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Indians front office sets standard for success

Panel of general managers discusses benefits of working in organization

BOSTON -- It's been more than a decade since John Hart's reign as Indians general manager transitioned to Mark Shapiro's, and now on to Chris Antonetti's.

Plenty of front offices will be revered well in history. But the respect held for the Indians' management team of the past dozen years is paralleled in very few places, if any.

"It was actually going to be Cleveland or come back [to ESPN] and work," manager Terry Francona said when he was hired.

It was Indians or bust. And not too many other teams that went 68-94 command that sort of respect.

"To work in that Cleveland environment, I haven't even tried to stop and count up the number of GMs [who worked in that Cleveland regime] that go back to John Hart and Mark Shapiro, but it might be eight or nine," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said Tuesday. "So the opportunity to work with some incredible people, the opportunity to work with a Felipe Alou or an Eric Wedge as a manager ... they were willing to let a 24-year-old or a 34-year-old ask a lot of questions, and be patient and let me ask more questions."

Huntington, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington and Antonetti all went through the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where they spoke as a panel Tuesday. They all also came through Cleveland in varied capacities. Cherington's time with the Indians was short, one season, but he was still handed high-level responsibility. He does not think he would have grown otherwise.

"Having been a part of it for just a year, I remember going from doing nothing to preparing an advance report for the Major League staff on our Opening Day opponent within a couple of months," Cherington said. "It's truly not being stuck in the corner and copying and filing. I knew right away that this was a place that was going to demand things, but it was an incredible opportunity to learn, the people that were there."

Said Antonetti: "I think it goes back to John Hart, Dan O'Dowd [who served as Indians vice president of baseball operations and assistant general manager before becoming Colorado's GM], Mark Shapiro establishing a culture in which they sought to hire really talented people. Not only do that -- a lot of people do that -- but really actively develop and really challenge people to grow and develop, not just put the intern in the corner to file and copy, but challenge them to contribute, challenge them to grow and expand their horizons.

"That culture that I think Mark and John and Dan created, we in our own ways have tried to continue to foster. I think that's probably at the forefront of it."

Cherington's surrounded himself with a lot of Indians flavor: Boston's manager, John Farrell, came through there, and so did assistant general manager Mike Hazen. It makes sense that Francona wanted to go to Cleveland, because the Red Sox had made themselves look like Cleveland in some ways back.

Cherington admits to playing copycat and said he's not alone.

"That culture was there, I learned from it, it made a big impression on me," Cherington said. "So when I left to go to Boston, before we hired Mike Hazen or John Farrell or anyone else, there were some other things that we tried to take from there, whether it's some of the player-development methods we've used, or in other ways -- and we're not the only team, by the way. There's other teams trying to copy what's gone on in Cleveland for a long time. And I think more and more organizations now look more like Cleveland did 15 years ago. Cleveland still looks that way, but there are more teams that look more like that now."

Like Cherington, Antonetti thinks it's possible at times Shapiro and Co. gave him responsibility that he was not ready for. It worked out.

The Indians have always been at the forefront of the game's sabermetric shift, along with Oakland. But where the Indians may stand alone is in their other farm system: their front office.

"Going over to the Cleveland environment, and I think as Ben and Neal have already alluded to, it's a really special place to work," Antonetti said. "And there's a special group of people there led at that time by John Hart and Mark Shapiro, who is currently there [as president], and both guys were exceptionally influential, and still are to this day, for me and my career.

"Mark is an unbelievable leader as Neal and Ben have already alluded to -- someone who provides and empowers the people to work with him, and provides tremendous opportunity to grow and develop along the way. And as Ben said, [Shapiro] probably gave me some responsibilities a little bit before I was ready for them. But he's always been someone who's believed in me ... the environment in which you work is so important."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich.
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