The Cleveland Indians’ Brain Trust: Baseball Writers
Why the reigning American League champions have stocked their front office with former journalists
By JARED DIAMOND
The stereotype about baseball writers is that they are wannabe jocks who think they know more about the game than every real-life general manager. In most cases, that perception probably isn’t too far away from the truth.
And for all the ones for whom that description doesn’t apply? They work for the Cleveland Indians.
This season, the Indians will attempt to avenge their Game 7 World Series loss from 2016 with a new slugger in Edwin Encarnacion, a full year of playoff hero Andrew Miller—and an office filled with ex-journalists.
Between the baseball operations and scouting departments, the Indians have no fewer than 11 people among their ranks with experience writing at major outlets, including at least six from Baseball America, a publication that focuses on prospects.
“When the Indians win the World Series,” Baseball America editor in chief John Manuel said, “I’m looking for a playoff share.”
The pipeline between the Indians and Baseball America started in earnest with the team’s hiring of Matt Forman as an intern in 2013. Forman, 28, rose to prominence not with a background in statistics or computer science—but by following a traditional journalism path.
He graduated from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2011, serving as sports editor and editor in chief at the Daily Northwestern. He interned at the Miami Herald in the summer of 2011, covering Marlins games and Dolphins training camp. His “dream job,” he said, was to become the editor of Baseball America, where he spent the summer of 2009.
At BA, Forman played a role in ranking prospects, attending a minor-league game almost daily. He met scouts and coaches, learning the nuances of the industry through his reporting, and wound up contributing to Baseball America for the next three years.
In November, the Indians promoted Forman to assistant general manager, following several other posts in baseball operations. Until recently, a website with his journalism résumé and links to his published work under the header, “Matt Forman | Sports Journalist.” It disappeared this week.
Manuel insists Forman would’ve run Baseball America eventually if he had stuck with it. Chris Antonetti, the Indians’ president of baseball operations, can do him one better: He says Forman will ultimately become the GM of a major-league organization.
“The job at Baseball America has lent itself to things that I’m able to do now,” Forman said. “It’s gathering the perspectives of others, synthesizing those perspectives and understanding how different pieces of information weigh.”
Forman’s success led to other Baseball America alums joining the Indians, including former draft writer Clint Longenecker, now Cleveland’s coordinator of amateur scouting, and four scouts. Meanwhile, Keith Woolner, the team’s principal data scientist of baseball analytics, came from Baseball Prospectus, while Sky Andrecheck, senior director of baseball research and development, has written for Sports Illustrated.
This is not a coincidence. For close to a decade, the Indians have been a pioneer in finding talent from unconventional sources, including current Minnesota Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey. Cleveland originally hired Falvey as an intern after he submitted a vast collection of his independent scouting reports on players in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
In the case of Forman and others, articles set them apart. Forman sent in a cover story he wrote for Baseball America in 2011 about teams’ quest to identify five-tool players. But not everything had a scouting or analytical bent: The Indians were also impressed by a story he wrote for the Miami Herald about the late Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez two months after he was drafted.
“A lot of people will talk about having a passion for baseball or wanting to work in a front office,” Antonetti said. “We’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s great. What have you done with that passion?’”
Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, Cleveland’s longtime GM, pointed out that almost every applicant to a team is “smart, hardworking and passionate about baseball.” The Indians, he said, “were looking for a point of differentiation,” like writing.
Shapiro traces the Indians’ trust in ex-writers back to a time when the franchise’s “Achilles' heel was the draft.” Frustrated by their struggles in that area, Shapiro and his staff combed through popular baseball analytics websites in search of insight, and found a few pieces by a writer for a site called the Hardball Times.
Not long after, the Indians received mailed copies of that author’s résumé and copies of his best articles, which led to a shocking revelation: He was a freshman at Northwestern named Victor Wang.
Now the Indians’ director of pro scouting, Wang interned with the Indians in 2009. Ten minutes before the trade deadline that season, Antonetti was at Wang’s desk, asking for his thoughts on prospects being offered for Victor Martinez.
“That was indicative of the way that front office would look to anybody who had good insights and had a different perspective,” said Andrew Miller, a Toronto executive vice president who spent a decade with Cleveland. “It didn’t matter if you were an 18-year-old freshman.”
Wang met Forman at a college baseball game, later recommending that he apply for the Indians internship. Forman did that—twice. The first time, Forman says he got “one of the nicest rejection letters I’ve ever received.” The next year, he got the job.
Forman wasn’t certain his career would be working for a baseball organization. He didn’t flood the landscape with résumés. Both years, Forman only applied to one team: the Indians.
“The Indians are incredibly open minded about finding impact people wherever they come from,” Forman said. “That’s a cultural staple of who the Indians are.”