Tyrone Brooks has been preparing for his current job since joining a Major League front office more than 20 years ago. Brooks, who was named Senior Director of MLB’s Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program earlier this year, has long been known for the work he has done in trying to help people land careers in baseball. Back in 2009, he founded the Baseball Industry Network – a networking group designed to assist individuals working in and/or connected to the game. One of the goals of the network – which now has over 29,000 members – is to develop mentoring relationships between people in the sport and individuals attempting to enter the industry.
Brooks, 42, got his start in baseball by landing an internship with the Atlanta Braves. He didn’t come from a baseball pedigree – as he double-majored in accounting and marketing at the University of Maryland, where he also spent time as a photojournalist. He took the internship opportunity and parlayed it into a full-time position. His resume – with stops in Atlanta (1996-2006), Cleveland (2006- 2009) and Pittsburgh (2009- 2016) – shows slow steady progress through different departments and roles en route to leadership positions. In essence, Brooks was the first member of his own pipeline.
“With the Front Office and Field Staff Diversity Pipeline Program, the goal is to help increase the pool of minority and women candidates for baseball operations positions,” Brooks said. “The main thing is developing a pipeline both to the front office and for potential managers at the big league level. We’re starting from the bottom. We’re not looking to bring somebody in and try to make them assistant GMs for a club right away. We’re trying to bring new people in through internships and entry level jobs and create a path for that person. And as the person goes through the pipeline, that’s how we can help develop that person. Looking at it from a long-term perspective, that’s how we can make this game better … by giving individuals opportunities, and from there, helping develop them as they go through the process.
“We’re putting programs in place where we can help individuals make the next step from entry level to mid-manager to higher levels within an organization. It’s a continual process as you make your way through the pipeline. You need to have things in place that are going to help an individual grow and work their way toward the top of an organization.”
The type of path Brooks talks about directly mirrors his own course, beginning with the aforementioned Braves internship. Brooks got that position through that organization’s Career Initiative Trainee Program – a program developed by Braves executives Hank Aaron and Stan Kasten to help create opportunities for minorities and women in baseball. He spent just a couple months as an intern before a full-time position opened up – and he was hired as an administrative assistant in scouting and player development. Brooks bided his time and put in nine full years before being promoted into his first titled position – as the Braves’ Director of Baseball Operations.
“You can look at my own career as a little bit of a model for the program,” he said. “I came in as an intern out of college – that was my way in. I got my feet wet. I was very fortunate to get hired later that summer full-time. From there, I continued to grow and expand in the duties I was given. At that time, I wanted to learn how we evaluated talent. The Braves were a very scout-driven organization, so the opportunity to get exposed to that area was important. I just tried to balance as much as I could – both on the administrative side in order to do my job effectively and to grow on the evaluation side as well.
“I started in the office as an administrator … became an area scout … went back into the office … did more of the administrator stuff – contracts, arbitration … went back into the field as a pro scout (with the Indians) … then came back into the office with the Pirates and basically did the duties of an assistant GM day-to-day … and from there, Director of Player Personnel.”
In his new role at MLB, Brooks will play a part in the way baseball front offices are constructed moving forward. He was asked what it was like knowing that he was involved in changing future front office landscapes.
“It’s a tremendous honor to have this opportunity,” he said. “This whole process started in November, when I was asked to be on an advisory council to look at how we can help get more minorities and women into opportunities on the baseball operations side. Right before we got ready for our first council meeting – and the council was made up of individuals throughout the league at both the club level and through the league office – I saw the job description for the program director. When I read it, I thought, ‘Man, this is something up my alley. I’ve already been doing a lot of this informally with the Baseball Industry Network.’ I saw the job description and said I’d like to throw my name in the hat.
“MLB, at that time, wasn’t thinking they’d be able to attract anybody to leave a club for that kind of a role. When I saw it, and once I had a chance to talk about it further with executives in the league office and see how committed they were to this program – I knew I wanted this. Twenty years ago, somebody gave me an opportunity. Now, I have a chance to do this on a bigger scale and help individuals get into the game. If anything, I would love for my legacy in baseball to be that I was always willing to give back to our game – and I was always willing to share in providing opportunities for other people who were passionate for our game and qualified to work in our game.”
Looking at his background, it speaks highly to what he has been able to accomplish. His unconventional path — accounting, marketing and photojournalism as opposed to spending time as a player — gives him a diverse skill set and unique perspective. He was given an opportunity, but then he had to do something about it.
“When I talk to individuals at various schools, I let them know that education opened up doors for me,” Brooks said. “I didn’t have the playing background like some others have. I came in with the idea that I was going to find a way to show I had a skill set to differentiate myself. That’s what you have to have. Now, the game is even more receptive to the idea of somebody not having a playing background; you see it more and more. Our game is attracting talented people. Since the time ‘Moneyball’ came out, that led a transformation as far as different types of people coming into our industry. Before, they probably would go into another realm and make more money to start a career. They saw this as an avenue to do something they were passionate about. It brought a new influx of talent into major league baseball.”
There are increasing numbers in higher-level executives that, like Brooks, didn’t play the sport. That excuse cannot be used as a reason for the lack of females in front offices around the game, but while society has embraced empowering women in other fields, baseball still lags behind.
“It really shouldn’t,” Brooks said in discussing how gender should impact the hiring process. “Now, it’s a case where every baseball ops department staff is getting bigger and bigger. There’s more information, more things for that person to manage. It’s just a matter of having enough ability to lead and manage those areas – and having good people around you to do that job.”
The game has largely been male-centric through the years, with women playing supporting roles for the most part. There are some signs of change on that front, though, and Brooks hopes to see this new program to facilitate greater change in that regard.
“In today’s game, we’re now seeing new opportunities opening up,” Brooks said. “Thanks to Amanda Hopkins, who is now an area scout with the Seattle Mariners in the northwest – seeing a young woman who had played college softball moving into that position shows that there is opportunity for women in this game. Look at Rachel Balkovec, who is with the Houston Astros – and she’s their Latin American Strength and Conditioning Coordinator. Those avenues are right there and available. Within the front office, now within scouting, we’re going to push things. Justine Siegal was in the instructional league as a coach with the Oakland A’s last October. There are going to be opportunities for women.
“We have to make sure that college programs academically and athletically are aware of our program – so that their students can have a potential avenue available to them if they so desire. I had a chance to speak to some softball players the other day. I was visiting Lehigh University, and I talked to their coach and some of their players to make them aware of what we’re trying to do here. It’s great to see the excitement when you’re talking to a young woman athlete and her eyes open up and realize there are ways to stay in the game.”
In giving advice to college students who want to work in a big league front office, Brooks speaks solely about necessary skills and characteristics.
“First and foremost, from a college standpoint, you need to be in a rigorous program,” he said. “Having a program where you’re going to be critically thinking, analyzing things, showing your ability to write, and your ability to communicate. All of those areas are vital as we look at individuals who are coming into our game, and how somebody is going to come in and fit into that environment.”
Brooks is starting at the bottom level, so he can grow and develop the program. With that in mind, he was asked about his vision for what his department will look like down the road. In other words, for people with teenage sons and teenage daughters who want to work in baseball, what does he think the landscape will look like moving forward?
“If they love the game, they need to watch the game at all different levels – and make sure they have an idea of what’s going on during the game and behind the scenes,” Brooks said. “From an educational standpoint, being in a college program where you’re constantly thinking, you’re writing, you’re dealing with numbers, too. Organizations want individuals who are analytically inclined. If you continue to have that kind of skill set and are looking for ways to separate yourself, try to look for the next area. That’s something that could be groundbreaking for the industry.
“There are so many opportunities out there. It’s just a matter of finding someone who can believe in them. That’s where I totally believe it all comes down to having one person believe in you. That’s why networking is important. Getting to know people … telling your story of where you’re coming from … where you’re trying to go … what are your hopes. Remember, this is still a relationship business. It’s so vital to meet people. Start doing informational interviews. Talk to people who are already in the field. Find out further if this is the right career for you – so you have an understanding of it. Even volunteering if you want to work in sports. Just build your resume. Start meeting people. You never know when that connection with one person will lead to another opportunity.
“There’s one thing we’ve all found out in this game – you can’t do it by yourself. There has to be somebody along the way who has taken a belief in you as a person and wants to see you succeed and pull you along the way with them.”
The best thing about baseball is that there’s not only one way to break into the sport. The hardest thing about breaking into baseball is that there’s not just one right way to do it.
“I look at my own career, and once I was an intern and had one foot in the door, if it wasn’t for one of our staffers leaving in the middle of the year – who knows where I would be,” Brooks said. “That’s why I’m so thankful and feel so blessed. I had the opportunity to get into the game 20 years ago, and now I’m hopefully paving the way for the next generation of individuals who want to work in baseball.”
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Chuck Wasserstrom spent 25 years in the Chicago Cubs’ front office – 16 in Media Relations and nine in Baseball Operations. Now a freelance writer, his behind-the-scenes stories of his time in a big league front office can be found on www.chuckblogerstrom.com.