Crenshaw's D-backs legacy is as a 'connector of people,' 'culture creator'

October 19th, 2023

PHOENIX -- Let’s get this straight right from the start: There’s no way this story can sum up everything there is to know about Ken Crenshaw. It can’t even give the full measure of what he’s meant to individual players or staff members and their development.

Heck, even the D-backs can’t find a way to describe it when it comes to his title.

“He is our director of medical services by title, but he is so much more than that,” D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said. “He is a connector of people. He is a friend to all of us, and he's a culture creator and a culture driver.”

What we can do is pull back the curtain just a bit and give you a peek at some of the ways he’s influenced D-backs players, coaches and the front office …

Impact on players
When outfielder Corbin Carroll sustained a season-ending right shoulder injury at the start of 2021, he rehabbed at Salt River Fields under Crenshaw’s watch.

For the then-21-year-old, it was an opportunity to not just get better physically but to also grow as a person.

“He leads by example and also with his words,” Carroll said. “He’s just a very wise person who has had a lot of different life experiences, and I like the way he looks at stuff. It’s hard to explain how much he’s impacted the organization. It's not just our players getting better, it’s our coaches getting better, it’s everyone getting better with the end goal of each person coming away better, not just at their jobs but more comfortable with themselves and just a better human.”

Knowing how much Carroll loved to compete, Crenshaw found ways to make the rehab a competition. He also helped Carroll see that some of the things they were doing were not just going to help him rehab his shoulder, but also give him an edge when he got back on the field.

While he did that, though, Crenshaw was also subtly working on Carroll’s mindset. He would share lessons that he learned from working with Paul Goldschmidt. He recommended books or podcasts.

The two grew close, and it’s not uncommon to see Carroll sitting in the dugout during batting practice involved in a conversation with Crenshaw.

“It’s a relationship that I really value,” Carroll said.

Crenshaw is forever curious, always on the lookout for a new way of doing something, whether that’s medically, mentally, or player mechanics. His contacts with private hitting and pitching coaches are voluminous, and he is constantly bringing that information back into the organization.

“He wears a lot of hats,” first baseman Christian Walker said. “It's hats that he has to wear because players want his opinion. Like, I'll come into the training room and ask him, 'What do you have on this hitting move?' I’m curious what he thinks because he’s had a lot of really cool conversations with really good hitters and has relationships with those guys.”

Helping Lovullo develop a culture
During the tough days of 2021 when his team was on its way to losing 110 games, Lovullo would sit at his desk after games with a notepad and pencil, jotting down words and themes to try and sum up his core beliefs.

It was the darkest point in Lovullo’s professional career, and he was determined to never allow it to happen again. He wanted to build a culture, and he had the building blocks, he just needed help to flesh it out.

Lovullo brought the words and phrases to Crenshaw, who asked questions and helped Lovullo’s ideas become more specific and understandable to everyone.

A former UCLA Bruin, Lovullo has long been an admirer of legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who listed his core beliefs in his well-known “Pyramid of Success.”

Crenshaw took Lovullo’s core beliefs and turned them into a baseball diamond that hangs in a place where only players and staff can see it.

While the specifics are not public, if you listen to enough of Lovullo’s media sessions, you can pick up some of the concepts that form the diamond.

Lovullo will use words such as adaptability, accountability, preparation and communication. Those words have a meaning that is understood by the players and coaches.

“Without him, I don’t think we would be able to say a lot of the things we say and act the way we act,” Lovullo said. “We back up these words with our actions, and it’s 90 percent because of what he’s doing to drive it every single day.”

Organizational processes
Numerous head athletic trainers in the Major Leagues got their start with the D-backs, and it’s no surprise why -- Crenshaw’s hiring process is extremely thorough, and his commitment to developing those who work in the organization is unmatched.

Members of his staff, whether they are working with the Major League team or with the Minor Leaguers, are encouraged to attend personal development seminars at the organization’s expense.

“His influence on our systems and how we operate in the clubhouse and in our hiring practices, the people we bring on, how we develop our employees, it's immeasurable what he does,” D-backs executive vice president and general manager Mike Hazen said. “And that’s not even talking about the success we've had with our medical staff in general in terms of rehab returns, in terms of successful surgeries and in terms of keeping guys on the field. He’s incredible at what he does, and we’re lucky to have him.”