ORACLE PARK — When Scott Harris drove from Pasadena out to Palm Springs to meet his grandmother Joan’s friend, he wasn’t sure how long their meeting would last.
Joan had pestered her friend, Major League great and former San Francisco Giants general manager Al Rosen, to at least just sit down for 10 minutes and talk to Harris, then an international economics major at UCLA with designs on a career in a baseball front office. “She was far from shy,” said Rob Harris, Scott’s father.
So, the two met at a restaurant on the Rancho Mirage golf course. They talked for three hours. A year later, Rosen helped Harris get his first baseball internship.
On Monday, 11 years later, Harris was introduced as the Giants general manager, a post from which Rosen once saved the club. Harris’ broad experience and his ability to quickly form meaningful connections with people is why he’s emerged as one of the hottest young executives in baseball, and why president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi tapped him to help reshape the franchise.
“I see this relationship being a close collaborative relationship full of debate, full of challenging each other, full of trying to put the Giants first,” Zaidi said.
When Rosen, the former Cleveland Indians slugger, took over as San Francisco’s general manager in 1985, the club had had just two winning seasons in the previous 12 years. He hired manager Roger Craig, fast-tracked Robby Thompson and Will Clark to the big leagues, drafted Matt Williams, traded for Dave Dravecky and Kevin Mitchell and built the 1989 National League pennant winner.
Harris joins Zaidi in the wake of three straight losing seasons, also with a managerial vacancy to fill. Within a day and a half of being on the job, Harris, formerly the assistant general manager for the Chicago Cubs, has already spoken with the remaining candidates for the Giants’ vacant managerial job, and given his assessments to Zaidi. He’s already very familiar with one: Astros bench coach Joe Espada, who he interviewed as a finalist for the Cubs job before David Ross was hired. The search is set to end this week, with Harris having “significant input” into the final decision, Zaidi said.
While Rosen’s radical idea was a move back to basics, taking all televisions and radios out of the locker room, and enforce batting practice taken in full uniform rather than shorts and t-shirts, Zaidi and Harris’ partnership is part of a progressive, improvisational movement in baseball front offices.
As with front offices in Los Angeles — Zaidi’s last stop — and in Chicago, the collaboration between president of baseball ops and his new general manager will be fuzzy, allowing both men the bandwith to work on larger ideas and philosophies that will help move the franchise forward. It’s a process that’s led to a World Series title for the Cubs, and two straight World Series appearances for the Dodgers. Keeping the job responsibilities “nebulous” — which both men expressed a desire to do — allows for more improvisation while placing emphasis on communication.
“I do think that we will be able to complement each other, just being able to take things off each other’s plates when there are some really important things that that one of us needs to needs to get in the weeds on and work on,” Harris said.
What makes Harris such a good partner for Zaidi, who is expected to retain a large role in player acquisition, is his ability to listen. In that first talk with Rosen, that’s exactly what Harris did.
“I listened to his stories, I listened to his advice,” Harris said. “For some reason, he took a liking to me, so I stayed in contact with him … we maintained a close relationship, and we would talk regularly on the phone. And those conversations have all been very heartwarming.
“At first, it was very similar to that that lunch, where he would do most of the talking. I would do all of the listening and I would take his advice. But as I started to ascend in the game, those conversations started to transform. He started asking me questions. He started to see me as a connection back to the game.”
After an initial unpaid internship Rosen arranged for Harris with the Nationals, Harris interned with the Cincinnati Reds and after graduating from UCLA, worked at the Major League Baseball office in New York before being hired in 2012 by the Cubs and their youthful braintrust, Epstein and Hoyer, to be the director of baseball operations.
“They want everybody involved in everything,” Harris said. “They really believe that four opinions are better than three, five is better than four, six is better than five. So as long as you had the bandwidth to work across all departments, they would they would let you and more than that, they would empower you to do so. So my job description was very wide and they encouraged me to expand it as much as possible.”
During his first year working for the Cubs full time, Harris front-loaded his Northwestern business school schedule for the fall and took weekly flights back from Arizona during spring training to complete his degree. He still tried to reach into as many departments as he could, and Epstein and Hoyer encouraged him.
When Rosen called Harris to ask about a trade the Cubs had made, he wanted to know exactly how it went down — he hadn’t been part of a front office in decades. When Harris told him it happened through text messages and email, Rosen was incredulous. Transactions used to be about in-person relationship building.
“It’s forever seared into my memory,” Harris said.
Harris worked on big league transactions, worked closely with Joe Maddon’s coaching staff and in player development, trying his hand at international and amateur scouting. He worked with the Cubs’ high performance department and led the research and development department. Hoyer and Epstein taught him to compete at everything, and value every move, from big league blockbusters to back-page minor league free agents, from first-round draft picks to 27th-round fliers.
“As soon as this press conference is over, I’m going on vacation,” Zaidi said, jokingly (the two are headed to general manager meetings in Phoenix tomorrow). “We’ve talked about Scott’s broad skill set, I think he’s kind of got it all covered.”
Harris, for one, is excited to get back to a warmer climate. As he stood at the top step of the Giants dugout, looking at the construction in center field — where new bullpens are being installed and seats removed — he noted that it was 24 degrees and snowing back in Chicago.
“I think when you’re going up in this game, you hope for an opportunity like kthis,” he said. “You hope to be assistant GM of the Cubs and have the president of the Giants courting you for a GM job.”
Harris’ father Rob, mother Joanne Nino, step-father Will Harrison and brother Chris were in attendance. When Rob — a Chicago native — and Joanne — a San Francisco native — were raising the two boys in Redwood City, they split the baseball loyalties. Rob got Scott and turned him into a Cubs fan. Joanne got Chris, who became a Giants fan. They both learned the game by watching it at Candlestick Park and what is now Oracle.
When Harris received his World Series ring from the Cubs, he gave it to his father, a Chicago-born physician who worked at Kaiser Santa Clara for 31 years.
“Our goal now,” Zaidi said, “is to get one for Mom.”
As Harris spoke on stage about his relationship with Rosen, Joanne put her hand to her chest and let an “Aww,” escape. Rosen passed in 2015 at the age of 91.
“I wish he was here today to share in the moment with me,” Harris said. “He was an irreplaceable figure in my development and forever grateful for him for giving me my started the game.”