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Rethinking America's Pastime: The Paul DePodesta Story

How a Harvard graduate turned a passion for baseball into a statistical revolution

That education has led DePodesta to remember Harvard with a great fondness.

I loved it,” he says. “It’s a great place and it was an incredibly rewarding experience for me.... It’s not really until you’re out in the rest of the world that you realize just how special all those people are, how talented and bright they all are, and how lucky you are to be surrounded by people like that on a daily basis, because it’s not like that all the time. In a very general sense, that’s what stuck out for me.”

As he neared graduation, like most of his peers, DePodesta went through the recruiting process, hoping to find a job in baseball, the sport he had been forced to give up three years prior. But at that point, the MLB was on strike, leading DePodesta to turn his focus to the NFL.

He sent his resume to a bunch of teams, but failed to get a positive response. So he decided to take the one job in football he could get—an unpaid internship with the now-defunct Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League.

I viewed it as my equivalent of going backpacking for a summer, or something like that,” DePodesta says. “I sort of assured my parents that shortly thereafter I would get a real job.”

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DEEP-O IMPACT

The Paul DePodesta Story

After a few months working for the Stallions, DePodesta made good on that promise, as the “real” job offer finally came.

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When the strike ended, DePodesta resumed applying to jobs in baseball. In early 1996, he came across an internship in the player development office of the Cleveland Indians, and he jumped at the chance to break into the industry. But after following his passion to Ohio, DePodesta quickly learned that he would have to work his way up from the very bottom.

“When I started out in Cleveland, I was the minor league van driver in Spring Training,” DePodesta says. “It wasn’t the most glamorous thing in the world. I was literally shuttling players back and forth from the airport [and] taking the Latin players to their English classes.”

But DePodesta’s knowledge of the game quickly began to impress his superiors, such as Mark Shapiro, a Princeton grad who is currently the team’s president.

“It was very clear right from the start that Paul was both extremely intelligent and very passionate about baseball, and had an ability in just a short period of time to make an impact on our organization,” Shapiro says.

Indeed, DePodesta made that impact more quickly than even Shapiro would have expected. Following the ’96 season, though just 24 years old, DePodesta was named Cleveland’s advance scout. At such a young age, he felt unprepared for the job, which involved writing detailed reports on the Indians’ opponents before each of the team’s games.

“Your typical advanced scout at the time was somebody who had literally 30 years experience in Major League Baseball,” DePodesta says. “They’d probably been a player, a coach, a manger, etcetera. So to be honest, I really had absolutely nothing to contribute to the conversation at that point.”

So DePodesta decided to find something to contribute.

He began looking for a unique way of evaluating talent, a manner of studying players that was based on his own particular strengths. For even though DePodesta did not have the baseball experience of his peers, he had always had a brilliant mind, and like in college, he began thinking about ways he could use that to his advantage.

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