It’s fall, 2003. Then-junior quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 and the Harvard football team have just closed out a somewhat disappointing, 4-3 Ivy season with a 37-19 victory over their biggest rival, Yale. And based on the atmosphere around the field, the win appears to be adequate consolation for a season of missed opportunities.
David Stearns ’07—a freshman at the time—types the first sentence of a game recap: “It’s the power of The Game.”
Nine years later, his former roommate and fellow Crimson sports editor Alex McPhillips ’07 laughs as he recalls the first line of that story.
“Simple, straight forward—that’s a very ‘Stearnsian’ lede,” McPhillips says.
In December of 2011—less than five years after the Class of 2007 graduated from Harvard—the Cleveland Indians named Stearns as one of two directors of baseball operations.
Stearns is the youngest person in Major League Baseball currently occupying his post. But the former government concentrator and resident of Kirkland House noted that his youth doesn’t factor into his ability to do his job.
“At some point, [age] doesn’t matter a tremendous amount,” Stearns says. “It’s more about what you can bring to the table, if your skill set matches what is needed for the particular position.”
“I had a lot of people to teach and mentor me and help me grow,” he adds. “That’s what led to me being able to work my way up. People trusted me with more responsibility than someone my age typically has…. A lot of it is about being in the right place at the right time.”
His former roommate tends to agree.
“He’s accomplished a lot for his age,” McPhillips says. “He’s really mature and kind of an old soul. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a good sense of humor or like to have fun. He can hang with the best of them when we’re goofing off.”
For Stearns, his appointment to the front-office position is the next step in a lifelong baseball and sports-related journey.
“I played growing up and was always very attached to the game,” Stearns explains. “Everyone has hobbies, and everyone has activities that teach them certain things. Baseball was always that activity, and staying involved as a career and profession always intrigued me.”
Because he developed an interest in both the game and the industry at an early age, Stearns was able to start forging his path to the Indians’ front office long before he graduated from college.
“I was very fortunate in that I knew I wanted to work in baseball since high school,” Stearns says. “So right from the beginning—freshman, sophomore years in college—I sent out a lot of letters to clubs and the league office.”
After landing an internship with the Pittsburgh Pirates during his college days, Stearns bounced around the baseball world, moving to the Arizona Fall League after graduation, then to the Mets, and eventually to a three-and-a-half-year stint with the Commissioner’s office.
“One thing led to another,” Stearns says. “That’s how it seems to work. Once you get in and get a network of people, it makes it slightly easier to move around from one job to another.”
As one of two directors of baseball operations for the Indians, Stearns focuses on “contracts, strategy, and analysis.”
The Harvard graduate shares duties with Derek Falvey, who is responsible for “player personnel and acquisitions.” Falvey worked as an assistant director of baseball operations in the Indians organization immediately before the December promotion.
“[Stearns] was always a very analytical guy, very rational, a real problem solver,” McPhillips says. “He’ll approach any problem or challenge...with the same focus and sense of responsibility and really the same temperament.”
And, according to Stearns, his new position—and working in baseball in general—is about as close to a dream job as he could hope for.
“The great thing is that I’m getting to do something I genuinely enjoy doing,” Stearns says. “Being able to get up every morning and know that my job is to help make a Major League Baseball team better is very exciting.”
“The fact that there are 29 other clubs filled with really smart people trying to do the same thing and that my job is to compete with them is both challenging and exciting,” he adds. “I’m around the game and contributing to making a club better and hopefully win a lot of games.”
According to McPhillips, Stearns showed a competitive edge and leadership qualities throughout his college career.
“Dave is a very responsible, meticulous person,” McPhillips says. “He was always the responsible one in the blocking group, making sure everyone was prepared. When we went on our spring break trip to Las Vegas, he was the one who made sure we had the tickets booked, the hotel booked. He was very responsible and a great roommate.”
And although his time in Cambridge may have been characterized by a straightforward, businesslike style, Stearns expressed sentimental attachment to his Harvard experience.
“When you leave a place like Harvard, you really gain an additional appreciation for the place,” Stearns says. “Getting to the working world and starting to realize that the talent and the intellectual spark isn’t quite the same is daunting and takes a while to adjust.”
“I definitely look back at Harvard with great memories,” he adds. “[I made] some great relationships I’ve been able to keep, and all of my best friends are still my best friends from college. I think that’s a good indicator of how special a place it is here.”
Stearns hasn’t left Harvard behind in his professional life either. Two other recent graduates—Frank Herrmann ’06 and Trey Hendricks ’04—are also involved with the Indians organization.
“It’s a pretty small club and a small industry,” Stearns says. “It’s interesting that there are three of us in the same organization, all from a four or five year span at Harvard. It’s definitely unique that we’re all involved with baseball.”
Herrmann—who went undrafted after playing four strong years of Harvard baseball—was called up to pitch for Cleveland in 2010 and then again in 2011. He is currently on the roster of the Columbus Clippers playing at the AAA level.
“It’s rare that an Ivy League player makes it to the major leagues,” Stearns says. “[Herrmann] has had tremendous success coming in undrafted.”
After being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and spending five years in the minor leagues, Hendricks has shifted his career path to the administrative side of baseball as part of the Indians’ scouting team.
“Maybe what they have in common is that all three of those guys really went about their business without complaining,” McPhillips says. “They’re great, focused guys, and that’s what it takes to succeed in baseball.”
When he graduated from Harvard in 2007, Stearns was met with a difficult task: attempting to break into a popular industry with a small number of jobs available. But Stearns was able to overcome the odds and has settled in nicely to his role with the Indians—just in time for his five-year college reunion.
“I’d say that five years ago I knew I wanted to give baseball as good a shot as I could possibly give it and see how far it could take me,” Stearns says. “I knew I could be unemployed or in a career for the next 30 years of my life.... [When I graduated from college,] I knew I wanted to stay in the game and contribute as much as I could. It’s worked out so far.”
—Staff writer Catherine E. Coppinger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.