The idea of “culture” in the Rockies organization has become a bit of a joke among many fans and media types. This dismissive attitude toward the term developed when owner and president Dick Monfort stated he would fear making any changes which would disrupt the “culture of value” within the organization. This week we got word that general manager Dan O’Dowd and general manager Bill Geivett (not a typo, just as confusing to you and me as it is to the rest of baseball) both announced resignations, effectively forcing the hand of Monfort to challenge said culture (we’ll see if a move to Atlanta is to follow for O’Dowd, but I digress). Considering the report that one or both of them had been offered extensions from Monfort tells me that they were wise enough to see reports of disgruntled players and agree that, for the good of the club, something will need to change. Give them credit for recognizing this and doing what was necessary.
Many Rockies fans assumed this would necessitate a change in culture, that they would have to find someone to take this position from the outside. Many of those fans were disappointed to find the Rockies had hired from within, promoting former farm director and most recent director of baseball operations Jeff Bridich to the position of general manager. Chris Chrisman has already addressed the idea of hiring from a baseball standpoint by considering the 17 other general managers who were promoted from within (and his conclusion may differ from your expectations). I would like us to consider what these means from this “culture” standpoint and what the Jeff Bridich promotion means.
Tracy Ringolsby recounted a conversation he had with Jeff Bridich a few years ago in which Jeff expressed his aspiration to become a major league general manager someday. When Tracy described that the way to do this is through networking with baseball types and journalists so that they could circulate his name around when the next openings came, he balked. Essentially he said (and I’m extrapolating his words here) “I don’t want to do it that way; I want to be successful by hard work, to prove my worth on my own.” He set himself up for a long and lonely road this way, but it has been called the way of integrity. By choosing this route, it would take personal recommendations (which, I don’t imagine, are often asked for across organizations—“Hey, how do you like your VP of player development?” “He’s great!” “Can we hire him?” “Sure, we don’t like him that much.”) and authentic commendations to have a shot at a GM position. And even when he did get that opportunity, he would be competing against well-known guys that organizations know a lot about. And even if he got the position then, he would be a dark horse, someone fans would react to by saying “WHO?!” (this is what happened to him anyway, by the way, since most Rockies fans–even the hard core ones–had little idea who he was before he was promoted to GM). Really, one of his few realistic options would be to work his way up an organization reticent to make changes and quick to defend itself with explanations of “culture of value.”
But Jeff Bridich is a product of this “culture of value.” The Rockies, who won and lost fans and respect with their 2006 USA Today feature about their values, famously talk about this “culture of value over culture of performance”—a strange thing for an industry predicated on athletic performance. I have always wondered just how this type of culture practically plays out for a baseball organization. As a youth pastor–a Christian whose profession is devoted to helping young people in the church see how their faith impacts every aspect of their lives–it is fascinating to consider what that might look like for those in the Rockies front office. How that has played out on the baseball field is another question entirely (though, to fully condemn this approach may say more about how broader culture connects performance and morality, as though they are mutually exclusive). For now let us just consider what this culture might mean for the behind the scenes operations, and how that relates to Jeff Bridich.
It’s easy to lambast this “culture of value,” especially since we fans see a terrible product on the field and conclude that it must not be working—we tend to assume the culture to be a “culture of losing.” But listening to Jeff Bridich at his press conference, considering profiles and interviews, we see what this “culture of value” can produce. We can see he is a man who would rather spend his time working than self-promoting. If we take this at face value (and it’s perfectly acceptable to be skeptical until we see how it plays out over the next few months), then we can discern that Jeff is a deep thinker, willing to explore what anything—including advanced statistics—can tell him more about the Rockies and what might lead them to success. He is a man who is willing to think and stir the pot in order to get to the deeper truth of the matter, rather than settling for a pat or easy answer. We see a man who has worked and worked and has finally been presented with an opportunity. And that is the most important part. Jeff acknowledged that the team is not where it can be or wants to be, that it will take work.
It will take getting the right people on board and pulling in the same direction, but to get that you need a culture that values people such that they are willing to pull in the same direction—not blindly agree with the direction, but to understand and buy into said direction. A salesperson who just feels like his sole purpose in his work is to simply make the boss money is less likely to buy in than he who knows that he has a valuable role to play into the success of that company. It is no different with baseball, except that it is ostensibly more about wins than dollars but you get the point. A culture of value produces people who are valued for what they can bring to the table, not disenfranchised because of what they cannot bring.
There is much institutional knowledge in the Rockies front office that cannot be tossed out the window due to the failures under a long regime. The challenges of playing baseball at altitude are great and Bridich knows that. And even if the Rockies have not completely solved the problem, they have knowledge about what works and what doesn’t; nobody has looked at this problem more closely on a daily basis than those who are employed to solve the problem. If nothing else, promoting Bridich rather than hiring from outside the organization sends the message that the Rockies feel like his approach to minor league operations indicates he has some idea of what these challenges are and what will (might?) and won’t work in approaching those challenges.
There is still work to be done. The Rockies still need Monfort to take a step back from baseball operations and someone to take his/Kelli McGregor’s position of team president. This could potentially cause a change in the culture of the club (something that is needed considering that part of the current culture seems to be “Let Dick do what he wants”), but an objective view of the club will help the front office decide if what they are valuing is correct, while still preserving the institutional knowledge necessary to running a baseball team with the unique challenges of baseball in Denver. Rockies fans will be rightly disappointed/angry/mob-inclined if the team does not at least try to find someone to take that role.
There will be plenty of time yet for something like that to happen. For now, let us congratulate Jeff Bridich, wish him luck, and hope that the hard work that has led to his current success, and “culture of value” that gave him the opportunity to succeed, actually leads to on-the-field success. And soon, for his sake.