Larkin learns Front Office 101
by Alan Schwarz
September 19, 2005
Most people think it's the Expos who relocated to Washington this year. But
in some ways it was the Reds: from general manager Jim Bowden to his handpicked
assistants, Barry Larkin, Jose Rijo and Bob Boone, the Nationals have become Reds
The most intriguing face belongs to Larkin, who throughout his Hall of Fame
caliber career was considered one of the brightest players in baseball and a
strong GM prospect. But after less than one year inside the front office, exposed
to the schedule and other demands of running a major league organization, is
Larkin having second thoughts? I sat down with Bowden and Larkin to discuss the
transition to a star's new baseball life.
ALAN SCHWARZ: Jim, what have you wanted Barry to learn this year?
JIM BOWDEN: The first thing is recognize that there is a transition
between playing and going into the front office. We have a very unique case here.
We're talking about a player that was a 2004 all-star and the following year he
is the special assistant to the general manager.
Barry is very talented in many areas--whether he wants to manage in the big
leagues, whether he wants to coach, whether he wants to be a scouting director,
whether he wants to be a general manager, Barry has the judgment, the evaluation,
the business background to do any of them. He understands hitting as good as
anyone I've ever been around. He can identify it whether it be from a scouting
perspective or a hitting-coach perspective. He has a real good sense of who can
play and who can't play.
AS: Barry, some star players retire with a heightened belief they can
become GM's immediately--Mike Schmidt comes to mind. What do you need to learn
moving forward for you to move up in the baseball hierarchy?
BARRY LARKIN: I don't know if I want to move up in the baseball
hierarchy--which is actually why I took this position, to be exposed to the
things that Jim has to do and some of the duties of the general manager. To see
what happens on the other side of the fence. I certainly didn't think at the end
of my playing days that I would have been capable of being able to perform the
duties of the general manager.
AS: It sounds to me you've been a little spooked by the waiver
I haven't seen them.
BL: Jim is really walking me through this very gingerly--the one thing
that he said to me when I first accepted this job was, "I don't want to put
everything on you right away. I want this to be a pleasant experience for you."
So he's been very slow in exposing me to some of the more intricate and confusing
things that I might face somewhere down the line.
AS: That's interesting, Jim--when Sandy Alderson brought in Billy
Beane, his strategy was to make Billy do everything, learn everything at once,
sort of sink or swim. Seems you're taking a different path.
JB: I wanted to make sure that when this year is over he would have the
opportunity to be involved in a lot of different facets--not overwhelm him so
when the year is over he's like, "Well, I don't want to do that! Are you kidding
me?" When the year is over he's going to look and go, "You know, I kind of like
it, next year I am ready to take a little bit more of a bite."
AS: How does Jose Rijo fit in?
BOWDEN: Jose's been able to help not only our big league pitching staff
and with trades and pitchers in the draft, but he's from the Dominican Republic
where he has a complex. We've taken a situation where we had one team in a bad
area in the Dominican Republic, basically the ghetto, and we now have two teams
at Jose's complex. We're able to sign more players in Latin America than we ever
The last three years, they spent very close to zero dollars. So we've been
very aggressive in improving our situation in the Dominican Republic and
Venezuela and Mexico and all the other countries.
AS: That's very surprising, given that Omar Minaya was in charge from
2002-04, and has such zeal for Latin America.
JB: Well, I think we all have budget restrictions. When I came in here,
they allowed me to reallocate some dollars so we would have more of an influence
there. I think us moving to Washington, they allowed us a little more
AS: Now that you're not playing, Barry, how do you look at players
LARKIN: Whenever we have a staff meeting, the one thing that I hear is,
"You are such a player."
AS: I'm not sure that's a compliment.
I think it is. I think it's a perspective that they appreciate, a guy who was
just in the clubhouse just last year. Especially in the situation here, the
coaching staff is so far removed from playing the game of baseball that you
sometimes forget how it actually feels to be a player. And I think they rely on
me to give them a realistic feel of how the players would react to a certain
JB: One of the hardest things that teams do in this game is evaluate
hitters. I think scouts in general have a problem. I grew up with the Cincinnati
and Pittsburgh organizations which were basically run-and-throw organizations,
and when I got to Cincinnati I basically said, "Look, run-and-throw doesn't work
because if you don't hit you don't play in the big leagues." That's where (Adam)
Dunn and (Austin) Kearns and Wily Mo Pena and Sean Casey and Felipe Lopez, they
all came out of that--hitting and fielding are more important than running and
throwing. Barry's understanding of hitting is beyond what scouts have been
scouting for 35 years can understand.
AS: Barry, you might have been baseball's most well-rounded infielder
for much of the 1990s--stealing and hitting and fielding and patience, the whole
package. Does that versatility help you as a scout?
LARKIN: It does. Whenever I'm watching somebody, I do compare what they
do to how my approach was to the game. The more rounded a player that I am, the
more that I have to draw from.
AS: How close did you come to putting on the uniform again this
BL: I was actually working out in Orlando and working out pretty good.
I was ready to play. (But) my family is something that is very important to me,
and I just could not make the commitment to being away from home for the last two
months of the season. As far as physically, I was absolutely ready to play.
when did you realize that Barry was a front office/GM prospect?
JB: When I met him (in the late 1980s). When you run across special
people in your life, you just know. Whether it be presence, intelligence, soul,
character, integrity, work ethic, understanding, getting along with people, team
building, good judgment, good sense, you know who they are. The first time I met
Billy Beane I knew what he was going to be. The first time I met John Schuerholz
I knew what he was.
AS: Barry, in 10 years, what position in baseball do you want to
BL: I honestly cannot answer that question. I assume that in 10 years
my kids will be out of college and doing their own thing. I'd like to be exposed
to everything on this side of the fence and make an assessment after I am exposed
to all the things to see what I want to do.
AS: Gut feeling--front office or on-field?
BL: On the field.
AS: Is there anything about this year's experience that makes you feel
BL: Yeah--Jim Bowden gets to the ballpark at 8:30 in the morning and
leaves at midnight. How about that?
You can reach Alan Schwarz by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.