You hear the occasional criticism that he was too demanding, or he didn’t communicate so well at times, or he didn’t know how to put together a bullpen (which may have cost the Tigers a world championship). But for the most part, Dave Dombrowski, the new Red Sox president of baseball operations, has few detractors and far more admirers in the game.
“He’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday,” said legendary general manager Rollie Hemond, who gave Dombrowski his first job with the White Sox. “He’ll be right there with names like Pat Gillick.”
It is definitely a new era in Boston.
Dombrowski said he will take his time picking a general manager and evaluating the current baseball operations and field staff before making decisions.
Every head of baseball wants to bring in people he feels most comfortable with and trusts. Dombrowski is no different, though some of his people are tied up in Detroit with new GM Al Avila.
Already, speculation has centered around former Orioles and Braves GM Frank Wren as a possible GM candidate.
Even those who could be anti-Dombrowski really aren’t.
When he took over the Tigers in November of 2002, Dombrowski retained general manager Randy Smith until about the first week of the season, when he let both manager Phil Garner and Smith go following an 0-6 start.
“We always had a good relationship,” said Smith. “We had similar philosophies. Basically he has a history of wanting to be the one to run the organization.
“We went through the winter meetings and through spring training. We got off to a rough start and the decision was made to dismiss Phil and I.”
Smith said he understood the firing, and there has been no animosity between him and Dombrowski.
“No, not at all,” Smith said. “The natural thought process was that he was going to run the organization. I offered to resign in early December and he refused, feeling we could work well together.
“Obviously you’re never happy losing that position but I have no hard feeling toward Dave.”
Smith, who is currently vice president of player development and international scouting in San Diego (where he once served as a 29-year-old GM), said of Dombrowski, “He’s got a philosophy and he tries to bring in those types of players to stick to his plan. He’s willing to be patient to put his philosophy in motion.”
And what is the philosophy?
“He has a history of going after big-name stars,” said Smith. “He likes stars.”
When asked about giving up prospects to do it, Smith said, “You need a strong farm system, but prospects can also break your heart.”
Video: Dave Dombrowski is ready for the challenge of leading the Red Sox
Throughout baseball, the feeling is the Red Sox hit a home run with Dombrowski.
Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, now the Diamondbacks’ chief baseball officer, considers Dombrowski one of his top five friends.
“When I took this job, he’s the one I called,” La Russa said. “I knew nothing about being a front office person, so Dave is the one I discussed it with and got my education through.”
La Russa and Dombrowski were hired by Hemond for the White Sox in 1978. La Russa was a Double A manager and Dombrowski the assistant farm director right out of college.
Dombrowski became farm director very early into his tenure in Chicago when the previous farm director quit to take a job in the NHL. Dombrowski and La Russa were both fired in 1986 by Ken Harrelson, who took over as GM after Hemond was let go.
“Roland was a tremendous mentor to Dave and I back then,” said La Russa. “We can both attribute any success we had to the mentoring we got from Rollie.”
La Russa called Dombrowski “special.”
“I’ve never seen anyone who combines baseball knowledge and business knowledge as well as he does,” La Russa said. “Look at his teams. He adapts to every situation.
“Look at when he went to Montreal. They didn’t have a lot of resources but he produced good and great players. In Miami, he built up that team, and when Mr. [Wayne] Huizenga went to trade off veterans, he got great returns. He went to Detroit and look at the deals and free agent signings.
“Every place he’s been, he’s had a plan and he implements it.
“He’s also one of the finest people in the game. He treats people with respect. He’s demanding but he does it with a good bedside manner.”
That was Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s take as well.
“He one of the true gentlemen in the game,” said Cashman. “He’s got the best demeanor. Cool, calm, collected. One of the great intellects in baseball. He doesn’t overreact, he’s not emotional. His decisions are sound, based on whatever tools he uses to make those decisions.
“He’s got a track record of nothing but success. I think he’s inheriting a great situation. They have a ton of talent, and that was a testament to Ben [Cherington] and the talent he brought in there.”
And from an executive who has won three titles in the last five years, Giants executive VP of baseball ops Brian Sabean: “He’s one of the most respected and capable execs in all of sports. A home run hire!”
Agent Scott Boras, who has had many dealings with Dombrowski, said, “He’s been rewarded for being so caring for the players and taking care of their needs and making them feel a part of the team.
“He gives his owner a vision of what he wants to get done. He’s made the right moves in free agency and he makes moves that other GMs don’t make because they have more of a long-term agenda where Dave hasn’t been afraid to look at the short term. That’s how you win.”
On the analytics issue, Dombrowski acknowledges that he’s more known for being a traditional GM, but he does use analytics in his decision-making.
“He puts it in the right place,” La Russa said. “The analytics are necessary. We just started our department, but Dave is smart enough to combine the scouting and the numbers in the proper way.
“You have to measure others things, like team chemistry and how a guy fits in to your team. How he reacts under pressure. How he plays in October. There are so many important things and Dave has a grasp on that as well as anyone I’ve ever known.”
The cumulative record of his teams (1,887-2,097) isn’t impressive, but understand that he oversaw the rebuilding of the Marlins, who had a 98-loss season and a 108-loss season after winning the World Series in 1997 when he had to decimate the team.
He came to Detroit, where he lost between 90 and 119 games in his first four years before getting the team untracked on its way to the 2006 World Series.
And so he inherits another challenge — a team with three last-place finishes in four years.
“This is why you hire Dave Dombrowski,” La Russa said. “He’ll turn it around.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.