Yale Daily News

What do a classics major, history major, molecular biophysics and biochemistry major and American studies major all have in common? They all became MLB executives after graduating from Yale. 

Just a couple of weeks before MLB teams are set to start spring training, the four Yale alumni turned baseball executives made the time to talk about their journeys from New Haven to The Show. On Wednesday, members of the Yale community gathered in a Zoom meeting to watch the executives’ webinar, titled “For the Love of the Game: From the Ivy League to the Major Leagues.” Jesse Washington ’92, a senior writer at ESPN’s The Undefeated, moderated the panel discussion, which featured Chicago Cubs Assistant General Manager Craig Breslow ’02, Boston Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom ’04, Houston Astros General Manager James Click ’00 and Baltimore Orioles General Manager Michael Elias ’06.

“I’m not good at numbers, but it does seem like a statistical anomaly … that you got four Yale guys at your position in baseball,” Washington said at the start of the panel. “Am I wrong? And what in the heck is going on? How are there so many of us in The Show?”

Majors aside, the four Yale baseball executives all took different paths to their respective front offices. Breslow was captain of Yale’s baseball team, played in the major leagues for 12 years where he was known as the “smartest man in baseball,” won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013 and is now entering his third year with the Cubs.

Bloom, who described himself as the least athletic person on the panel, started his front-office career when he was a sophomore and wrote for Baseball Prospectus before joining the Rays as an intern. Bloom spent 14 years in Tampa before becoming the chief baseball officer for the Boston Red Sox in 2019. 

Like Bloom, Click wrote for Baseball Prospectus and worked for the Rays before eventually moving to Houston. During his time at Yale, he played ultimate frisbee and was co-captain of Yale’s club team, leading them to nationals in three of his four years.

Elias, meanwhile, was a pitcher for the Bulldogs and briefly overlapped with Breslow on the team. Elias started as an intern for the Philadelphia Phillies, then moved on to be an area scout for the Cardinals, served as assistant general manager in Houston and is now working in Baltimore as the general manager.

Washington, a former member of the Yale men’s basketball team, began the panel by asking the four baseball executives why they thought  Yale had such influence in major league front offices. Click talked about the “trailblazers before them” like Harvard alumnus Paul DePodesta, who was immortalized in the movie Moneyball, and Theo Epstein ’95, a former sports editor at the News who broke World Series droughts in Boston and with the Cubs. Breslow discussed how the rise of analytics in baseball has changed the necessary skill sets for baseball executives. But the panelists all agreed that the prestige of Yale and its network has allowed them to get to where they are in the baseball world.

“I spent 12 years as a player where the outlying statistic was that I went to Yale and I spent the last two years in a front office where the outlying statistic was that I played baseball,” Breslow said. “I think it’s really important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that being at either extreme — only having playing experience or only having a prestigious academic institution behind you — is what necessarily is being sought in every candidate. I still think there’s value in being able to blend multiple perspectives.”

Click added to Breslow’s comment by emphasizing the importance of having diversity in background and thought in a major league front office. Click also noted that his starting shortstop, Carlos Correa, had a higher SAT score than him.

Washington then steered the conversation towards the role of data and the rise of sabermetrics in baseball. Panelists discussed the nuances that advanced data collection created in the baseball world. The general consensus among the four Yalies was that with more time and a more complete data set, front offices and players can better understand the factors that lead to winning within the current rules.

But part of the problem with these hopes for more advanced data collection is that the strategy and potential changes to the game are already causing problems, the panelists said. The data revolution, which has recently drawn attention to metrics like the launch angle of the ball off the bat and pitch spin rate, has corresponded with ballooning home run and strikeout rates across the Major Leagues. The decreased number of balls in play has people around the sport worried that the game could be losing some of its appeal.

“I do think there’s something — especially in our sport, I think we get held to a higher standard,” Bloom said. “But I do think we have an issue right now a little bit in our sport where a lot of the changes and the innovations that come into the game come from 30 hyper-competitive opponents trying to beat each other. And we’re just trying to look for better ways to do that within the rules.”

Bloom added that while other similar innovations in other sports have “probably led to a more exciting style of play,” baseball is going “in the other direction. It’s nobody’s fault. We’re just trying to win, but it’s created a slower game. It’s created a game with less action, and that becomes a collective action problem, and you can’t expect teams to unilaterally disarm.”

Another potential change that panelists addressed was the use of an electronic strike zone, commonly referred to as a “robot umpire.” Elias said that he expects the implementation of this technology to be applied in the major leagues within a few years, but noted that it could create a myriad of problems that would need to be addressed. The catcher position, for one, would fundamentally change, and players entering the big leagues would have to quickly adapt to this change that would not necessarily take effect in high schools and Little League teams.

The electronic strike zone would also run counterintuitive to inducing more balls in play because the strike zone would not expand or shrink like it does with human umpires, which would lead to even more strikeouts and walks, according to Click.

The panel also included a fun lightning round that featured questions including: Who were the dumbest athletes on campus? What was your favorite place to study? Where could we find you on a Saturday night? Who was your favorite baseball player growing up?

Director of Athletics Vicky Chun introduced Washington to begin the panel discussion.

Eugenio Garza García | eugenio.garzagarcia@yale.edu