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Tiny Haverford College an Unlikely Pipeline to Major League Baseball’s Front Offices

Tiny Haverford College an Unlikely Pipeline to Major League Baseball’s Front Offices

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Tommy Bergjans, a pitcher at Haverford College, was selected in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball draft in June — by a Haverford graduate, Josh Byrnes, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ senior vice president for baseball operations. Credit Dave Sinclair

With a restful duck pond at the main entrance and an arboretum of 1,400 labeled trees and shrubs dwarfing the few ball fields on its campus, Haverford College looks nothing like an athletic powerhouse.

Founded by Quakers in 1833 and located in the Philadelphia suburbs, Haverford, with a student body of only about 1,200, competes in the N.C.A.A.’s Division III, where athletic scholarships are prohibited. And the academically elite Haverford does not offer a major in physical education or sports management, perhaps among the nation’s trendiest fields of study.

Bergjans joined an industry that prominently features another Haverford alumnus, Tony Petitti, the chief operating officer of Major League Baseball. Along the way, Bergjans was evaluated by the Mets scout Jim Thompson, also a Haverford graduate, and was instructed by Haverford’s pitching coach, Nat Ballenberg, another alumnus.



If Bergjans needed additional advice on his baseball career, he could have turned to other Haverford graduates in high places, like Thad Levine, the assistant general manager of the Texas Rangers, or two of the most influential sports agents in history, Ronald M. Shapiro and Arn Tellem.

In all, while Bergjans is the only player from Haverford under contract, there are about 15 to 20 Haverford graduates working in prominent baseball-related jobs, as front-office executives, agents and talent evaluators.

How did little, studious Haverford become a pipeline to a career in baseball, an industry with a limited number of job openings?

“Some of it is a brick-by-brick network,” said Byrnes, a former general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres. “And some it is a bunch of Haverford baseball guys who, when their playing days were over, realized it was time to put on a collared shirt and make a career of their passion.”

Or, as Bergjans said, “the analytical side of the game has exploded.”

“People like myself, baseball nerds, are getting front-office jobs,” said Bergjans, who has already compiled a 2-1 record in the minors. He added, “I think I’m a good pitcher, but I still consider myself a baseball nerd.”

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The 1919 Haverford baseball team. Although small, the college has 23 athletic teams, which means that roughly 35 percent of the student body plays a varsity sport. Credit Haverford College

The more nuanced answer to the proliferation of Haverford graduates involves a confluence of factors. With the success of the book and movie “Moneyball,” which preached an unconventional look at long-established baseball tenets, the sport has opened its doors to new strategies. Almost every major league team now employs multiple scouts and executives who have no professional baseball experience but know their way around the new terminology and sophisticated tools of sabermetrics.

Haverford, and institutions like it, might just be well positioned to fill those needs. For example, before graduating, a vast majority of Haverford students are required to write a senior thesis, a project that takes at least a year to complete. As many as 20 percent of Haverford’s economics majors — many of them baseball players — choose baseball or sports as the subject of their thesis. Some professors and administrators at Haverford said that it might be the extensive, scholarly study of sports that had helped jump-start so many athletic careers for the college’s graduates.

That sports would frequently be a topic at Haverford is not all that surprising. Although small, the college has 23 athletic teams, which means that roughly 35 percent of the student body plays a varsity sport. And there is a practical explanation for the sports-related thesis subjects as well.

“For an economist, baseball is a great laboratory with a lot of data,” said Anne Preston, a Haverford professor of economics who has advised many students during their thesis projects. “In baseball, you have all this performance data, sales data, profits data — and you also have collective bargaining agreements that are renegotiated, and that allows us to test various economic hypotheses.

“The senior thesis helps our students get their foot in the door for a job interview where they can prove that they’ve thought very analytically about the business and the game.”

Asked about the number of its graduates working in baseball, the college’s president, Kimberly Benston, credited various aspects of the experience at Haverford, which has a defining, student-run honor code. Students at Haverford are self-governing — there are no proctors at exams — and students have membership on all major committees, including the faculty hiring committee.

“Our students develop a feel for people and the nuances of a community,” said Benston, who has taught at the college since 1984. “Those are skills needed to build something like a baseball team. At the same time, running a baseball club has become a highly conceptual and precise art. It takes a combination of social, intuitive and intellectual skills.”

Bergjans, whose thesis was titled “Sunk Costs in the M.L.B.: The Effect of Draft Order and Previous Contract on Playing Time and Future Salary,” added a theory about the seemingly disproportionate number of Haverford graduates working in baseball.

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Byrnes last year, left, when he was the San Diego Padres' general manager, and right, playing for Haverford, from which he graduated in 1992. Credit Left: Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press, Right: Haverford College

“If you’re a Division I baseball player, you’re probably playing summer baseball,” Bergjans said. “If you’re playing at Haverford, you get a summer internship instead, maybe with a minor league or big league team. We, at an earlier age, are already trying to open doors to different avenues.”

Byrnes is well aware of the trend. But he noted that he, many of his Haverford-bred colleagues and the three Amherst alumni-turned-general managers all played the game in college.

“I know I want people whose passion and knowledge of the game was mostly gained through playing and observation as opposed to learning the game through the Internet,” Byrnes said.

From the home dugout on the Haverford campus, Dave Beccaria has seen the program blossom into a regional Division III power since he became its coach in 2000, and he is not shy about using Haverford’s numerous ties to pro baseball to aid his recruiting. Many high school players considering Haverford have been surprised to receive a phone call from Byrnes; Levine, the Rangers’ assistant general manager; or Fetterolf, the agent.

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Haverford's campus in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Credit Mark Makela for The New York Times

Beccaria learned to use Haverford’s connections from a former baseball coach and longtime athletic director at the college, Greg Kannerstein, who started the procession of Haverford graduates seeking baseball jobs in 1992, when he encouraged Byrnes to contact Shapiro.

Beccaria said that “the depth of the relationships and the commitment that the Haverford baseball alumni have to the college and to each other goes back to Greg Kannerstein,” who died in 2009.

“It’s a baseball family, and there’s been a trickle-down effect ever since,” Beccaria said.

So what comes next? In 10 years, will a third of all baseball executives be Haverford graduates?

“I don’t know about that,” Fetterolf said with a chuckle. “But I think Haverford will continue to be well represented.”

Bergjans, just 22 years old, already feels as if he is part of a movement.

“When I went to workouts for major league teams before the draft, I expected them to say, ‘Where’s Haverford?’ ” he said. “It was just the opposite. They said, ‘Man, we work with a ton of Haverford guys.’ ”

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