How Rick Hahn became the general manager of the Chicago White Sox is one of the most unexpected stories youll ever hear about in baseball.
Because once upon a time, Jerry Reinsdorf didnt even want to hire him.
When I walked into his office, he was facing the other way, Hahn recalls about his very first meeting with the White Sox chairman in 1996. Using some direct and mildly colorful language, he told me that I was wasting his time, I was wasting my time. Ive got all this education, and why do I want to work as a general manager? He said, Just go do something real with your life. I was able to sort of calm him down after I got over the fact that Jerry Reinsdorf is kind of cursing me out here, which is kind of weird.
Hahn, who had graduated from the University of Michigan, and then later Harvard Law School, was getting his M.B.A. from Northwestern at the time. With all of that education, it didnt take much for Hahn to get the hint. Reinsdorf didnt want him, baseball seemingly had no place for him -- a harsh dose of reality that was only strengthened by a message that Hahn received a few weeks later.
My real name is Frederick, Hahn explains. At the time, my resume at the top said Frederick. In the mail I get a handwritten letter from Jerry that says, Dear Fred.
Not a good start.
Hahn continued, reciting Reinsdorfs letter from memory:
I've thought long and hard about our meeting and I won't help you ruin your life. Please lie down before you come to your senses. After I got over the stunned element of that, I saw at the bottom he said, However, if you want to learn about scouting, my offer to let you sit with some of our scouts still stands while you hold down a real job.
Hahn recalls this letter so vividly, because its actually framed above his desk at home. It also won him 25 at Northwestern -- in a contest for the best rejection letter.
That was the first money I ever made in baseball, Hahn says laughing.
Getting the opportunity to work with scouts slightly opened the door for Hahn. However, he would need plenty of inner strength to realize his dream, because there were others who kept slamming the door shut...like Kenny Williams.
Im thinking back to the four or five times that he came to me trying to convince me to hire him, and I told him he was out of his mind, Williams said. What are you doing? You are a Harvard grad, you have a law degree. Why do you want to be in baseball? Get out of my office. Get out of my suite. I kicked him out about four times and he kept coming back. And here he is today.
Guts, moxie, persistence, drive. They dont teach that in school. You either have it or you dont. As the White Sox eventually found out, Hahn had all of it.
Williams calls Hahn one of the smartest people I know, and besides Reinsdorf is simply the best negotiatior Ive ever been around.
It goes with a wicked sense of humor, which was revealed when I asked Hahn how he and Williams differ from each other.
Well, hes taller. Some would argue not quite as handsome, says Hahn, delivering the line as if he was a comedian at Second City.
Then he gets serious.
In terms of style, Williams may wear his emotions on his sleeve a little more than I do, but well see over time if I sort of develop into that.
Being a major league general manager is no picnic. Its probably the most stressful job in the sport. You control what players you put on the team, but once they take the field, its over. They control your fate. All you can do is watch helplessly from your seat.
For 12 years, this ate away at Williams.
It wears you down, Williams says. At the end of the season, admittedly I was spent.
As his assistant general manager for those same 12 years, Hahn had an up-close view of Williams misery and mood swings. Is he concerned the same thing might happen to him?
A little bit, Hahn admits. Ive had friends, guys Ive been close with, been assistant GMs move up the ladder to the GM seat, and quite frankly Ive seen some of them change a little bit. Im guessing due to the added stress and responsibility and time. Im hopefully going to be aware of that.
"Ive got at least a good support network around, my family and friends who will hopefully keep me focused and respond appropriately. Its a risk, but its part of the job, and if you cant take some risks, its hard to do great things.
Last off-season, Williams uttered a word that no baseball fan wants to hear: rebuild. Even though in reality the White Sox did nothing close to an actual teardown, the perception of that single word lingered with the franchise for months.
Hahn is no dummy. Asked if the White Sox will be in a similar situation this winter, he gave a much different answer.
No. Our intent is to win in 2013, Hahn replies. We might make some moves that solidify our chance to win in the future, that solidifies our farm system, but the goal remains to first be in position to win multiple championships, and secondly, hopefully that first one will be in 2013.
Hahn is thinking big, and why not? When he walked into Reinsdorfs office 16 years ago, he was dreaming big, too.
He could have cashed in as a lawyer or a businessman, but he would have been bankrupt on the inside. He could have taken an easier road like many of his other Harvard and Northwestern classmates, but saw a future at 35th and Shields and went after it.
Now hes the White Sox general manager, the 12th in franchise history. Who wouldve believed it?
Hahn did. All along.