Jon Daniels, in his 9 years as general manager, has established a culture, scouting department and coaching staff that reeled off four straight 90-win seasons, an unfathomable feat a mere decade ago.
Let’s break this thing down.
Jon Daniels graduated from Cornell University in 1999 with a degree in Applied Economics and Management. No, he did not play professional baseball. He did not grow up in the school of hard knocks with a country twang and a farm full of cattle.
In fact, according to an interview with Jeff Pearlman of fastcompany.com, “Daniels last played organized baseball in eighth grade, when he was a Little League catcher in Queens, New York. The next year, he tried out for the freshman team at Manhattan’s academically elite Hunter College High School and got cut. His personal scouting report: ‘I could throw, and I wasn’t afraid to take a beating. But I couldn’t hit.’”
Daniels is a New York guy with a die-hard love for the football Giants and an expertise in reading supply and demand curves. But he knows baseball.
Don Welke, a baseball lifer with a reputation reaching across major league baseball and former senior special assistant to Jon Daniels, praised Daniels for his baseball knowledge in an interview with the Dallas Morning News.
“Jon is a brilliant mind,” Welke said. “Jon is very creative … [he] listens to employees and counts everyone as being important in the organization.”
Being an economics expert, Jon Daniels is expected to be a sabermetrics nerd, a theory popularized and utilized by Billy Beane’s Moneyball. Fans criticize Daniels for having his head stuck in a book instead of “gut feel” and “hearing the mitt pop” and other overused clichés. However, the opposite is true. According to Welke, “Jon looks and studies figures, but in the end, Jon Daniels is scout-oriented,” which means he puts talented scouts in high-ranking positions and takes advice.
Assistant general manager Thad Levine echoed this sentiment: “When the book Money Ball came out, front offices were labeled as either analytical or scouting based in their decision making … we were considered an analytical group, when in practice, we were much more scouting focused in our decision making.”
So that old school vs. new school, Jon Daniels vs. Nolan Ryan feud sensationalized by local and national media? … Not so accurate. If that’s not true, what else could be falsified in the name of entertainment? What about the ego we hear so often about?
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“The glory of a group like this is there are no ego-centered people,” Welke said of Jon Daniels and his staff. “They are organization-centered people. That’s big, that our guys just keep putting the pedal to the metal.”
Jon Daniels may not be a former major leaguer, but he is a “baseball guy” and has proven it time and time again through his knowledge of the game, respect among fellow general managers, and leadership in the Front Office.
The Jon Daniels vs. Nolan pseudo-feud spawned as a byproduct of leaks to the media, often regenerating in the form of Randy Galloway articles. One of the rumors to “leak” to the public was a near-physical altercation between Ryan and Daniels inside the Rangers offices.
Jon Daniels, in a radio interview with the Ben and Skin Show on 105.3 The Fan, emphatically quelled the rumors: “That’s like Hollywood paparazzi b.s.-type stuff. That’s embarrassing, honestly, that somebody on your radio station would say that … That couldn’t be further from the truth. That’s insulting.”
How much of the Ryan-Daniels conflict was fictionalized by leaks and incomplete reporting? What about Jon Daniels commencing a firing spree on “Nolan guys” like bench coach Jackie Moore? Jon Daniels again categorically denied media reports: “I don’t believe in making decisions based on who’s friends with whom or who hired whom. I think a lot of the stuff out there ignores facts …”
Jon Daniels summarized his relationship with Nolan Ryan: “I think our relationship’s a lot like most. I think we’ve been very productive working together. I think there are a lot of things that we’ve agreed on. I think there’s some things that we haven’t over the years … I don’t like the fact that sometimes when we don’t agree on something, it takes such a minute amount of time for it to be all over the airwaves, and that’s not healthy.”
But JD forced Nolan out!
Michael Young / Ian Kinsler
Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com said it best: “A general manager must be cold. And calculating. The GM can’t allow sentiment to control actions.”
In the cases of Michael Young and Ian Kinsler, Jon Daniels made a decision based on logic and informed advice, which is all we can ask for from a general manager. We cannot and should not expect perfection from our general manager and Front Office. All we can ask for is sound decisions based on informed reasoning. That is perfection in the eyes of a realistic fan.
In fact, Daniels negotiated Young’s first long term contract with the Rangers in 2004 before signing Young to a 7-year extension in 2007. Jon Daniels is the man who made Michael Young a part of the Rangers’ long term future and gave Young a chance to maximize his value by moving to shortstop in 2004 after Alex Rodriguez’s departure. The Rangers announced last week that Daniels is in the final steps of hiring Young as a meaningful piece of the Rangers’ Front Office.
As Jean-Jacques Taylor said, “What’s good for the team must always take precedent over what’s best for any player. The general manager must be the ultimate pragmatist, dealing in reality — not fantasy — every time a critical decision must be made.”
Ian Kinsler falls under that umbrella. A pragmatic decision to trade an asset of surplus (Kinsler) for an asset of need (Prince Fielder) will either pay Daniels dividends or haunt his dreams forever. Time will tell. But the decision to trade Kinsler was based on sound logic and a product of constantly trying to improve my ballclub – I’ll take that any day.
Don’t judge Jon Daniels based on his portrayal in the media. Judge him on the competency of his decisions and his ability to lead a staff of baseball professionals.
In March of 2013, owners Bob Simpson and Ray Davis promoted Jon Daniels to president of baseball operations and Rick George to president of business operations. The moves essentially stripped Nolan Ryan of decision-making power on either side of the Rangers organization, instead relegating Ryan to an advisory role. The ultimate decision to promote Jon Daniels was held by Simpson and Davis – and the decision was justified.
There is a reason Jon Daniels became the youngest general manager in the history of baseball at age 28. Tom Hicks, at the introductory news conference in 2005, gushed: “This guy is a brilliant baseball mind … And as you get to know him, you’re going to see why I made the decision.”
There is a reason Daniels was hired as an intern with the Colorado Rockies in 2001 and within 2 years became Director of Baseball Operations for the Texas Rangers in October 2003. Daniels became general manager two years later.
There is a reason Daniels was named the Baseball America Major League Executive of the Year in 2010.
There is a reason the Rangers were selected as having the #1 minor league organization in the 2009 rankings by Baseball America and ESPN.com. There is a reason ESPN.com gave the Rangers’ farm system the top ranking while Baseball America’s #2 ranking made Texas just the fourth organization in a ten-year span to earn a top two spot on the BA list in consecutive seasons. There is a reason Baseball America rated the Rangers as having the major leagues’ best draft in 2008 after placing second in 2007. There is a reason the Rangers were selected as the 2012 Topps Organization of the Year, the first time the Washington/Texas franchise has won the award in its 47-year history.
There is a reason major league clubs covet Jon Daniels’ Front Office talent like A.J. Preller and Don Welke.
The reason is this: Jon Daniels is one of the top baseball minds in our nation and deserves to be your general manager.
So let’s put away the pitch forks and support the man who has us looking for a World Championship in 2015.