It’s spring and for Tyrone Brooks, who is the Director of Player Personnel for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and that means he should be in Bradenton, Florida, meeting with the scouts and his team and getting ready for the season.
Instead, he is in San Francisco, waiting for the birth of his second child. San Francisco? Not Pittsburgh? That’s right. I know, it sounds a little confusing.
He accepted a job with the Pirates as Director of Baseball Operations and a few days later his daughter was born in San Francisco. He and Stephanie want their second child to be born in San Francisco, as well.
So here they wait, as the Pirates start spring training in Florida.
For Tyrone, his path to this point started with the Atlanta Braves. He was an intern at first and then held various positions (in player development, scouting, and administration), throughout his 11 year tenure, as the Braves won 10 Division titles in 11 seasons and had two World Series appearances in 1996 and 1999. The organization won a total of 14 Division titles from 1991-2005—an incredible streak.
Tyrone knows how fortunate he’s been in his career and is grateful to those who have helped along the way the past 20 years. He also is not shy about giving back. He founded a group on LinkedIn, Baseball Industry Network, to help others who dream of working in baseball.
Tyrone and I sat down recently and he shared his story.
PJ: What is the outlook for the Pirates this season?
Tyrone: I think our club has the best depth as an organization I’ve seen here. It’s our best team on paper, but it’s a matter of us going out and taking care of business. The goal is bring the championship to Pittsburgh. This hasn’t changed. We have the same goal every year. We’ve taken little steps towards that.
In our division, we have to go through St. Louis. And the others have gotten better—Chicago, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee are all strong clubs. It’s going to be very competitive. We have to win every series. If you win two out of three games you are a very good team. It’s tough, but that’s what we have to do.
PJ: Who should we keep an eye on this season?
Tyrone: With the loss of Russell Martin to Toronto, we’ve brought Francisco Cervelli over from the Yankees. Russell did a great job handling the pitching staff and getting guys ready to pitch every game. Cervelli is an important player to watch. Defense is a big priority for us and if he can add some offense that will be good. It could be a pivotal spot for us.
PJ: Recently, Andrew McCutchen wrote a piece for the Players Tribune. What are your thoughts on this?
Tyrone: I was blown away by his message. What he’s dealt with growing up and especially with the resources he had and yet didn’t let the obstacles get in his way to achieve. It [this piece] opened a lot of eyes. It’s good to hear from someone like him. This should be a must-read and hopefully other players will chime in on how they can help.
What Andrew’s done on and off the field is exemplary. It would be nice to have 25 like him on the club, but that’s not possible. In the community he is helping kids and local charities and a lot of that goes unnoticed. He understands his position as a role model for kids coming up.
PJ: What can you tell me about the Pirates turnaround?
Tyrone: You have to look at the owner, Bob Nutting, and what he brought—a long-term vision for the franchise. He brought in the President, Frank Coonelly, and the GM Neal Huntington. Building from the bottom up with a process to develop a strong infrastructure from scouts to coaches to analysts. There is a lot of faith in individuals…there is also faith in leadership. All aspects have been part of this change.
One other thing that has been important is bringing in Clint Hurdle as manager. He has brought people in Pittsburgh together and is a leader on the field. He is a positive individual and has created an environment for the players to want to win. Initially, I saw the players hoped to win. Now, they believe in themselves and want to win every night. That’s how the mindset of our organization has changed.
In my first year, 2010, we lost 105 games. It was tough to get through. However, having gone through it as a group, we all want to do better, together. Neal, Frank, and Bob put this in place. They want to see people do well and gain opportunities. In turn, people want to do better and achieve because they understand what we want to do as an organization.
PJ: What is the organization’s biggest achievement?
Tyrone: Looking at the group that has been in place the last eight years, I would have to say sustainability…making the playoffs two years in a row. It’s one thing to get to the playoffs once. But if you do it the next year, it shows that you weren’t just a one-year wonder. It shows that things are going on here.
PJ: How has technology and information changed your role?
Tyrone: The stakes are so high at this point. More and more clubs need data along with the information they are getting from scouts. It’s the baseline of where a guy fits, to help make educated decisions.
The Braves were a scout-centric organization. Now, so much information is used, both data and from scouts. Teams are truly run like a big business and it’s a matter of showing results. The GM reports to the president…and having the information is valuable to show why they are making certain decisions.
The biggest thing now is that information flows much faster and we make decisions at a faster pace.
Information is so accessible and easy to get. So, it makes sense to do more due diligence. There have been so many changes in the front office, going back 10-15 years. Now there are diverse skill sets. There are obviously so many intelligent individuals drawn into the game now. It’s changed how the game is run.
PJ: What do you see as the next wave?
Tyrone: I definitely see that information is getting more in-depth every year. I think we will continue to see this taken to another level—becoming more measurable and more accurate.
PJ: Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
Tyrone: Looking back, No. 1 is John Schuerholz, who was GM of the Atlanta Braves and is now President. How he was able to trust people and put the right people in the right places. He had good instincts in reading people, understanding which players to bring in, and the organizational structure was just amazing.
It was an amazing streak—the Braves winning 14 straight division titles. Every year we expected excellence, we expected to be in the playoffs. Because of this, I challenged myself and asked “Is what I am doing making a difference?”
John did this. Not by micro-managing, yet when you needed input he was there. For me, I look at how he was able to be so successful for so many years…running this team and being so successful.
Paul Snyder [held various front office roles for the Braves] is another great…just being around him and Dayton Moore [also in the front office with Braves and current Royals GM]. How loyal they both were and how people were loyal to them. How they gave people opportunities, promoting from within.
These individuals challenged me…always allowing me to grow. I will always be grateful to them.
And, also Hank Aaron and Stan Kasten created an intern program [for minorities with the Braves] to get in the door at the ground level to learn and grow from there. If it wasn’t for that who knows if I would’ve been able to get my foot in the door at that time.
PJ: Tell me a little about working with Hank Aaron, who is one of the greatest baseball players of all-time, one of my favorites, as well as a great person.
Tyrone: You look at the struggles he had to go through from playing in the deep South and breaking the home run record and he is always so positive. None of this [his struggles] tainted anything for him. He has an understanding for each person…for who they are and trusts them. When I was in Atlanta he would talk to the young players about how he overcame obstacles and about treating others with respect. His love of the game would come out, as well as his positive frame of mind. He is a classy individual. As an industry we are proud of what he has done both on and off the field, and how he has conducted himself.
I came away with an understanding of him as a man and as a business person. He was an intelligent player and this has translated into being a successful executive. Seeing him as a person, his outreach in the community, and focus on education for people of color…this has had a great effect on me. For me, my education truly opened up doors for working in baseball.
PJ: As John Schuerholz, Dayton Moore, Paul Snyder, Stan Kasten and Hank Aaron helped you in your career. Tell me how you are paying it forward with your Baseball Industry Network group on LinkedIn?
Tyrone: I started this group five years ago. For me, it’s a passion to help people achieve in this industry and get opportunities. My thought behind it was two-fold—to bring professionals together to network and grow and to reach back to help those trying to break in.
This is truly a people business and it’s about building relationships. If it wasn’t for others I would not be where I am today—20 years working in baseball doing something I love to do. If I can help open doors to help others achieve their dreams, that’s great. When I get emails and calls from people who I may have helped by giving them advice, and hear their updates, I feel a lot of joy and take a lot of pride in that.
If we can continue to educate, even kids in inner cities, showing that if you love to do it, you can do it for a career [that’s a goal]. Most people only see the on field, but we can show them that they can still do things to work in sports, just behind the scenes.
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The Baseball Industry Network can be found at www.baseballindustrynetwork.com and followed on Twitter @tbrooksBIN