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HELENE ELLIOTT

Adversity has prepared Jerry Dipoto for any challenges as Angels GM

The 43-year-old former pitcher has overcome several health issues, including thyroid cancer, and his front-office work with the Arizona Diamondbacks helped formulate his philosophy on how to build a winning team.

October 29, 2011|Helene Elliott
  • Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto is a thyroid cancer survivor, something that continues to shape and affect his life. But he purposely did not mention it during either of his interviews with the Angels.
Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto is a thyroid cancer survivor, something… (Jae C. Hong / Associated…)

Jerry Dipoto emerged from two interviews for the Angels' general manager job with no regrets, satisfied he had said all he wanted to say.

To support his case, he gave owner Arte Moreno and club President John Carpino a massive "living document" outlining the philosophy he had formulated after nearly a quarter of a century in baseball.

"You will never accuse me of being short on words through time, and I'll answer just about anything you can think of," Dipoto said.

Yet, there's a topic he never raised with them: that he's a thyroid cancer survivor. The disease was detected during a routine spring-training physical in 1994 and took him through a grueling course of surgery, radiation treatment, uncomfortable weight gain and other debilitating side effects.

Carpino said he knew of Dipoto's medical history but never brought it up. Moreno said he wasn't aware of it until after Dipoto was introduced at a news conference Saturday at Angel Stadium.

"Through the process we were objectively looking at straight baseball questions," Moreno said.

Which is as Dipoto wanted. He hoped to win the job on his many merits, not on a sympathy vote.

"I've been through a fair share of adversity in my life health-wise. I think you bring it up and it gives you a crutch," the 43-year-old New Jersey native said.

"I don't ever want people to feel sorry for me. I don't want to advertise what I've overcome or that I'm some super-achiever. I'll let what I do every day stand as my story. Along the way there are enough people that know. It's not something that I was trying to hide in any way."

The experience continues to shape and affect him. He must take medication daily to simulate the thyroid's function and help him metabolize food.

"I had it at such a young age. I was 25," he said. "And my kids, one wasn't even here yet and two others were peewees, but it helped me to mature very quickly and give me a perspective on life that was very different than I might have had in the years prior.

"And it also removed my adrenal gland, so it made me a much calmer person than I might have been before. Not a bad outcome for me."

It's great that he can joke about it now, just as he makes light of the neck injury that ended his pitching career in 2001 — "at least I'd like to believe that was the reason why," he said — and the blood clot in 1998 that he said briefly stopped his heart.

"That was a unique experience," he said, smiling. "You deal with these things as they come, just like in baseball. Sometimes when they throw you a curveball you settle in and try to hit the next fastball."

He has been preparing for this at-bat for years.

While with the Colorado Rockies in 2000, a bulging disk in his neck put him on the disabled list. He began spending time in the front office, asking questions and offering observations without being asked.

"They actually let me sit in as a fly on the wall at the draft that year, so that became my first exposure to the draft," he said. "As you'll find out, to keep my mouth shut is not always easy for me, so I started spitting out opinion on the players I was seeing on the screen, which I think is inherent of people who've done what they're trying to do."

He continued on that path, becoming a scout, talent evaluator and interim general manager and assistant general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Moreno liked that Dipoto worked on the business side, too, in marketing and ticket sales.

"It was really important to us to find someone more well-rounded," Moreno said.

Dipoto succeeds Tony Reagins, who was fired after the Angels missed the playoffs for the second straight year. It was their first back-to-back misses since the drought between their 1986 heartbreak and their 2002 World Series championship, but Moreno wasn't going to wait for a third non-playoff finish.

"I think one year's too long, isn't it?" Moreno said.

The responsibility for getting them on the road to the playoffs goes to Dipoto, who envisions a team effort with the staff he hopes to hire soon and Manager Mike Scioscia.

"What we're doing in baseball operations is creating an assembly line," Dipoto said. "Here comes the chassis, we put on the tires, someone drops in the engine, right down to the plastic on the seats. We drive it into the garage, park it, I walk into the office and give Mike Scioscia the keys and say, 'Drive it as you may.' "

helene.elliott@latimes.com

twitter.com/helenenothelen

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