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 one of the Orioles’ top executives.
Matt Klentak grew up in Massachusetts, where he played shortstop and rooted for Cal Ripken Jr. of the Orioles. His playing career ended after four years of college ball at Dartmouth, but he’s now working in the front office of the team his boyhood hero starred on for decades.
Klentak, 31, got his start in professional baseball with the 2003 Rockies. He contacted Thad Levine, the Rangers’ assistant GM who then worked in Colorado, through connections he had with the Red Sox and joined a Rockies front office that had recently lost Josh Byrnes to Arizona and Michael Hill to Florida.
After a year in Colorado’s front office, Klentak moved on to the labor relations department in the commissioner’s office. He worked on the 2006 Collective Bargaining Agreement and later advised teams on rules and the CBA. Andy MacPhail hired Klentak in 2008 and he now works on contracts, 40-man roster management and arbitration as the Orioles’ director of baseball operations.
I spoke with Klentak this week; here are some highlights from our conversation:
On growing up a baseball fan in Massachusetts:
Cal Ripken Jr. was absolutely my favorite player. I was a tall, lanky shortstop from the north and when I was growing up as a kid in the ‘80s, Cal was among the best shortstops and he was the player I tried to emulate. When a lot of people would tell me that I was too tall to play shortstop, all I had to do was point to Cal and say ‘no, no, no, that’s not true.’
On the scope of his current role in Baltimore:
One of the things that’s really special about our industry is that month to month, the job responsibilities are constantly changing and that keeps all of us fresh. Just when you finish the draft, it’s time for the trade deadline and then when the trade deadline’s over it’s time for the draft signing deadline and before you know it you’re budgeting and getting ready for the following year and then free agency hits and then the tender deadline and arbitration and lo and behold, it’s Spring Training and we’re getting ready for Opening Day. It’s nice. It keeps us on our toes, but it’s also a lot of fun.
On mentors in the game:
In Colorado, [GM] Dan O’Dowd is one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with. I learned a ton from Thad Levine, [Rockies Assistant GM] Bill Geivett and [Rockies VP of Scouting] Bill Schmidt. Mike Hamilton was the video coordinator in 2003 and Mike took me under his wing and taught me a lot about clubhouse culture. I spent a lot of time in the video room with Mike and when you’re a 23-year-old kid who has never been in a big league clubhouse, that was an important adjustment to make and Mike really took me under his wing and taught me a lot.
In New York, I worked with some really impressive people. [Pirates president] Frank [Coonelly] was the one who gave me my first job and he is one of the most hard working and detail-oriented people I’ve ever worked with. [Padres VP of Strategy & Business Analysis] John [Abbamondi] is analytically brilliant and taught me a ton. And here in Baltimore, Andy MacPhail has just been a tremendous teacher and mentor for me. I can’t thank Andy enough for the opportunity he’s given me here.
On the possibility of becoming a GM:
I got into this game because of a passion for baseball and that’s still the case and that’s why I work in this industry. At the end of my career, if I never become a GM, I’m not going to consider myself a failure. That’s not why I got into this and it’s not how I’m going to measure myself. My ultimate goal is to make a career in this industry and be happy, productive and challenged while contributing to the game and working with great people.