SAN DIEGO -- It’s been a little over a year since Farhan Zaidi became the Giants’ president of baseball operations, yet there are still occasions when he finds himself pining for the entry-level job in the A’s front office that launched his career in baseball.
“I joke about this, but I feel like the most fun job I had was in Oakland because I didn't have any real responsibilities,” Zaidi said Monday. “I got to think about players and put stat sheets together and go out and watch guys for the Draft. I was kind of like the fun uncle. And then I got to L.A., and I had people reporting to me. I was doing budgets. Now in San Francisco, I feel like I'm a recruiting coordinator, especially this offseason.”
Up until last month, Zaidi was busy filling two key voids in the Giants’ organization, searches that culminated in the hiring of new general manager Scott Harris and manager Gabe Kapler. That Zaidi found himself in position to assemble the club’s new leadership speaks to the prominence of his post and the steady ascent he’s enjoyed since the A’s plucked him from the academic world and gave him an opportunity to pursue a dream job in sports.
Zaidi reflected on his career path during a GM Chronicles panel moderated by ESPN’s Eduardo Pérez, part of the Unfiltered Series hosted by Major League Baseball’s Diversity and Inclusion Department. Zaidi, who was born in Canada and raised in the Philippines, is the only Muslim head of baseball operations in the Majors and one of the few high-ranking minority executives in a field that has long lacked diversity at the top.
“You kind of go about your business and sometimes you don't really think about it, because you're not looking at a reflection in the mirror and realizing you don't look like anybody else in the room,” Zaidi said. “You get caught up in your job, and sometimes to a fault.
“What I'm optimistic about is that we have these kinds of initiatives now, that it’s a priority for the game. Whatever makes you unique in terms of your religion, your background, your orientation, that should be celebrated. It shouldn't be a situation where we should feel like we have to conform or justify ourselves to others.”
Zaidi credited A’s vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane and GM David Forst for serving as mentors and advocates for him earlier in his career. He recalled bonding with Beane over their shared affinity for Britpop bands like Oasis during his initial interview with the A’s in 2004, though he also impressed the rest of Oakland’s front office by preparing a projection system that he had to keep updating following the trades of Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson that year.
“Billy kind of handed me a sheet of paper that had [their] projections, and I was like, ‘Oh, that's really interesting. I did some work on this, too. You guys interested in seeing?’ They were like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And then I, like, very theatrically plopped this giant binder down on Billy’s table and started going through it. That, I think, was one of the more impactful things about that interview. They saw the preparation that I had put into the interview, and I think they really appreciate that. And we had the Britpop thing in common.”
Zaidi spent 10 years in Oakland’s front office, rising to become assistant general manager before the Dodgers hired him to serve as their general manager under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. When the Giants approached him about their opening last year, Zaidi jumped at the chance to both return to the Bay Area and carry out his own vision for the organization.
“I try to live by the motto to take your job seriously, but not take yourself seriously,” Zaidi said. “There is a lot of scrutiny. For us at the Giants right now, we're going through a little bit of organizational transition. We just had probably the most popular manager in Giants history [Bruce Bochy] retire. We hired a new manager, and no new manager was going to satisfy people that are attached to the previous manager. We're going to be in a process now where we're going to have some player turnover, and the Giants’ fan base is very loyal to the players who have been there, and there's been a lot of success.
“I try to separate the PR aspect from what's good from a baseball standpoint. I always just try to go by the mantra, ‘just do what's best for the organization.’ And maybe turn off Twitter while you're at it.”