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.”

* * *

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.

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