The John Hart Tree Bears Copious Amounts Of Fruit

John Hart“Closers grow on trees.”

If there was one quote that former Indians General Manager John Hart was known for, it was that one. Hart had a progressive way of thinking during the time in baseball that we now refer to as the “steroid era.” He wanted to build a team that would out-slug you, then lock you down in the late innings with a deep, power-armed bullpen. While he clearly was onto something, Hart’s teams could never get over that hump, despite being a screaming success.

As GM of the Indians for 10 years, Hart presided over the most memorable times in Cleveland baseball that any of us under the age of 50 will ever recall. Only in Cleveland would we refer to this time as “The Era of Champions” despite the fact that no World Series titles were won. But nevertheless, Hart was the on the ground floor of the building of a sleeping giant that captured the hearts of our city and reminded the rest of the sport that baseball was still being played in Cleveland.

Hart is now an analyst form the MLB Network. He sits in the studio all season and has the pleasure of watching the stamp he left of the game. The pride he must feel has to be immense. Hart’s disciples are everywhere.

During his tenure as General Manager in both Cleveland and Texas, where he ran the Rangers from 2001 to 2005, John had a deep stable of young lieutenants that have gone onto to take over teams of their own in various capacities. Take a look at this roster:

Mark Shapiro – President, Cleveland Indians – Shapiro, the son of former baseball player agent Ron, learned directly at the feet of the master. He joined the Indians in 1991 and rose to prominence as Hart’s assistant GM. Shapiro was intricately involved as Hart’s right hand man and when the time came for Hart to move on, the promotion of Shapiro was a no-brainer.

The Princeton educated Shapiro had a deep love for the analytics of baseball and stayed as GM of the Indians for 10 years before being kicked up to Team President. Shapiro today still runs the business side of the Indians organization. Love him or hate him, Shapiro’s passion for the Indians and the city of Cleveland cannot be questioned. He and his family have truly made this city their home.

Chris Antonetti – GM – Cleveland Indians – A young Georgetown graduate joined the Indians organization in 1999 after a stint with the Montreal Expos where he started as an intern. At the time, Neal Huntington was the Tribe’s farm director, working directly under Hart. He recommended Antonetti to Hart and Shapiro for an opening in the baseball operations department. Antonetti would get the job and rise through the ranks. When Hart left after the 2001 season, Shapiro took over as the full time GM. Antonetti moved up.

In 2007, Antonetti’s star rose and he was said to be the leading candidate to become the next GM of the St. Louis Cardinals. He took his name out of the running and signed a contract extension with the Indians. At the time, it was thought that he had been assured he would take over for Shapiro at some point. Antonetti became the GM of the Indians after the 2010 season.

After struggling through the Manny Acta years – Antonetti’s close ties with Terry Francona was a huge reason that the World Series champion agreed to take over as the manager in Cleveland. In his first season of “Tribe rebirth,” Antonetti used shrewd trades and key free agent signings to turn his team from a 96 loss club to a 92 win Wild Card group.

Dan O’Dowd – GM – Colorado Rockies - O’Dowd worked as closely with Hart as anyone in this group. From 1988 to 1998, Dan was a key member of the front office. He started as the Tribe’s director of Player Development and moved into Assistant GM and V.P. of Baseball Operations roles. O’Dowd, Shapiro, and Huntington were Hart’s “cabinet members” in a loaded front office. He was the first of the Hart disciples to “graduate” and get a GM gig, which he did with the Colorado Rockies in 1999.

O’Dowd has had a modicum of success in Denver but nothing truly sustained. He has remained on the job for 14 seasons and added Executive Vice President and Chief Baseball Officer to his title. His Rockies made the World Series in 2007, losing to the Boston Red Sox. But what he is best remembered for here in Cleveland is the trade he and his old co-worker Antonetti made in 2011. O’Dowd sent Ubaldo Jimenez to the Indians for former first round picks Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, along with two other prospects.

Neal Huntington – GM – Pittsburgh Pirates – As a young up and coming baseball mind, Huntington got his start in Montreal as a player development guy. The Indians plucked him away in 1998, where he worked for Hart as the Director of Player Development. By 2002, he became assistant general manager, along with Antonetti. His last two seasons in Cleveland 2006 and 2007, he was a special assistant to the GM.

After that 2007 season which saw the Indians fall just one short of meeting O’Dowd’s Rockies in the World Series, it was open season on the Tribe’s young front office talent. Antonetti took his name out of the Cardinals GM search, but Huntington would take the opportunity to run his own team, as the Pittsburgh Pirates offered Neal their GM job. Fast forward to 2013 and Huntington is being lauded for his complete rebuild of the Buccos, who made their first playoff appearance since 1992.

Josh Byrnes – GM – San Diego Padres –  The current General Manager of the San Diego Padres took his first job in baseball with the Indians in 1994, the same year Jacobs Field opened. He started as an unpaid intern and by 1998, he became the scouting director for Hart. O’Dowd, who had left for the Rockies, took Byrnes with him as his young assistant GM. Two years later, he left Colorado to take the same position in Boston, under Theo Epstein and joined up with the monster that is the Red Sox organization. Like so many of the other young, started from the bottom, smart baseball minds in Hart’s stable, Byrnes was a wanted man who eventually got his own team to pilot. In 2005, the Arizona Diamondbacks hired Josh as their new GM at the age of 35.

Byrnes lasted five years in Arizona before being fired. He wasn’t out of work long as two months later, he joined one of his old Boston front office-mates, Jed Hoyer, in San Diego as Senior VP of Baseball Operations. When Hoyer left to join Epstein in Chicago with the Cubs after the 2011 season, Byrnes was promoted to General Manager.

Jon Daniels – GM – Texas Rangers – Daniels had a career path that will sound familiar. He started as an intern with the Rockies under O’Dowd in 2001 – Hart’s original right-hand man. After just a year, an opening in the Texas front office became available, working directly for Hart as a Baseball Operations assistant. Daniels was said to have wowed Hart in the interview and landed the job. He was promoted two years later and by 2005, when Hart decided to retire from baseball, Daniels was his hand picked replacement. He was just 28 when he got the gig, the youngest GM in Baseball history.

Under Daniels’s watch, the Rangers have won 90-plus games four years in a row and  advanced to the team’s first World Series in 2010.

Bud Black – Manager – San Diego Padres – A former Major League pitcher, most notably with the Indians from 1988-1990, retired from the game in 1995. He rejoined the organization in 1996 as a special assistant to Hart in 96, 97, and 99. The 1998 season he moved back down to the field as the pitching coach for the AAA Buffalo Bison. The Angels came along and the West Coast based Black couldn’t help but take the job as the new pitching coach. Black’s stellar work for seven years had him on the top of managerial candidate lists every single year. But he loved living in Southern California and only the perfect situation would change his mind.

In 2007, his dream scenario came through as the San Diego Padres offered him their managerial position. The San Diego State grad jumped at the chance and he has been their ever since.

Terry Francona – Manager – Cleveland Indians – While some may view this as a stretch, this one season where Francona worked as a special assistant to the General Manager – which was Hart at the time – turned out to be the reason that Tito is managing the Tribe today. He would closely with the soon to be GM Shapiro and his trusty assistant Antonetti.

Paul DePodesta – former GM Los Angeles Dodgers – The casual baseball fan doesn’t know the name, but you may know him as “Peter Brand,” played by Jonah Hill in the movie version of the best selling book, “Moneyball.” DePodesta didn’t want his name associated with the film for some odd reason. Paul was the only person who’s real name was not used. His first job in baseball was as an advanced scout for the Indians under Hart in 1996. He left after three seasons to become an assistant General Manager under Billy Beane with the Oakland A’s. He ascended so fast thanks to his unconventional way of thinking, that the big market Dodgers came calling in 2004 where he was hired as the GM, at the tender age of 31.

The Harvard grad didn’t have the success that was expected of him and he was in a bit over his head in Los Angeles. He was fired after the 2005 season and resurfaced with the Padres a year later. DePodesta currently is the Vice President of  player development and scouting for the New York Mets.

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Talk about a loaded tree. This certainly isn’t the Bill Parcells tree of Bill Belichick and a bunch of failures. Hart has developed some of the sharpest minds in the game of baseball. I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit on a national scale, despite the love he gets here in Cleveland.

side note – John Farrell is an omission from this list. He didn’t join the Indians as farm director until after the 2001 season, Hart’s last in Cleveland.  

(AP Photo/David Richard)

  • Steve

    “DePodesta didn’t want his name associated with the film for some odd reason”

    The odd reason was that he didn’t like being typecast as the stereotypical stats guy, because he was actually nothing like how that character was drawn up.

  • davelb87

    The John Hart tree may be impressive in numbers, but it falls well short in terms of results.

    By far, the most successful member of the tree has been Jon Daniels with 3 playoff appearances and 2 pennants in 8 years as a GM. The only other member of this tree with a pennant as an executive is Dan O’Dowd with 2 playoff appearances and a pennant in 15 years in Denver. Byrnes and Shapiro both have 1 appearance in 8 years, Huntington has 1 in 6 years, and Antonetti has 1 in 4 years. By my count, the entire Hart tree has managed 9 playoff appearances and 3 pennants in a combined 49 years.

    I chalk a good deal of this up to what I call “Belichick Theory.” When you have a truly brilliant mind at the top of an organization (such as Belichick) they rarely produce assistants that achieve at the highest levels when they get their chance to take the big chair. This is largely because the top man is such a micromanager that his assistants are rarely given the chance to grow and develop skills. The failure rate amongst Belichick’s former New England assistants (Crennel, Weis, Mangini, McDaniels, Pioli) as head coaches/executives is staggering. I think this may be the same case with Hart…his former assistants rode his coattails to GM positions and generally failed to produce since.

  • mgbode

    I think you are being way too harsh here. I also think TD was being too generous.

    The bonafide successes:

    Daniels – took a struggling team, managed bankruptcy/ownership turmoil and has produced a talent stream equal to almost any in baseball. model franchise.

    Huntington – anyone who calls what he has done with Pitt anything but a success is a fool.

    Francona – only year that counts for this is 2013 w/ Tribe and that was a success, obviously.

    The marginal successes:

    Shapiro/Antonetti – had good teams from 2005-2008, but lack of drafting ability continues to hamper any further success.

    DePodesta – still gets credit for some of the Beane success and the A’s struggled as much w/o him as he did w/o them. Still, never made the impact everyone seemed to expect from him.

    The mostly failures:

    Byrnes – seems like a good guy, but he just wasn’t good in Zona and hasn’t been good in SD. Nothing to really hang his hat on, so he’s got to be in this category.

    Black – only based on managerial situation. He has some success, but really nothing sustained and SD doesn’t seem to have any sense of urgency with these guys at the helm.

  • Steve

    Most of these names are among the well respected in the sport.

    And of course, how much of Hart’s success was due to riding the coattails of the guy he assisted, Hank Peters, who drafted Belle, Ramirez, Thome, Nagy, and who traded for Alomar and Baerga?

  • whiskeyTANGOfoxtrot

    I think your wrong, with as many teams as there are in baseball it looks like the success if these few guys is tremendous because they all have ties to one man. How many others in baseball can say they we evaluated and hired by the same guy? Pennants or not this an accomplishment to say that he evaluated and groomed all of these top level baseball executive.