," Hunter said. "There's a lot of guys that didn't even play professional baseball, let alone major league baseball.

"Honestly, the numbers guys have no freaking clue what's going on in the field. That's just like me going to talk to a class about Vietnam. I've never been there. I've never been to war."

The statistical expert would have a place in a Hunter administration.

"That's something I would like to learn," he said. "I would have somebody like that by my side, like Theo Epstein. I've got to have a numbers guy."

The numbers guys say chemistry is a myth.

"When you put together a team, there's athletic ability first, then character and chemistry," Hunter said. "You put all that together in the clubhouse, that's scary.

"How does a guy prepare? What is his style of play? Does he have heart? You can't know that. You have to be there.

"There's no way, as a numbers guy, you can know about chemistry."

Hunter insists this is not a whim. He would like to visit Williams and Terry Ryan, his former GM with the Minnesota Twins, to solicit advice. He already peppers Reagins with questions.

"He's bright," Reagins said. "His knowledge of the game is excellent. His people skills are excellent. It's just going through the learning curve — the arbitration process, negotiations, rules.

"Torii can do anything he puts his mind to."

Ask Hunter how he would put together a championship team, and the chattiest player in baseball suddenly clams up.

"That's a secret," he said. "If I put it out there, people will steal it. I have a little plan."

He smiled. If or when he gets the chance to implement that plan, we'll see if that smile remains perpetual.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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