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Sternberg presents winning combination
The Rays owner reveals the 1-2 punch that will take the place of the traditional GM spot, a title he says is outdated.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published November 4, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - As Andrew Friedman and Gerry Hunsicker get to know each other and learn to work together, there are going to be times when the Devil Rays new, top two baseball executives have passionate debates, loud arguments and heated fist-on-the-desk disagreements.
And principal owner Stuart Sternberg couldn't be happier.
The Rays revealed their restructured front office hierarchy Thursday, with Friedman as executive vice president of baseball operations, Hunsicker under him as senior vice president of baseball operations, and neither (nor anyone else) with the traditional title of general manager, which Sternberg discarded as outdated.
The idea is for Friedman, a 28-year-old with acumen and ambition but little experience, to make the final decisions and Hunsicker, a 55-year-old with a successful resume from nine years as Houston's general manager, to assist in all areas, starting with hiring a manager by mid November. Sternberg envisions them complementing each other's skills, offering contrasting ideas and occasionally conflicting opinions.
The question is how - or whether - the relationship between the two will work.
"Andrew is going to have to gain Gerry's respect," Sternberg said. "I've been very clear in how I delineated things, and I would imagine Gerry, as the professional that he is, is coming in here with eyes open and recognizes that, and he also recognizes what he can bring to bear here."
Hunsicker insists he welcomes and will be extremely comfortable in a secondary role, joking that he would give Friedman the blood pressure cuff and prescription for Nexium heartburn medicine he had in his Houston office before resigning after the 2004 season.
"I'm here to support what Andrew wants to do," Hunsicker said. "I'm here for him to use me in any way he wants. One thing about me, he's going to know where I stand on the issues. We're forming a partnership here, and that means developing a trust and a commitment in each other. And the end of the day, it's going to be his call, and I'm going into this accepting that. ... My role is different in this position than the one I just left and I'm very comfortable with that."
That comfort level, he said, was a result of being comfortable with Friedman, spending enough time talking the last three weeks to decide a mentor/student arrangement could work, even though the mentor is working for the student.
"I was not interested in getting into a situation where the guy I worked with had all the answers: "I know you have all this experience, but I know what I'm doing,' " Hunsicker said. "It's a bit of a leap of faith for both of us because we don't know each other - we're just getting to know each other. And a year from now, none of us knows how this arrangement is going to work. But I'm very confident we both asked ourselves the tough questions and are meeting this challenge head on."
Friedman, stepping into the spotlight after two years learning the Rays organization from the inside, made it clear he was going to be in charge, and just as clear he would welcome Hunsicker's input.
"Obviously, I'm going to have the ultimate say on player personnel decisions, but Gerry's going to assist me in every facet of the organization," Friedman said. "We'll obviously have strong opinions, and it would be silly for me not to draw upon his experience."
Hunsicker was a finalist for the GM job with his hometown Phillies, but said he was at a stage in his life where it was no longer important to be the No. 1 man. He bypassed potential opportunities with the Dodgers and Red Sox to sign a three-year deal with the Rays.
Part of the appeal to Hunsicker was the opportunity to be involved without being immersed in the job 24/7/365, allowing time for his wife and daughter, as well as a growing interest in owning race horses. He will maintain his home in Houston, though has committed to being wherever Friedman wants him, and plans to attend most home games.
Another factor was his wildly favorable impression of Sternberg, raving about his vision, passion and commitment to success and noting several times during Thursday's Tropicana Field news conference how refreshing - and apparently different - it would be to work for an owner who let his employees do their jobs.
"We have a chance to do something here that quite frankly I don't think exists anywhere else in baseball - namely the support of an owner that has trust and confidence in us to say, "You guys chart the course, you guys tell us where we need to go and how we need to get there,' " Hunsicker said. "That's exciting. It's like having a blank canvas as an artist and letting your imagination run wild."
Sternberg said there is no model for the new arrangement, though he expects other teams to follow and adopt a more corporate-like structure and abandon the GM title. Other teams have tried and failed with two-headed GMs or a committee approach, most recently the Orioles, but Sternberg insists he has the right people to make it work - a bright young executive who is eager to learn, and an egoless veteran willing to share his expertise with no ulterior motive.
"It's going to be a work in progress, but (Gerry's) job is to touch everything," Sternberg said. "Andrew recognizes as well or better than anybody else that Gerry is an expert in a lot of things, and if Andrew says "A' and Gerry says "B', they'll talk about it. Andrew will try to understand that point of view.
"I would hope that Andrew is going to say, "Gerry, look, you're the guy and you've done it and that's the way we're going to go.' Or, I would hope, if Andrew feels strongly about something he would say, "You know something, I really feel strongly about this, I'm sorry, but we're going to have to go in this other direction and this is why I think that's the case.' "
And when they do have the inevitable disagreement?
"We're going to lock the door," Hunsicker said. "And I usually don't leave marks."