GM Candidate: Damon Oppenheimer

MLBTR’s list of general manager candidates introduced 20 people who were identified by their peers as potential Major League GMs. We’re now going to bring you closer to the candidates with a series of pieces. Today the series continues with Yankees executive Damon Oppenheimer.

The Padres were a natural fit for Damon Oppenheimer when his playing career ended in 1985. He was a) a sports-obsessed southern California native b) a former peanut vendor at Jack Murphy Stadium, then the home of the Padres and c) the son of a Padres’ front office employee - Oppenheimer’s mother handled San Diego's minor league operations for decades before retiring a few years ago.

The Brewers drafted Damon as a catcher out of USC in 1985, but it didn’t take long for him to join the Padres as an area scout and begin a career in player evaluation when his playing career ended after one season. 

Oppenheimer scouted for the Padres, Rangers and Yankees, both in the U.S. and in Latin America before assuming his current role as the Yankees’ scouting director. Though he continues to scout on special assignments in Latin American and Asia, his primary responsibility is evaluating domestic talent for the amateur draft. Since becoming scouting director in 2005, Oppenheimer has selected the likes of Brett Gardner, Austin Jackson, Ian Kennedy and David Robertson with the help of his scouting staff.

He and I spoke last week; here are some highlights from the conversation:

On the role of statistics in scouting:

Growing up I had always paid attention to them and was always interested as a kid. I followed the normal stats back then – home runs and average and ERAs. When I first got into scouting, I thought it was important. I thought the guys I played with in college, the guys that were good put up good stats, so I thought ‘why not take that into consideration and then on top of using the [scouting] tools we’re always talking about, pay attention to the stats.’ 

They tell you something and I’ve always liked looking at stats to see how a guy’s doing. I’m a proponent of paying attention to them. You’re not doing your full job if you don’t pay attention to them. I don’t think they tell you the whole story about a player, especially college stats when they’re using aluminum or high school games where the competition level isn’t the same. You can’t rely on stats. You can use them to supplement things and help you understand players.

On mentors in the game:

There aren’t many people who were as fortunate as I was to really grow up in the game. My mother was the assistant to the scouting director then became director of minor league operations for the San Diego Padres, so back in the 1980s, I was constantly around baseball. I was fortunate with that and that’s very unique. A lot of times, guys follow their dads and this is something where I was able to follow my mom. 

Sandy Johnson was the scouting director of the Padres back then and he was instrumental with helping me out with what I believed in in scouting.

Then I’ve been fortunate here with the Yankees. The time around George Steinbrenner was tremendous. I learned a lot, whether it was about making decisions, standing up for what you believe, working for a man who wants to win so bad. I learned a lot from him and obviously [GM] Brian Cashman and [senior VP of baseball operations] Mark Newman, the guys here with the Yankees. I’ve been blessed to learn a ton from those guys. 

On growing up around the Padres:

I was always a baseball junkie, I was always a sports junkie. I grew up around the Padres and even as a kid, 16 years old, still playing baseball, I had a job at Jack Murphy Stadium [the Padres’ former home] selling peanuts just so I could basically get in for free, sell those until the sixth inning and watch the rest of the game.

On the possibility becoming an MLB GM:

It would be an honor. It would be a great challenge. If the right situation presented itself I think it would be a great opportunity. I’m very fortunate to work for a great organization here and it hasn’t been my main goal that I have to be a general manager someday. I’d like to be, but I do feel blessed to be where I’m at also.

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