In the midst of Super Bowl talk, NBA back-to-back-to-back games, and the NFL Pro Bowl and NHL All-Star games this weekend, baseball fans are getting their Babe Ruth on with the realization that pitchers and catchers are due to report to Spring Training camps in about a month.
Big Lead Sports spoke with Kevin Towers, who has been general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks since September 2010 following 14 years in that capacity with the San Diego Padres (1995-2009), about the team’s resurgence last season and the challenges of a small-market team competing with franchises from larger markets.
Big Lead Sports: You have been a general manger in MLB for more than 15 years. What are some of the key things you have learned about baseball regarding fans and the business of the game?
Kevin Towers: I would say that continuity is very important in a successful organization. That and good leadership at the top. And of course, commitment, trust and the importance of character and values, not only in the front office but on the ball club. It’s almost as vital as skill sets. Hall of Famer Pat Gillick was always a mentor and an executive that preached those things many years ago and the more I’ve been in the game, the more I’ve understood how right he was.
BLS: The Diamondbacks were 70-92 in 2009 and 65-97 in 2010. Then last year, when you became GM and Kirk Gibson full-time manager after his interim role in 2010, the team was 94-68, the most wins since 2002 (98-64), won its first NL West title since 2007 and Gibson was named NL Manager of the Year. What were the keys from your perspective regarding the team’s success last season?
KT: I think we were able to establish a winning culture within the clubhouse. The coaching staff did a great job in providing excellent leadership and set the tone and then the players bought into it and took on their personality. They played with a lot more confidence than the Diamondbacks have in the last couple of years. Also, our trainers did an incredible job keeping our guys healthy and on the field. Justin Upton played more games than he ever had, we got 200 innings and 30-plus starts out of Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy and other than a few exceptions, the core of our club remained healthy and stayed on the field.
BLS: There is a divide in some sports organizations between the consumer business and the on-field business. How do successful organizations balance both?
KT: There should be no division between business and baseball. They have to work in unison and communication is vital. The business side obviously helps generates revenues that helps the baseball side put the best product it can on the field. For me, spending more quality time with the business people gives me a better understanding of their job description, their duties, their responsibilities and how it affects the baseball side. The better understanding I’ve had, the more helpful I can be.
KT: I really believe that any information is good information. With technology, there’s more information at our fingertips and that helps us become more efficient and make less mistakes. At the same time, I still believe strongly in the traditional scouting eye and evaluations, but statistical data provides useful information when it comes to the decision-making process. Our relationship with Bloomberg – the graphics, the information and the database there gives us much more insight into a player – not only from a statistical standpoint but contract information, video and other areas, which is an upgrade over the system we’ve used in the past.
BLS: Why will the Diamondbacks again be successful in 2012?
KT: Having more fans in the stands creates a better atmosphere and we saw that quite a bit last season. That definitely helps us be more successful. And anytime you can generate more revenue – whether it’s from tickets, sponsorships or other areas – it allows us to go out and spend more money on the players on the field. I feel very fortunate to have an ownership group, led by Ken Kendrick, which continues to give us the resources we need to win and a president in Derrick Hall who supports us in every way possible. I know that they always have our back and that’s important.
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