Schieffer experienced in leading teams
MIAMI -- The cumulative scouting report on Tom Schieffer, the man baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed to oversee the business and financial operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers until further notice, portrays a man with strong people skills, a savvy politician with the wherewithal and the influence to get things done, and, perhaps most importantly, a boss who strikes the perfect balance between being hands-on and allowing his people to thrive.
A politician, yes -- Schieffer served three terms in the Texas state House of Representatives before getting into baseball. A man with a tolerance for office politics, no.
"He is very big on the structure of an organization and very big on the chain of command," said Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who served as the Texas Rangers' GM while Schieffer was the team's president during the 1990s. "With Tom, there are never any back doors or hidden agendas. He is very trustworthy, and nobody is going to get away with trying to sneak up through the fire escape into his office to get around somebody else. He doesn't allow that to happen."
Schieffer served as the Rangers' president from 1991 to 1999, but he originally went to the franchise as an investor in an ownership group that took over in 1989. The front man for that group was future Texas governor and U.S. President George W. Bush, who hadn't yet entered politics. One of the first goals of that group was to get a new ballpark built to replace aging and unloveable Arlington Stadium, an old minor league facility that had been repeatedly expanded over the years but wasn't particularly attractive and had little in the way of charm.
By 1994, the Rangers had moved into a beautiful new facility next door that had many of the "retro" qualities common to most ballparks built during that period. Both Melvin and longtime Rangers publicist John Blake say Schieffer was the one who actually spearheaded those efforts in a hands-on way.
"Probably his biggest legacy here is the ballpark," said Blake, now the Rangers' executive vice president of communications. "He was involved in all the due diligence with the municipalities, settling on Arlington, working a deal out with Arlington, and getting the thing passed and financed. And then he basically put the next two years into getting it built. All the little touches and everything in this ballpark was so much of his doing."
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What the Dodgers are getting, by all accounts, is an executive with a passion for baseball, even though Schieffer served the Rangers primarily on the business side and, Melvin said, was never one to overly meddle in the affairs of the baseball-operations department.
"I enjoyed working for him," Melvin said. "He is highly intelligent, well read and a very smart business guy. He knows the depth of an organization and how it needs to be run, from the general manager all the way down to the groundskeepers and the ticket takers. He allowed me to do my job as GM, but he was always there to help me if I ever needed that.
"He is a guy who will sit down in the front row of seats and watch a game. He will be there if you win, and if you're losing 15-1, he still sits there until the game is over. He isn't a front-runner who leaves his seat. He never did that in Texas."
Schieffer obviously is walking into a situation with the Dodgers that figures to be awkward at best and blatantly hostile at worst. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt released a statement last week, when Selig announced he would be naming someone to oversee the team's finances, that made it clear he wasn't happy about the decision, and it remains unclear the degree to which McCourt will be involved in the day-to-day operations of the club with Schieffer around.
The move would seem to be the first step in a process in which McCourt could eventually be forced to sell the club, something else he clearly has no intention of doing right now.
By at least one account, Schieffer has the right personality to navigate those certain-to-be-challenging waters.
"I think he will know exactly the situation he is entering," said Rangers broadcaster Tom Grieve, who already was in place as the team's general manager when Schieffer became its president and remained as the GM for three more years. "He knows the job he has at hand, and he won't be distracted from that job, which is to run the Dodgers on a day-to-day basis in a way that pleases Major League Baseball. At the same time, he isn't going to be distracted by what anyone in that organization thinks about him taking that job.
"In those circumstances, someone has to come in and run the team. They might not like that situation right now, but there is nothing they can do about it. I think after a short period of time, once they realize the attributes Tom has and get to know him a little bit, I would be very surprised if they don't say as a group, thank goodness it was Tom who came in, because it could have been someone a lot worse."
When Schieffer took over as the Rangers' president in 1991, the team, which was created in 1972 when the second incarnation of the old Washington Senators relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had never reached the postseason. In 1996, the Rangers won the American League West for the first time, and they wound up winning division titles in 1998 and '99 as well -- although those championships coincided with what at the time was a New York Yankees dynasty, and the Rangers had the misfortune of facing the Yankees in the first round of the playoffs in all three of those years, winning a total of one game in those three series.
The Rangers finally made it to their first World Series this past fall, more than a decade after Schieffer left the club, but his legacy remained intact.
"We didn't have a great tradition in the late '80s when the Bush group bought the team," Blake said. "It was very important to Tom to establish a tradition here. Arguably, the time they owned the team and the years Tom was president were the best overall years for the franchise. We reached the postseason for the first time, set [franchise] attendance records, moved into the park and certainly increased our community presence.
"You knew when he made a decision that it was decisive. He was one of the better people I have ever worked for."
Both Melvin and Grieve said Schieffer was always a supportive boss even as he was unfailingly a straight shooter.
"He was the kind of boss who didn't leave you wondering where you stood or what was going on in the organization or what was about to happen," Grieve said. "There was always a heads-up. I can remember him coming into my office on several occasions when the team wasn't playing well and saying, 'I know you have been in baseball a long time and you understand the way things work. You should know you're in a situation right now where things have to improve in a significant way or you might not be the GM anymore.'
"Fortunately, things did improve, and I was the GM. Those conversations are always hard to have, but I always appreciated him for taking the time to have them with me."
Blake says Schieffer's love of the game and its history will serve him well in his new capacity in Los Angeles.
"The Dodgers tradition, to him, will be huge in everything he does," Blake said. "He loves the game. He used to sit by the dugout here every night during the games. I guarantee you he will be out there, present and visible."