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By Anthony McClean, Editor -In-Chief, Emeritus
NEW HAVEN (BASN): In a week that saw the continued over-the-top racial scrutiny of President Obama, former Attorney General Eric Holder and future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter by local and national media, a very interesting alliance is forming in of all places — the state of Arizona. The 2014 MLB season has not been a fun one for the fans and immediate staff of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team headed for another non-playoff campaign just three seasons removed from winning the NL West.
It all came to a head Friday with the firing of manager Kirk Gibson and bench coach Alan Trammell. However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel for Arizona baseball fans.
One of the greatest postseason pitchers in MLB history — Dave Stewart — was officially hired by the D-Backs on Thursday as the club’s new Senior Vice President and General Manager. The 57-year-old Stewart joins Arizona as the fourth general manager in franchise history. He most recently owned and operated Stewart Management Partners, the sports agency he founded in 2002 that represents current and former players and coaches including Matt Kemp of the Dodgers and Chris Carter of the Astros.
Prior to that, he worked in the front office as a Special Assistant to General Manager Sandy Alderson with the Oakland A’s in 1996, Special Assistant to GM Kevin Towers with the San Diego Padres in 1997 and Assistant General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays from 1998-2001, including the added responsibility of overseeing both player development and scouting during the 2001 season. Stewart also held the position of pitching coach with the Padres (1998), Blue Jays (2000) and Milwaukee Brewers (2002) before starting his agency.
Stewart will be working directly with his former manager in Oakland, Tony La Russa — who was hired by Arizona as their Chief Baseball Operator earlier this year. In a statement released by the club, the Hall of Fame manager stated “I’ve known Stew for nearly three decades and his diverse background includes championships on the field as both a player and coach, in the front office and in contract negotiation as a player representative.”
Stewart, a member of the 1989 AL All-Star Team, went 168-129 with 19 saves and a 3.95 ERA over 16 Major League seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers (1978, ’81-83), Texas Rangers (1983-85), Philadelphia Phillies (1985-86), A’s (1986-92, ’95) and Blue Jays (1993-94). He won at least 20 games in four consecutive years from 1987-90, finishing among the Top 5 in AL Cy Young voting in each of those campaigns. He also pitched a no-hitter on June 29, 1990 at Toronto.
He reached the postseason six times in his career, winning three World Series, the 1989 World Series Most Valuable Player award and garnering 1990 and 1993 ALCS MVP honors. In the 1989 World Series vs. the San Francisco Giants, he went 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA, including a 5-hit shutout in Game 1.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy success as a player and coach and really enjoyed my time representing players, but this is the perfect challenge for me,” said Stewart, who was part of three World Series championship teams and earned Postseason MVP honors three times. “To try and put together the pieces of a championship team is something I can’t wait to begin and I could not be more excited about doing it”.
Stewart is the only current General Manager to play and coach in the Major Leagues, and the fourth current GM to appear in a big-league game, joining Ruben Amaro Jr., Billy Beane and Jerry DiPoto. The last GM to serve as a Major League player and coach prior to becoming GM was Bob Watson with the New York Yankees from 1995-98.
While the formation of Stewart and La Russa has gotten the most attention, the other black executive hired by the D-Backs could prove to be more directly tied to the club’s immediate success on the field. Former Dodger front office member De Jon Watson has been named Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations for the club. The 48-year-old Watson brings a long history of baseball experience to the desert.
Watson has spent eight years in the Dodgers organization and 29 years overall in baseball, including a 5-year Minor League playing career. He most recently served as Vice President of Player Development for the Dodgers, where he was responsible for developing and evaluating all players in the Minor League system, appointing all Minor League managers and coaching staff and overseeing the club’s winter ball participation.
During his time overseeing player development, the Dodgers have had several All-Stars reach the Major Leagues, including Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and Dee Gordon, among others. On a personal note, he’s also the son of the late musician Johnny “Guitar” Watson.
Prior to joining the Dodgers, Watson served as Director of Professional Scouting for the Cleveland Indians (2004-06) and handled pro scouting duties in Cincinnati (2001-03) after serving as the Reds’ Director of Scouting (1998-2000), where some of his draft picks included Adam Dunn and Austin Kearns. Watson first began working in Major League Baseball in 1991 with the Florida Marlins and served as an area scout when the club when it won its first World Championship in 1997.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to be a part of a very special team that Tony has put together,” said Watson. “I could not pass up the chance to be part of a dynamic working group and impact this organization in a way that helps us improve the way we compete, with a goal of playing October baseball.”
The trio of Stewart, Watson, and La Russa have a combined 122 years of experience in professional baseball. It will be interesting to see just who they’ll hire as the new manager as well as how long it takes this trio to turn things around in Arizona.
We’ll all be watching.