A conversation with Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks president & CEO

The Arizona Diamondbacks Evening on the Diamond Presented by University of Phoenix at Chase Field on March 30, 2012.  (Jordan Megenhardt/Arizona Diamondbacks)

The Arizona Diamondbacks Evening on the Diamond Presented by University of Phoenix at Chase Field on March 30, 2012. (Jordan Megenhardt/Arizona Diamondbacks)

Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks president and CEO (Jon Wiley/Arizona Diamondbacks)

Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks president and CEO (Jon Wiley/Arizona Diamondbacks)

By Ed Odeven
Tokyo (Oct. 20, 2013) — Derrick Hall has been called one of the rising stars among baseball executives. He also professes to taking a different approach to the high-profile job than many within the industry.

In January 2012, Yahoo Sports quoted Hall as saying, “With our company the customer doesn’t come first, the employee comes first, and when we treat our employees well, they in turn treat the customers well. We recognize our employees, we respect our employees, we promote our employees.”

Hall, 44, became president of the Arizona Diamondbacks in September 2006, 16 months after joining the organization. He received the CEO title in 2009 — major responsibilities, indeed.

He previously worked 12 years for the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, including time as senior vice president, communications. He got his foot in the door as an intern for the Class A Vero Beach club in 1992.

He has a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State, a master’s in sports administration from Ohio University and a genuine desire to do good in the community. According to his bio info posted on the Diamondbacks website, Hall presides on 25 boards, including the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Arizona Mexico Commission and Make-A-Wish Foundation and National Advisory Council for Pancreatic Cancer.

In a published piece in July, Hall was described this way in Mike Sunnucks’ online blog for the Phoenix Business Journal:

“Locally, Hall has carved a positive image with the media as well as business and nonprofit communities,” Sunnucks wrote. http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/blog/business/2013/07/diamondbacks-president-derrick-hall.html?page=all)

“The D-backs have not been a perfect organization under the tenure of Hall and managing partner Ken Kendrick. Like any team, some moves have worked and others have not. Some employees thrive in some organizations. Some do not.

“But Hall is viewed as a good guy, somewhat akin to golfer Phil Mickelson’s personality and the team has been competitive despite limitations because of Phoenix’s market size versus division rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“Locally, Hall has plenty of friends in the media and business circles. He is accessible and outgoing — something that has not been the business model with the Arizona Cardinals over the years.”

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I wanted to gain a greater understanding of Hall’s work and his views on baseball, so the following interview provides some of those answers.

Me: If there’s such a thing as a typical day, can you describe the typical day in the life of an MLB team president/CEO? And what tasks and duties require your attention the most?

Hall: It really just depends on the day and time of year. I find myself more involved with our baseball operations leadership in the off-season and winter months, while more focused on business activities during the summer months. We are a year-round, large-sized company and operate like any other. I work with all of my direct reports on a daily basis, while balancing time between media interviews, community activities and involvement, political issues and relationships and speech-giving.

What newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs do you regularly follow to get insightful information on the big leagues? And do you have a few favorite beat writers, columnists and commentators outside of the Diamondbacks market?

First and foremost, I read MLB.com and dbacks.com on a daily basis. In addition, I read our local newspaper every morning, monitor Sports Business Journal and Daily, mlbtraderumors.com and baseballreference.com. Nationally, I follow several, such as Buster Olney, Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal and Jayson Stark.

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job as you think about your time with the Diamondbacks?

Obviously winning is at the top of the list. Celebrating with our team after clinching the division in 2011 will always be a favorite. But on a daily basis, I get great satisfaction from interacting with fans. I enjoy answering their e-mails, texts, phone calls, etc. We are in this game for the fans, and I believe in transparency and accessibility.

I’m curious to know this: Who is your favorite non-MLB athlete or team to root for? Is there a special appeal about that person or team that makes you root for them?

I always support my alma mater at Arizona State University. It helps that I am town here and can attend several of the games and matches. As for individual athletes, I am a big fan of Roger Federer. I respect his temperament on and off of the court and his promotion of the sport. He is a gentleman and a humble champion who goes about his business the right way.

Indeed, you have a high-profile job. If you can recall, what do you consider the best advice you’ve received in handling the demands of the job?

My father always told me to remember where I came from and to never change who I am. His advice to me was to learn everyone’s name, from the ticket takers to the cleaning crew and treat everyone the same. As a result, we have no silos and no hierarchies here.

Southpaw starter Paul Corbin’s spectacular start to the 2013 season (He was 11-1 with a 2.35 ERA at the All-Star break) was one of the pleasant surprises to date for many Diamondbacks fans and MLB observers. So, compared to 2012 and earlier, what has he been doing differently in 2013 to become one of the game’s top pitchers?

Patrick benefited from having another year under his belt. Being able to cut his teeth in the big leagues the year prior with mixed results was a big help. He was more relaxed and knew what to expect. He threw more innings the year before than he had ever thrown and was ready for the grind this season. He had confidence in his slider and threw it frequently. That set up his fast ball which he threw with much better command. He was consistent and dominant all year long for us and will only get better should he stay healthy.

Some folks speculated that the Diamondbacks would be moved to the AL West when realignment took place – that is, instead of Houston being sent to the AL West. Since the move didn’t take place, Arizona will continue its division rivalries with San Diego and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Colorado. For the franchise, what makes the NL continuity one of the most important selling points in terms of marketing the team to the fans?

That continuity is one of the main reasons we had wished to remain in the National League. Though it would be nice to host teams like the Yankees and Red Sox each year, our rivalries that we have formed here in our division are far too important. There is now a history in this league with us and the rivalries keep getting stronger and stronger.

Name three baseball movies that you never get tired of watching.

8 Men Out, The Natural and Field of Dreams.

In the team’s infancy, Joe Black was a regular presence in the press dining room, telling stories of the game stretching back nearly half a century. In a similar vain, longtime broadcaster Joe Garagiola Sr. also played a special role in connecting MLB and D-Backs fans to the history of the game. Do you have a favorite Joe Sr. anecdote or story that illustrates his never-waving love for the game, that enthusiasm that rubs off on the fans?

I have two. First, when we dedicated the broadcast wing of Chase Field to him, we brought he and his family in to see the long hallway full of photos and memories. He was very emotional that day, but it became crystal-clear to all present what an impact he has had on our great game. A long timeline that showed his success as a player, a broadcaster, a father and husband and a humanitarian.

Secondly, when he retired for good from broadcasting and had agreed to say a few words at the press conference. His few minutes turned into story-telling and advice to all in the game that lasted about an hour. The beauty of it, is that it felt like just a few minutes and the captivated audience would have been fine listening all night long.

Who do you consider the most exciting all-around player in the majors and why?

I am partial to Paul Goldschmidt for what he represents on and off of the field. He is a humble leader who loves his team and his sport. He is exciting because he can turn a game around with one swing of the bat, yet can also hit for average and sacrifice himself for the good of the team. He interacts well with the community and our fans, and full embraces his important role as a team leader by example only and as a role model.

Jerry Colangelo is recognized as the godfather of sports executives in the Valley of the Sun, what with his role in building (and owning) the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks and helping lure the Phoenix Coyotes from Winnipeg. Is your approach to running the ballclub essentially the same or different than how he once did the job? And can you offer a couple examples?

These franchises would not exist here in Phoenix if it were not for Jerry. He has been an icon for years. I would hope that observers would say our approaches are similar – caring for your employees, players and fans. We try and provide the best fan experience in all of sports, while contributing positively and actively to the community. Giving back was the heart of his organization before and continues to be today.

Do you sense that a global draft, including Japan, South Korea and Cuba, will be finalized and approved within the next 10-15 years? And what are the biggest roadblocks to making this happen?

I certainly hope so. Just like our June Free Agent Draft which was bargained for years ago, this would further level the playing field. We need all teams to have an equal shot at players based on where they finished rather than how much they can pay, especially for all international amateur players. The obstacles will include league restrictions for professional players in foreign lands, as well as the investments that teams have made through academies in Latin American countries.

Can you offer any advice or career pointers for someone with a dream to one day be a baseball executive at the minor league or major league levels?

I always stress the importance of getting a foot in the door, be it as an intern or an entry-level position. From there, it is important to learn as much as one can, with an end-goal of being promoted from within. Hard work and passion is always noticed by good organizations. Interested individuals should know that hours are long and pay is small to begin with.

A conversation with artist Marco Cianfanelli

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By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Oct. 3, 2013) — South African artist Marco Cianfanelli created “Shadow Boxing” to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s boxing roots.

Prediction: The 2013 sculpture will become iconic in its own right.

The African icon’s sports interests have been recognized from time to time, including his role in helping South Africa rise from the dark period of apartheid, when as president he preached reconciliation for the rugby team that went on to win the 1995 Rugby World Cup (brilliantly told in the film “Invictus”).

In a 21st century addition to the understanding of how boxing played a role in Mandela’s life, Cianfanelli’s Shadow Boxing, located in Johannesburg, has sparked interest from media outlets, sports fans and various others around the world.

“I did not enjoy the violence of boxing so much as the science of it,” Nelson Mandela has been quoted as saying. “I was intrigued by how one moved one’s body to protect oneself, how one used a strategy both to attack and retreat, how one paced oneself over a match. Boxing is egalitarian. In the ring, rank, age, color and wealth are irrelevant. When you are circling your opponent, probing his strengths and weaknesses, you are not thinking of his color or social status.”

The project can be summed up this way, Cianfanelli offered, in a prepared document:

Shadow Boxing
A sculptural translation of photographs of Nelson Mandela, by Robert Gosani, in collaboration with Bailey’s African History Archive.
Medium: Painted mild steel
Scale: Height from 5 to 6 meters.
Gosani’s image of Mandela sparring is translated into sculptural form through the use of painted and perforated plates of steel. From a distance the black and white halftone effect is evident, creating grey tonality, which further layers the exploration into the contextual history of Law, objectivity and Justice. Moreover, this underlines the functionality and rights of the public, within this space outside the courts.
Thematic & Conceptual Motivation: The thematic motivation for this proposal stems from the photograph by Bob Gosani, of Nelson Mandela sparring on the rooftop, as seen in the exhibit at Chancellor house. The reason for this starting point is the significance of boxing as a potential metaphor of the legal system, specifically in South Africa during the 1950s, as well as a representation of Mandela and other pivotal figures (Walter Sisulu, Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo) during this specific and significant time in South Africa’s history.
Boxing is a sport and a physical contest, an ordered and controlled system of combat and contestation. The parameters of boxing consist of rules of engagement, for which the ring is the context or field. The courts (Magistrates Court) are the context of the legal system, where prosecution and defense are metered out according to the law.
Mandela boxing is symbolic of the fight for equality, dignity and human rights, through the vehicle of the South African legal system. Given the law under the newly emerged Nationalist Government and apartheid, the notion of the boxing ring is ironic as the champions of the struggle were effectively boxing outside of the ring or at least, a ring that was distorted and biased in its nature.
The failure of the legal system to represent all the people of South Africa and inevitably led to the armed struggle and the end of non-violent resistance.
The sculpture serves as a symbolic reminder of the potential for disparity between Law and Justice and the need for transparency and accountability in the service of the rights of all citizens and residents…

In a recent email exchange, Cianfanelli detailed his project and how it came to fruition.

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What inspired you to begin the project? And was it a single moment in time that sparked the idea? Did you have the general idea before seeing the 1952 photograph from Bob Gosani?

The Johannesburg Development Agency invited Artists to submit ideas in September 2011 for a sculpture outside the Magistrate’s court. At the Site briefing I noticed Bob Gosani’s Image of Mandela sparring in the exhibit at Chancellor House (which is the building where Mandela & Tambo had their legal practice. It is opposite the Court and it is now a museum). I realized that this image was the perfect metaphor to speak about a particular aspect of South Africa’s history.

When and where did you first see Gosani’s photo? Was it in a book, for example, that you had thumbed through many, many times?

I honestly can’t remember – its one of those popular images you just know about.

How long did it take from start to finish to complete the project?

The model-making process took a long time to get the right sculptural translation and so the whole project was completed over a period of about a year.

Along the way, was Mr. Mandela personally involved in providing feedback or approval for the way things looked? Or did he have someone come look at it to give it his “stamp of approval”?

No unfortunately he wasn’t, as he is aging and his health has been an issue. The design was approved through the Mandela Foundation and the JDA.

Have you watched a lot boxing fights and/or films to gain knowledge about a boxer’s techniques, movements and persona in the ring? Or was that a conscious part of this particular project?

I don’t watch a lot and I was a useless boxer as a kid (no sense of strategy) but I understand enough to have a lot of respect for the dynamics of the sport and what it takes.

What was most appealing about this project to you?

For me this project is very special because of its rich context: The history of Mandela’s role in the legal system and the struggle, the work of Bob Gosani and his growing up in Ferreirasdorp, the context public space outside of the Magistrate’s Court, as well as the context of the law and its significance in South Africa’s history and its legacy. Its not often that so many narratives come together in one moment.

What do you hope Shadow Boxing’s legacy as a symbol of a time in Mandela’s life will be in South Africa and beyond?

To respect others but to stand up for your rights and assert your rights to self-expression and the role of public space in this regard.

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Can you share some general feedback you’ve received about the project that most pleases you — perhaps a letter or phone calls, some choice words that you distinctly recall?

Like the sculpture Release at the Mandela Capture Site, I have received many supportive responses for Shadow Boxing but it in honoring the work of photographer Bob Gosani, it was special for me to meet his wife Tilly at the unveiling and to hear of the value that the work had for her.

What is your current primary project? Can you share some basic details on what you’re working on artistically?

I have just completed a large suspended sculptural installation about Africa, called Seed. It is over 30 meters tall, suspended from the ceiling in a 42 meter high atrium. It creates a 3-dimensional shape of Africa and it is pigmented with soil collected from various regions on the continent.

As a result of the work I have done on Nelson Mandela, I have been invited to propose ideas for various projects around the world, from Tunisia and India, Abu Dhabi to Brazil and Australia.

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To see more of Cianfanelli’s work, visit http://marcocianfanelli.com/