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How the Haverford College baseball team became a pipeline to Major League Baseball

Only one Haverford player has appeared in a major-league game. But former players can be found as agents and in MLB front offices across the country as some of the game's biggest movers and shakers.

Josh Byrnes, a 1992 graduate of Haverford College, is one of many Fords in Major League Baseball.
Josh Byrnes, a 1992 graduate of Haverford College, is one of many Fords in Major League Baseball.Read more

Not one player, Ed Molush figured, went to Haverford College’s picturesque campus in Delaware County with dreams of playing in the major leagues during his time as baseball coach.

There was the outfielder who looked like a basketball player, the reliever who could not break a pane of glass, the 5-foot-6 catcher, the pitcher who loved to argue, and the slugger who couldn’t ask enough questions.

And they all reached the major leagues.

Haverford College — the elite liberal arts school with an enrollment of roughly 1,300 — has an alumni Rolodex of Nobel Prize winners, Rhodes scholars, CEOs, journalists, and politicians. And, in the last two decades, the school’s Division III baseball team has become a feeder to baseball’s big leagues.

Only one Haverford player — Bill Lindsay in 1911 for 19 games with the Cleveland Naps — has played in a major league game. But at least 15 big-league teams have employed former Fords in their front offices in recent seasons, and some of the game’s biggest contracts have been negotiated by agents who played at Haverford.

The Haverford players may not have been recruited by Division I schools, but Molush realized early during his 18 years on campus that they shared a natural curiosity, and that is what, he said, led them to the majors.

“When you go to a place like Haverford, you got in there because your academic nature is to be inquisitive,” said Molush, the head coach from 1992-2000. “To ask a lot of questions and to challenge the material that’s in front of you, whether it’s chemistry, physics, Latin, French, math, English, whatever it is. These players were not the kind of guys who sat in their classrooms quietly.

“They weren’t major league pitchers. They weren’t professional-quality pitchers, but they competed as hard and intently as you could, and I think that’s what makes the guys in front offices as good as they are. Their competitive drive, their sense of ‘What’s going on around me in my job, and what’s going on around us as an organization. What do I need to be aware of even if it’s just tangentially related to my job? What should I be aware of that might affect my decision-making in my job?’

“I think they were thinking about that stuff as students all the time, and I would bet that’s why they are where they are and doing what they’re doing.”

Ron Shapiro played at Haverford in the 1960s and has been the agent for more Hall of Fame baseball players than anyone. Arn Tellem played at Haverford in the 1970s and represented Chase Utley along with a slew of stars. Tony Petitti played there in the 1980s and was Major League Baseball’s chief operating officer.

But Jon Fetterolf — a partner at Zuckerman Spaeder LLP and the agent of reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer — credits Josh Byrnes for turning Haverford’s Division III baseball team into a brain drain for Major League Baseball.

Shapiro gave Byrnes his break in the early 1990s after Molush introduced them when Shapiro and other alumni returned to campus. Byrnes started as an intern in Cleveland under Shapiro’s son, Mark, in a front office that was quick to embrace baseball’s data shift and produced a stable of future general managers.

Byrnes became the GM of the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres before assuming his current job in 2015 as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ senior vice president of baseball operations.

“When I was in law school, I would go down to Cleveland and hang out with Josh,” said Fetterolf, who played with Byrnes at Haverford in the early ’90s. “One of the things that I recognized was, ‘Wait a minute. All of these people look very similar to me? How can they have jobs in baseball? Why can’t I do something in baseball, too?’”

Byrnes made working in baseball seem attainable for his Haverford teammates, but he also helped make it possible. When he joined the Colorado Rockies in 1999, he hired Thad Levine, Byrnes’ and Fetterolf’s former Haverford teammate. And now Levine is the general manager of the Minnesota Twins.

Just as Byrnes plucked him, Levine has added Haverford grads to his front office. One of his assistant GMs, the team’s assistant director of player development, and a minor-league pitching coordinator played at Haverford.

A Nationals CEO and COO both played at Haverford, while the Red Sox employed a former Haverford first baseman as their minor-league mental skills coach. The Phillies’ coordinator of advance scouting was the team manager at Haverford, and Cincinnati’s senior director of player personnel is from Haverford.

In the last 20 years, baseball has undergone an analytical revolution as teams have stocked front offices with hires from prestigious schools. And little Haverford College has made a big impact.

Tim McLean, an agent under Fetterolf, credits the school’s structure for molding students to work in baseball.

“Second to that, I don’t know if it’s a common experience or whatever it is, but there’s some degree of loyalty to others who have shared this, whether they be younger or older,” McLean said. “If I was talking to a Haverford person, they were always happy to give me some time, and I feel the same way about people who are younger than me. I think that’s largely what has allowed everyone to take that initial step if they want to work in baseball. Whether it was Thad, Josh, or us, if you text a Haverford guy and ask for 20 minutes, we’re all happy to do it.”

Haverford College’s baseball team has helped build World Series champions, and last offseason it was the architect of a record-setting deal.

Fetterolf laughed when he read last winter that the Dodgers and Twins had an inside track to land Bauer in free agency. It was an easy assumption to make since his former teammates reside in their front offices.

But why stop there? Fetterolf could have found a Haverford connection at nearly half the MLB clubs.

“There’s never been a player who comes into free agency at his age and with his track record who wants anything other than the most money and most years,” Fetterolf said of Bauer, who pitched for the Cincinnati Reds last season. “Honestly, that’s often what agents want, too, because when an agent does a deal, their commission is locked in for the length of the deal. You often have self-interest on both sides.”

That’s not what Bauer wanted. He had long pledged that he would never sign a multiyear contract, planning instead to spend his career on one-year deals so he could pick the right team each season.

But Fetterolf — along with McLean and Rachel Luba, who has her own agency and also represents Bauer — wanted the pitcher to ensure himself some security after a Cy Young season. So they got creative.

Instead of a one-year deal, they sought a long-term contract that had a series of opt-outs. This way, Bauer would receive financial security while still deciding each year where he plays.

“We told him that this hadn’t been done before,” Fetterolf said. “This is going to take some education on the team side. We don’t have direct comparative contracts. We have comparative players, but they did deals that he wasn’t inclined to do because they were long-term in nature. Going back to Haverford, it was like an academic challenge, and we’re always up for a challenge.”

And perhaps it took a fellow Haverford grad to meet that challenge. The Dodgers emerged as suitors, and there was Byrnes on the video call as the sides began to talk.

“When you deal with your friends, he’s going to try and get the best deal for his team and vice versa. But there’s just a lot of honesty in the conversation,” Fetterolf said. “In this circumstance, Josh was on the initial Zoom call, but then for probably both of our interests, he was out.”

In February, they had a deal. Bauer signed with the Dodgers for $102 million over three years with an opt-out after each of the first two seasons. His pay this season — $40 million — makes him the highest-paid player in baseball history. Fetterolf aced his academic challenge as his client joined his old teammate. He told Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, that he was just happy to talk to his friend again.

They may not have had major league dreams when they arrived at Haverford, but decades later they made major league history.

“Dealing with millions of dollars for top-of-the-line players in the big leagues,” Molush said. “Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that these guys are sitting there doing what they’re doing at the highest level of negotiations for contracts and working it out.”