Big Green alum to lead the Phillies as general manager

by Rachel Favors | 10/29/15 8:30pm

Former Big Green starting shortstop and baseball team captain Matt Klentak ’02 was named as the general manager and vice president of the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday — at 35, that makes him the youngest general manager in team history.

Klentak’s previous experience in professional baseball includes a year in the baseball operations department of the Colorado Rockies, four years working in Major League Baseball’s labor relations department, four years as director of baseball operations for the Baltimore Orioles under the current Phillies President Andy McPhail and finally four years as assistant general manager for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

“I am honored to be named general manager of the Philadelphia Phillies,” Klentak said in a Phillies press release. “This franchise has a rich history, owners who are committed to winning every single day and passionate and knowledgeable fans who support the team.”

Klentak will have a challenging task ahead of him in Philadelphia — the Phillies had the worst record in all of baseball this past season, going just 63-99.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Phillies beat reporter Jake Kaplan said he expects McPhail and Klentak to rebuild the Phillies back into contention — the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and were among the most successful National League teams of last decade.

But for Klentak’s first season as the general manager, the expectations remain low considering the team’s record last year, the Philadelphia Daily News Phillies beat writer Ryan Lawrence said. Lawrence said that he and Phillies fans recognize that the franchise is rebuilding.

“[Klentak] is not expected to turn this team into a winner this year, or even next year,” Lawrence said. “Fans want to see that he is making the right steps for the organization and that he will make them a winning team in the years to come.”

Philadelphia Inquirer sports writer Matt Breen said Klentak is a fresh face for the franchise — fans are excited by Klentak’s selection. Once the Phillies opened a general manager search and Klentak was identified as potential candidate, many fans appreciated Klentak’s experience and supported him as their pick.

When the Phillies selected Klentak as the general manager, it was clear that they wanted someone who had a background in analytics, Kaplan said. Throughout major league baseball in the last decade, teams have shifted from employing traditional baseball executives — typically industry veterans who worked their way up from the bottom rungs — to younger, more progressive professionals, Lawrence said.

The Phillies, specifically, were formerly an old-fashioned organization whose main focus on scouting inhibited the organization from employing the advanced sabermetrics — statistical measurements of player performance — that many other teams had successfully incorporated into their organization, Lawrence said. Klentak, as a progressive thinker with an analytics background, will help incorporate those missing aspects into the Phillies front office, Lawrence said.

Dartmouth head baseball coach Bob Whalen, who was coach when Klentak was a player, said that a good general manager uses a combination of analytics and scouting to evaluate players.

“Every job in baseball, particularly at the professional level, ultimately comes back to the same thing — you have to be able to evaluate talent,” Whalen said.

Klentak uses mathematical and statistical information to evaluate players, but has also learned to understand traditional scouting by talking to veteran scouts, Whalen said.

As a result, people are “cautiously optimistic” about the future of Phillies baseball, Lawrence said.

Whalen and the former Big Green baseball players are hopeful for Klentak’s success in Philadelphia and his ability to turn the franchise around to meet the city’s expectations.

Whalen and two of Klentak’s former Big Green baseball teammates said they think Klentak’s Dartmouth experience, along with his broad exposure to the professional baseball world, have helped to prepare Klentak for his current position.

“While at Dartmouth, you could see that Klentak’s outstanding personal characteristics were going to translate into whatever he did,” Whalen said. “His communication skills with me and his teammates, along with his brightness, made Klentak a great leader.”

An economics major while at the College, Klentak started at shortstop for three years. The Big Green won Ivy League Red Rolfe Division championships during Klentak’s sophomore and junior years, and Klentak was named team captain for his senior season. Whalen said he viewed his decision to move Klentak to shortstop in his sophomore year as a critical factor in their division championship.

“[Klentak] is a very analytical thinker,” Whalen said. “He looks at every situation very critically with an open mind from all sides. Even when he was the captain, he was a consensus builder and had the ability to persuade people and get everyone to buy into what we were doing.”

Former Big Green starting pitcher John Velosky ’02, who played a year in the minors, remembered Klentak as a person with a strong work ethic and a fierce passion for baseball.

“On and off the field, [Klentak] was the same person either way,” Velosky said. “He was a hard worker, and you could tell that he had a passion for baseball, whether he was at practice or off the field talking about the game. His teammates respected him.”

Former Big Green catcher Joe Calandrelli ’03 said that even before Klentak was a team captain, he put the team’s development above his personal growth as a player.

Klentak is not the only Dartmouth alumnus who has been an executive in professional athletics.

Russ Granik ’69, for example, was deputy commissioner of the NBA for 22 years. Although his Dartmouth experience did not have any particular relationship to his work in the professional sports more than any other field of business, his time spent in Hanover was not wasted, Granik said.

“I think the education at Dartmouth and its environment for four years taught you had to interact with people and how to think, which were certainly a positive influence on me,” Granik said.

The Phillies media relations team did not return requests for comment.

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