Hazen, Lovullo shaped by winning culture

November 7th, 2016

PHOENIX -- Let's get this out of the way: During the past nine years, the D-backs have been represented by some very fine people -- Bob Melvin, Josh Byrnes, A.J. Hinch, Kirk Gibson, Jerry Dipoto, Kevin Towers, Tony La Russa, Dave Stewart and Chip Hale. These are all quality baseball people.

Some of them have gone on to do bigger and better things elsewhere: Melvin with the A's (where Hale has already rejoined him); Byrnes with the Dodgers; Hinch with the Astros; Dipoto with the Mariners; Towers with the Reds. For myriad reasons, things just didn't work out in Arizona for those individuals. Now, Mike Hazen and Torey Lovullo -- the D-backs' new general manager and manager -- will get the chance.

D-backs introduce Lovullo as new manager

"Well, you're paid to win games," D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick said on Monday. "And when you don't, you have to look at a few things. Is it a leadership issue? To some degree, it usually is. This is a chance to give our players some fresh leadership, which hopefully gets some better results."

Again, the D-backs have hired some fine people to head baseball operations in the front office and down on the field. Hazen and Lovullo both came from the Red Sox, where, since vanquishing their own demons in 2004 to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years, a culture of success has been nurtured and cultivated.

Both Hazen and Lovullo, the latter introduced on Monday to the Arizona media at Chase Field, have no experience in their new roles. But they worked under some very good people. Hazen under Theo Epstein, Ben Cherington and Dave Dombrowski. Lovullo as the bench coach under manager John Farrell in Toronto and Boston for the past six years.

Hazen reportedly has a four-year deal. Lovullo's new pact is for three years. There may be more hard times at Chase Field before things turn the corner -- the D-backs haven't even had a .500 season since 2013, losing 274 games since then. But Kendrick said the new duo will have the time.

"We have significant commitments to them in time so they can make a plan," Kendrick said, adding that the contract terms were "substantial" without confirming the lengths.

"They will have the time and the authority that goes along with the responsibility," Kendrick said.

La Russa, the team's former chief baseball officer, is still in an advisory role, reporting to Hazen on a handshake agreement that will end when the Hall of Fame manager determines it's no longer comfortable for him to be around.

"That's the way Tony wants it, and he's earned as a longtime baseball person the freedom of being able to walk away on a moment's notice or be prepared to walk away when his bosses don't want him around," Kendrick said. "That's who Tony is and I appreciate that."

La Russa, Stewart and Hale all were either dismissed or demoted when the D-backs fell back from a 79-83 season in 2015 to 69-93 this past season.

The Red Sox stuck with Farrell and Lovullo even through some lean years. They won the World Series under the two men in 2013, only to suffer back-to-back last place finishes in the always-tough American League East before rebounding to first place and an early exit against the Indians in the AL Division Series.

This is the type of quality person Lovullo is: when his good friend Farrell was beset by a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma late in the 2015 season, Lovullo took over the club. He began managing what could have been a moribund fifth-place team on Aug. 14. The Red Sox played hard, though, finishing with a 28-20 record that undoubtedly set the stage for this season's rebound.

Meanwhile, Farrell underwent six months of chemotherapy in only six weeks so he could get back to doing his job in time for Spring Training. At the end of 2015 season, though, none of this was clear. Other managing jobs had opened, but instead of interviewing, Lovullo committed to remain with the Red Sox.

"Baseball, like life, is all about timing," Lovullo said. "I had enough confidence in myself to say, 'Let's put this on pause right now for the Boston Red Sox organization and my friend John Farrell, who was really walking through a difficult time. I needed to make sure that before I was going to run away from the Red Sox, with my values, that John was OK."

It was as difficult a time in the Boston organization as anyone can imagine. Along with Farrell's sudden illness, Cherington decided to leave. Dombrowski, who departed the Tigers around the same time, was hired to replace Cherington within days of Farrell's diagnosis.

No one knew how it was going to play out.

"It was a challenging time in the organization, given the turnover in the front office and one of Torey's good friends being diagnosed with cancer," Hazen recalled. "Now he's put in charge of the ballclub, not just managing the Boston Red Sox, but stepping into John's shoes. To see him do that and watch him grow from afar was something.

"He demonstrated his leadership, demonstrated taking charge in a very tough situation. Those are all transferable characteristics for any good manager."

It all worked out for the current principals. Farrell recovered and led the Red Sox to a 93-win season. The D-backs plummeted despite the signing of free agent to a six-year, $206.5 million contract. Thus, the jobs in Arizona opened.

Lovullo had the confidence in himself to see Farrell through an acute time of crisis. He was rewarded with his first big league managing job close to his home in Los Angeles. He's a Southern California kid who grew up in Santa Monica and still lives with his wife and two sons in Westlake Village, a beatific community built around a manmade lake at the northern end of the San Fernando Valley.

Good things sometimes happen to good people. Only time will tell how it all works out for Lovullo and Hazen with the D-backs.