ANAHEIM, CA-- Growing up in Dodger and Angel territory, I collected baseball cards, ticket stubs, photographs and programs; all the things baseball-crazed youngsters live for. I was a fanatic about the game.
But I was never one of the kids who wrote a letter to a player or a GM asking for an autograph or asking a question. Many of my friends did and never saw the card(s) again, or never heard back from the executive. I wanted all my signatures to be in person, where I could meet the person face-to-faceand keep an eye on my prized possession.
The one exception was Hank Aaron.
During his controversial chase of Babe Ruth's home run record in 1973, I wrote a postcard saying I thought he was a great player and wished him success in his pursuit of the Bambino. (Little did I know, just three years later the prankster Aaron would dump a bucket of water over my head in the Milwaukee Brewers' clubhouse at Anaheim Stadium. A rookie-reporter hazing ritual, I guess.) Aaron responded by sending me a personalized autograph on a 5 by 7 picture and a note thanking me for my support. It was a classy move for a man under siege by racists who didn't want a black man breaking Ruth's mark. I treasured that photo and note until it was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
However if there were more baseball people like Jerry Dipoto back in my teenage years, I might have been at the post office much more often.
A few weeks ago, an Angels' fan named Aaron sent a short note to the Angels' new General Manger, suggesting a trade that would have sent Bobby Abreu and Alberto Callaspo to Baltimore for some prospects. The writer probably just wanted to get some frustration out, and likely never expected a response.
He got one, thoughhandwritten by Dipoto!
The Angels GM wrote:
Aaron,A quick note to thank you for your recent letter. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and the creative idea you shared. Clearly you have a solid knowledge of the league and potential "players on the horizon. Unfortunately, trades are always very complex, as you alluded to in your letter. Salaries and finance tend to become an overriding factor.Know that I do appreciate the suggestion and creativity you've shown.All my best,Jerry Dipoto
In a world in which many sports executives would never even think of responding to a fan's trade suggestion, Dipoto did. And not with an email, but with pen and paper.
You wouldn't be if you knew Jerry Dipoto. The more you get to know him and watch him work, the quicker you come to the conclusion that he's the real dealas an exec and as a man.
"It really wasn't that big of a deal, Dipoto said with his usual humbleness. "If people care enough to write, it's not hard to respond if you have the time to do it.
"I've always been a "corresponder; something I did my whole life growing up. I wrote to the players, sent the cards to sign. When I was a player and people wrote to me,sent things for me to sign or asked me questions, I did my best to get back to them. With this current situation, I had...time, I answered, and I was surprised to hear that it ended up on the internet. If it made somebody happy, great.
When Dipoto was interim general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, he was a favorite of manager Kirk Gibson, a man who doesn't suffer fools lightly. When Jerry got the Angels' job, Gibson told me that the guy was a genuinely good person. "Don't let the smile and the attitude throw you offhe really is what he seems to be. He's going to do great up there. With the way he rebuilt the Angels this off-seasonAlbert Pujols, C,J, Wilson, Chris Iannetta, LaTroy Hawkins and othersGibson hit his evaluation right on the mark. And when you hear reports about how he handled the free agent signings and this episode with an Angels' fans, you get the feeling that he's someone who just like people. Not just athletespeople.
"What happened with the letter was just a human response, related the 43-year old former relief pitcher with Cleveland, the New York Mets and Colorado. "If somebody says hello to you, you say hello back. If somebody write and asks you a question and does it in a fair and kind way, then I think you respond in a kind way. You just do the best you can in life.
When I responded, I wasn't thinking about doing it to give me a great image or anything like that. I've (written back) to fans many times over my career. This is just the first time it's gotten out like this. I prefer it to be a private moment. Saying thank you to the fan for reaching out and showing interest. I certainly wasn't thinking this would turn out to be a big story.
Actually, the really big story is the job he's done retooling an Angel ballclub that needed an overhaul after finishing out the playoffs for two consecutive years. They haven't been close to their ultimate goalreaching the World Seriessince they won it all in 2002. But with the noted free agents coming on board, a talented group of youngsters sure to improve and the hope of injured Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales returning to form, this could be the Halos year.
"We're very happy with the team we have on paper right now, and feel we'll be very strong contenders. We need to keep everyone healthy, and we're cautiously optimistic about Mark and Kendrys. If they are able to play and do what they're capable of doing, that really helps to strengthen our team even more.