John Barr has this rule if you are a friend. He will get you tickets to Citizens Bank Park when the Phillies play the world champion San Francisco Giants, but you have to make at least an effort to root for the Giants.
"After all, I tell them, you probably don't know anyone at all on the Phillies," said Barr. "But you do know me. And I am a Giant."
Barr is certainly the only one in his Haddonfield neighborhood with not one, but three World Series rings. Since 2007, he has been the special assistant to the general manager of the Giants, although that whole time he has lived in Haddonfield - not more than a couple of miles from his boyhood home in Audubon.
"Actually, I think he secretly roots for the Phillies when they aren't playing the Giants," said Barr's college roommate, Gordon Speakman. "You can't take that out of a guy, but we go with it when you are at a game with him. But what a job he has done there. That is a team with homegrown talent, and I think you can give the credit to John."
Barr's title is somewhat corporate-speak, but what it really means is that he heads the 65-person Giants amateur-scouting staff. He is the guy, for instance, who made it a priority to sign catcher Buster Posey, the 2012 NL Most Valuable Player. In 2008, the year after Barr came to the Giants, he targeted and signed Conor Gillaspie, Brandon Crawford and Eric Surkamp and, in 2009, he made sure the team drafted Brandon Belt. All four, along with Posey, played with the Giants' World Series-winning team last season.
And yet, it all might have not come to pass. Barr graduated in 1979 from Rider University, where he played for four years, and tried coaching afterward as an assistant at Fairfield University and Mercer County (N.J.) College. He had gotten his degree in accounting and was set to find a college where he could teach finance and coach baseball - a respectable, sedate living.
He went to Houston to attend a college-baseball convention where, in part, coaches look for jobs. Through a friend, he found out Merrill Lynch was recruiting, too, so he went to cover all bases. Merrill Lynch offered him a good job, so he put the baseball dream on hold and moved to Houston. There, he met a fellow Merrill Lynch employee, Marianne Ready, whose father was a minor-league pitcher. They got married, bought a house, and were all set.
Except that Barr also soon met another Merrill guy named Gerry Hunsicker, a Collegeville and St. Joe's guy who had scouted for the Mets and, like Barr, still had the baseball jones. Hunsicker introduced Barr to Joe McIlvaine, then the Mets' head of scouting.
"I went out to meet Joe and he liked what I had to offer," Barr said. What McIlvaine had to offer, though, was a job in the Mets home office at one-third Barr's Merrill Lynch salary. Marianne's mother, who had traipsed the minor-league bushes chasing the major-league dream with her husband, told her daughter, "Leave him now."
"I think it was a joke, but you never know," said Barr, now laughing at the warning nearly 30 years ago. "But it really was a dream I had and, fortunately, Marianne bought into it. I really had to try it."
There probably isn't a minor-league or college ballpark - not to mention sandlots in the Dominican Republic to rural Korea to, surely, South Jersey - that Barr has missed in those three decades. He was still with the Mets when they won the World Series in 1986 (the first of those World Series victories), then he moved on to the Twins in 1988 as East Coast scouting supervisor and the next year became scouting director for the Orioles. When McIlvaine became general manager for the San Diego Padres in 1991, he brought Barr along as his assistant, and when McIlvaine went back to the Mets as GM in 1993, Barr went with him as scouting director. When McIlvaine left in 1997, so did Barr, who lived in Florida for a time as East Coast supervisor for the Dodgers. In 2009, he was one of the first to be elected to the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame.
During that time in Florida, though, the pull of home came to Barr.
"I had lived in South Jersey, near family, with a great upbringing. My parents and my older sister and the community always supported me in everything. I wanted that for my kids," said Barr, who by that time had three daughters and a son. Since his job with the Dodgers required a load of travel up and down the East Coast - as much as 200 days a year - it didn't matter as much exactly where he lived, so he chose Haddonfield for its close-knit neighborhoods and good schools. "It really has become a great move."
His kids - Kate, who just graduated from West Virginia; Eileen, a sophomore at the University of Florida; and Mary and Blake, a senior and sophomore respectively at Haddonfield Memorial High School - took up their dad's sporting propensities, participating in everything from basketball to tennis to cheerleading to wrestling. When he has been home, Barr has spent the better part of his time in the high school stands.
"You couldn't think of something better - except maybe a world championship," said Barr.
He took the job with the Giants after the 2007 season, insisting on staying in Haddonfield, but predicted it would be the better route to that elusive world championship.
"When the Mets won in 1986, I really hadn't been there long and didn't really think I had contributed all that much to winning it," said Barr. But he saw something in the Giants, particularly general manager Brian Sabean. He liked that Sabean picked people to work for him and stuck with them - that the Giants' staff was probably the one with the most longevity for one team. "To go to work for Brian, whom I have known since the 1980s when he was with the Yankees, was another part of the dream. He decided he wanted to bring in someone new [to head up scouting] and I was lucky to be the person he wanted to bring in."
Since "Moneyball," the traditional "sandlot-roving gut-feeling, tough-talking" scouts have gotten a bad rap, said Barr.
"It's not like we don't use statistical analysis, which we do, like everyone else these days, but you cannot go without having people out there watching and talking to the guys you are looking at," said Barr. What has also changed, even in his relatively short time with the Giants, is the extensive use and cataloging of video. When he is home in Haddonfield, he is never without his iPad and cellphone, checking and cross-checking reports and videos from his scouting staff, both in the states and internationally.
"We can watch videos of what this or that guy did versus lefthanded curveball pitchers in the daytime, or whatever," he said. "Each player gets graded on a whole range of things, from arm strength to foot speed to, well, a whole lot of things that we like to keep private."
Barr said a player's "makeup" is so integral to the process, and it's something that no statistical analysis or even iPad video can detect.
"You have to find out who the family is, what the family is like. You see his abilities in a game, but what is his motivation? Will he learn things on the way up?" said Barr. Counterintuitively, Barr likes his scouts to see a player in his "other" sport, maybe watching him play basketball or soccer. "You want to see him in a sport he is not dominant in. You want to see how he competes. Does he make adjustments? Because along the way, he is going to have to make adjustments. The playing field is going to catch up to him and you don't want his first failure to be at the major league level."
One of his favorites whom he signed was Mike Mussina, when Barr was with the Orioles. Mussina is an intellectual sort who graduated in 3 1/2 years from Stanford and was featured in the movie "Wordplay" as an inveterate New York Times crossword-puzzle solver. "You could tell he was going to be a major leaguer," said Barr. "If you can sign players of that magnitude, it really makes you feel like you have done your job."
He felt that way about Posey, too. Barr started to watch Posey in his early high-school years, when Barr himself was still with the Dodgers. Posey played shortstop then, but Barr, the veteran sandlot-goer, saw that that might change.
"Some of the same skills you see at the shortstop position - arm strength, athleticism, good hands, a presence on the field, a leader on the field - you want out of your catcher," said Barr. "Buster was that kind of kid."
Barr himself, well, not so much. His senior year at Audubon, he hit .300 and stole 22 bases as the team won its first - of now many -New Jersey Group I or II state championships. It got him a scholarship to Rider, where he played all four years, a lefthand-hitting centerfielder and outfielder.
"He was always the guy who did the extra thing, knew a little bit more than everyone else," said Rich Horan, Barr's teammate at Audubon and now the baseball coach there. "He just loved being on the field, talking about baseball. I think we all did that back then, but that was always his dream."
Barr said even off the field, he thought about baseball - playing the old strategic baseball board game Strat-o-Matic with teammates and best friends Mike Bozek and Jack Ivins, keeping up with every scrub the Phillies might bring up.
"I was only good enough to play Little League, but we played on our street, Washington Terrace, practically every day in the summer with a tennis ball," said Bozek. "The neighbor's fence in rightfield was high and close, like in Connie Mack Stadium, and John was lefthanded, so that was his. He was always going to be Johnny Callison and I was Jim Bunning."
Ivins said that after playing was over, they still talked baseball and inevitably went to the strategic Strat-o-Matic game.
"We still play when we get together. It's fun beating the big, baseball executive," said Ivins. "But he never pulls that. He is never some big-deal guy. I think that is why he is successful. He is always old JB. The moment someone meets him, he is their best friend. I am sure that is what makes a good scout."
Barr doesn't keep a secret that he would love to make that one last step up, to be a general manager on a potential championship team. A Giants colleague said: "If he is not on the short list, no one is. He is a baseball pro and has certainly helped make this team what it is."
Until then, though, Barr is perfectly happy with the Giants and the way the team operates.
"It is what you strive for when you start out, to be with an organization, a group of people, who do things the right way and, as a reward, end up as champions," he said. He was happy when the first Giants championship came in 2010, but even happier last year, when the entire family was with him when the Giants won in Detroit. And all - except Eileen, who had to get back for midterms at Florida - were in the victory parade in a cable car down San Francisco's Market Street.
"It is a great moment to share with your family, to feel you were a part of what you always dreamed about," he said. "I feel like while I didn't make it into the big leagues as a player, like I might have hoped back there in Audubon, I have been able to fulfill a dream, that my passions for the game worked out. I have made a life out of it, and how many people can say that?"