Via the Tampa Tribune -
As a kid, Andrew Friedman had dibs on the morning sports section so he could study the box scores. Well before he could drive, he still made a daily pilgrimage to Houston’s Astrodome and was passed off as a player’s kid because he hung around the home team so much.
While refining a take-no-prisoners playing style during his teenage years, Friedman wrote Lenny Dykstra’s number on the back of his cleats and answered to the nickname of “Nails,” a tribute to the type of leadoff batter and center fielder he wanted to become.
Everything about Friedman’s approach — everything in his life, really — spoke to his passion for baseball.
So really, it’s not surprising that Friedman, 31, has become a Midas-touch executive vice president of baseball operations for the Rays, who open the World Series tonight at Tropicana Field against the Philadelphia Phillies.
But in reality, despite his lifelong dreams, it happened by accident.
Five years ago, he was on Wall Street, first as a rookie investment analyst for Bear Stearns & Co., where 15-hour days are considered the work of slackers, then as an associate with MidMark Capital, a private equity firm.
He was making good money, closing deals worth millions, really going places.
The only place he really wanted to be was at a ballpark.
“Andrew once told me, ‘Crunching all these numbers every day, that’s fine, but it’s not where my heart is,’” said Steve Lipman, who was Friedman’s boss at Bear Stearns. “He’d ask if I knew anybody with one of the baseball teams. He said he’d wash the floors there, if that was the way in.”
Then came an unexpected break in 2003. Through his investment-banking buddy, Matt Silverman (now president of the Rays), he met Stuart Sternberg, who was about to purchase controlling interest in Tampa Bay’s baseball franchise.
The group convened at a diner near Sternberg’s home in Rye, N.Y.
Sternberg and Friedman hit it off immediately. They talked for hours.
“He had the same thought process I did,” Sternberg said. “I sensed his passion. His willingness to step away from a lucrative career meant an enormous amount to me.
“Andrew isn’t afraid to walk through the fire to execute his game plan,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “How Andrew does what he does, I couldn’t tell you. Coca-Cola doesn’t give out its secret formula. But whatever he’s doing, it’s working.”
Friedman played for a USA national team that toured China. He earned a baseball scholarship to Tulane, where his father also played, but a series of injuries ended his career prematurely. Friedman got his finance degree — on the advice of an Astros executive, actually — and was accepted into the two-year Bear Stearns investment program.
“Financial boot camp,” Lipman said. “Not for the faint of heart. Andrew wanted to understand everything. He wasn’t just blindly following orders. That distinguished him from the other people he worked with in banking. He’s a go-to guy, very versatile.”
Built For The Job
Ultimately, that versatility attracted Sternberg.
Sternberg heard about Friedman’s devotion to the “risk-reward” style of deal-making. At the same time, who knew Friedman once did skydiving over Las Vegas “just to see what it feels like,” and also hang-glided off the side of a mountain in Switzerland?
Friedman was expected to add discipline and financial savvy, but who expected him to break down players like a grizzled scout?
“Andrew sees things others don’t,” [Joe] Maddon said. “He’s more mature than I am. Here’s how I describe our relationship. He’s like my father and I’m like his son.”
For what it’s worth, Dan Jennings and Chuck LaMar had a hand in getting the Rays where they are today too. So, who knows…maybe someday, say, around the year 2018, Friedman will be talking about Cashman’s replacement in New York…saying that he wished he knew how that guy was doing it? (This assumes the Yankees, by then, get some guys with a scouting background and let them call the shots for a few years…)