"He has a great qualitative mind, but also a creative mind. The ability to look at things both micro and macro is unique and Farhan could do whatever he wants to do, not just in this game, but in any sport or business." — Oakland A's GM Billy Beane to the SF Chronicle
The Los Angeles Dodgers open the 2015 season Monday, hosting the San Diego Padres at Chavez Ravine. There are many new players (KPCC's A Martínez analyzes the team's "new spine" in our bonus audio), a new president of baseball operations, and a new general manager, Farhan Zaidi.
And if L.A. is a melting pot of religions, cultures and ethnicities, Zaidi is as L.A. as you can get: born in Canada, raised in the Philippines, observant Muslim, of Pakistanti heritage, numbers cruncher and former player ("light-hitting first baseman"). The Dodgers hired Zaidi from Oakland in November to replace Ned Colletti after the team crumbled in the playoffs.
Off-Ramp's John Rabe talked at length with Zaidi during spring training; here's some of their conversation:
What does Opening Day mean for you?
It's a time when we get to cash our excitement and optimism in and see the see the results of an off-season of at times overwhelming work in getting to know these new surroundings. For me, moving down from Oakland has been kind of an out-of-body experience. And I think for me to see this team take the field on Opening Day will make the whole thing a lot more real.
As GM, do you have the final say on player personnel?
No, it's interesting. I don't think of a baseball organization or front office operating that way. Even in my last organization, working with Billy Beane, who I think is as strong of a leader as there is in a baseball front office, the decision-making process was very collaborative. We really worked toward building consensus in every decision that we made, and that's how things are going to work here.
How important to you is happiness in the clubhouse? (In the off-season, the Dodgers traded Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, reportedly two of the most team's most difficult personalities.)
(Laughing knowingly) I get asked this question a lot, not surprisingly. I think people look at some of our moves this off-season and think they were made with specific intention of addressing supposed issues in the clubhouse. I wasn't around last year; I can't speak to what the clubhouse was like. I can say that the moves we made were about building the best team possible, and that really goes to on-field performance. As far as once you have your roster set, I think happiness in the clubhouse is important. And the way I think it manifests itself is — like with every sport — there's a certain notion that sacrificing one's self for the benefit of the team can have have positive consequences. Having a positive clubhouse maybe means a player is okay with a platoon situation if that's what's best for the team ... maybe a guy who comes up late in the game with a winning run on second base will try a little harder to give himself up and move that runner over with a ground ball.
You're the only Muslim GM in any sports franchise. Are you very observant? ("I am," he says.) And does your faith come into play at work?
Not really. It's not something that affects the day-to-day operations and it's not something I steer conversations towards. As far as my faith goes, the biggest positive I draw from it is just an example of diversity in baseball, which to me is something that our sport can certainly use more of.
Have you faced discrimination in baseball because of your religion?
It's a totally fair question and I feel fortunate to say it really hasn't.
With all the different aspects of your makeup, you'll fit in well in L.A.
That's right, there's a lot different ethnic parts of town that I'll be able to walk through and at least try to pretend that I fit right in. I'm really excited about being able to live in L.A., and the fans have been so welcoming. I don't think I totally realized and appreciated how fundamental the Dodgers are to the fabric of the city.
Do you think the Dodgers' TV dispute needs to be resolved so that people can, you know, watch the Dodgers on TV?
Being on the baseball side, I'm honestly not privvy to that situation in the day-to-day. That's probably a better question for (President and CEO) Stan Kasten and people on the business side.
Hear much more of their conversation — including Zaidi's thoughts on the team's strengths and weaknesses, baseball in the Philippines, and pastrami — in our featured audio segment. And listen Saturday at noon to Off-Ramp, when we'll spend the entire show at Opening Day in Dodger Stadium.