By Larry Millson
November 15, 2001
TORONTO–Holy Name High in Worcester, Mass., lost its basketball coach. That means the Toronto Blue Jays finally have their new general manager. That would be J.P. Ricciardi, who most recently was the Athletics’ director of player personnel.
Holy Name, which made the state final last season under his coaching, will be left in good hands, Ricciardi said.
Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey feels the same is true for his team after the decision to hire Ricciardi six weeks after Gord Ash was fired.
“He is the complete package,” Godfrey said. “He is the right person at the right place at the right time.”
Ricciardi, 42, said he intends to keep Buck Martinez as manager. He talked to Martinez on Wednesday and will talk to him more before deciding who will fill the vacancies at third base coach and hitting coach.
He knows pitching coach Mark Connor and bullpen coach Gil Patterson from his time in the New York Yankee organization.
Assistant GM Tim McCleary will be retained, and his expertise in handling contracts should prove valuable to Ricciardi, whose experience is mostly in the talent evaluation.
Ricciardi’s strength is player development, an area where the Blue Jays seem relatively strong. When Ash was fired the idea was to bring in someone with experience who could take the Blue Jays to the postseason.
But Ricciardi has been involved in making some significant trades and his philosophy made an impression.
“He has made moves at the major league level,” Godfrey said. “And our farm system in my opinion does not teach the fundamentals of baseball from the lowest level right up.”
The Blue Jays’ first choice was to bring back Pat Gillick, the Mariners GM. Some moves in that area were made through a third party, but Gillick decided to remain in Seattle.
Before joining the Blue Jays, Ricciardi had been with the Athletics for 16 years as a scout, special assistant to the GM and since 1999 director of player personnel.
Ricciardi worked under GMs Sandy Alderson and Billy Beane in Oakland. He played in the New York Mets system as a second baseman at Class A and Beane was one of his teammates and the two are friends.
He worked as a minor league coach with the Yankees organization from 1982 to 1984 and with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 1985.
He becomes the fourth Blue Jays GM following Peter Bavasi, who held the post in 1976-77, Gillick from 1977 through the end of the 1994 season and Ash who took over in November of 1994.
He wasn’t the first member of Oakland’s front office to be interviewed for the Blue Jays job. Assistant GM Paul DePodesta made a good impression but last week removed his name from consideration.
Ricciardi was one of the last of the candidates interviewed by Godfrey and the club’s chairman of the board Herb Solway.
“Oakland has a very lean organization as far as number of people both in scouting and in the front office,” Godfrey said. “And they seem to be able to do it. They seem to be able to get the job done. That leadership no doubt comes from Billy Beane at the top.”
Ricciardi is aware that the GM’s job involves a lot more than player evaluation. “I was around Sandy and Billy all the time and part of my job was dealing with other general managers,” he said. “I kind of got to see some of the heat these guys are under, some of the things they had to do.
“My strengths are definitely my baseball skills. My weakness is definitely my administrative stuff. I hope to get better at that, and hope to learn more about that. I consider myself a quick learner.”
Godfrey said he had several discussions with Beane about Ricciardi.
“J.P. is a very good evaluator and should do a good job,” said former Texas Ranger GM Doug Melvin who was also a candidate. “I have high regard for J.P.”
Godfrey felt that some of the other candidates could fill the job and said the short list was three or four. “I thought that J.P. had all the qualities I was looking for in a general manager,” he said.
Dave Stewart resigned as assistant GM and withdrew his name from consideration for the Blue Jays job on Tuesday night. He has taken on the job as Milwaukee Brewers pitching coach. Former Blue Jay hitting coach and radio commentator Gary Matthews also joined the Brewers as hitting coach.
Saying he is tired of taking part in a “process that doesn’t work,” Stewart took himself out of the running even before he had been officially notified that he wouldn’t get the job.
“I told Paul I was going to take myself in another direction, and he told me that he was going to call me in the morning to tell me he was going in another direction as well,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who joined the Blue Jays in 1998, stepped down from the front office in the 2000 season to replace Rick Langford as pitching coach. But he made clear at the time that his desire was to pursue a GM job.
Even with public efforts by baseball commissioner Bud Selig to force clubs to hire minority candidates for front-office positions, baseball remains largely a white man’s game in the executive suite, and Stewart has spent the better part of three seasons trying to break through.
“There’s no sense in trying to force yourself into a place where you’re not wanted,” said Stewart, 44, who was the pitching coach of the San Diego Padres in 1998 when they went to the World Series.
“I’m talking about baseball in general when I say that,” Stewart said. “For me, I could care less about being a GM right now. I’ve exhausted all possibilities and, frankly, all hope.”
And he felt Stewart’s day will come to be a GM.
“I think that Dave Stewart can be a general manager and will be a general manager,” Godfrey said.
Just not this time.