Orioles director of player development Brian Graham will be honored at next month's Winter Meetings with the sixth annual Sheldon "Chief" Bender Award, an honor Minor League Baseball announced on Thursday.
The award is presented to an individual with distinguished service who has been instrumental in player development, and Graham, who has spent 32 years in professional baseball, has exemplified that since rejoining Baltimore's organization in 2008.
In his first year as director of player development, Graham oversaw the instruction and developing process for a vastly improved Orioles farm system, and he spent the four years prior as coordinator of Minor League instruction. After serving as a Major League coach with the O's in 2000, Graham came back to Baltimore as a special assistant in '08 and has been one of the most well-respected and popular figures in the organization.
"I'm very honored to win the 'Chief' Bender Award," Graham said in an article on MiLB.com. "When you work in player development, you never expect to win awards. Our reward is seeing the players develop, make it to the big leagues and then succeed as Major Leaguers.
"I'm also very fortunate to be part of a great organization right now. We have a general manager [in Dan Duquette] and Major League manager [Buck Showalter] who take tremendous pride in player development, and we have a lot of really good staff members who do a great job. It's truly an honor to have my name associated with 'Chief' Bender and such a prestigious award."
Graham also worked for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2002-07 as their senior director of player development, with 54 homegrown players reaching the Majors over that span. He served as the Pirates' interim general manager in '07 and had a brief stint as the field coordinator for the Florida Marlins prior to that. Graham, who served as a Major League coach with the Cleveland Indians (1998-99), managed nine consecutive winning clubs, including eight straight playoff ones, during his time as a Minor League skipper in the Indians' system.
"We are very lucky to have Brian in our organization, because an award like this isn't just for the length of service; it recognizes distinguished and quality service," said Showalter. "To be in the game as long as Brian has, you have to be good at what you do and have your work be in demand. He has made an impact on the careers and lives of so many young men without seeking attention for himself. This is a tremendous honor for a true professional."
Added Duquette: "The National Association has made a great choice of not just an educator, but a leader of men in Brian Graham. He has managed at every class in the Minors and coached in the Major Leagues with a passion for player development. We are very proud of Brian's work and grateful he is leading the Orioles."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.