Why I’m encouraged about the hiring of new Detroit Tigers president Scott Harris

Detroit Free Press

After finishing an impressive introductory news conference, new Detroit Tigers president Scott Harris stepped off a platform on Tuesday afternoon in Comerica Park.

Harris did a few more interviews with reporters, and then something absolutely cool happened.

Something that revealed a different side of him.

Harris took time to meet an old man, sitting in a chair, off to the side.

A man with a cane and easy smile.

It was Willie Horton, the former Tigers great.

“Thank you for being here,” Harris said genuinely.

Horton started telling stories about growing up near where Comerica Park currently stands and playing for the Tigers.

Harris didn’t move. He looked Horton in the eyes, nodding his head, smiling broadly. Harris, 35, wasn’t even born when Horton was playing in the major leagues. But Harris was full of respect and admiration, while holding a baseball card that Horton had given him. The conversation seemed to last more than 10 minutes, at a time when Tigers PR people looked like they wanted to swoop Harris away.

But Harris wasn’t budging.

“Welcome to Detroit,” Horton said. “I’m here for you. Give me a call.”

“I will,” Harris said.

Harris is clearly bright — he wouldn’t have moved up so fast in the Chicago Cubs organization and gotten the stamp of approval from Theo Epstein if he weren’t.

He has impressed Tigers owner Christopher Ilitch with his vision and innovative ideas.

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And Harris has had several long talks with Tigers manager A.J. Hinch, even disagreeing over in-game strategy. I think they are cut from the same cloth — supersmart baseball people who see the game at another level.

Harris even got the stamp of approval of Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings general manager who was part of the interview process. I doubt Ilitch would have hired Harris if Yzerman had concerns.

“I imagine I’ll lean on (Yzerman) quite a bit for some advice,” Harris said. “He certainly had a wonderful career on the ice and in the front office and I know I can learn a lot from him.”

But the moment with Horton showed me something else. Harris reveres the game and connects easily with people.

“He’s going to do great,” Horton said.

So he’s even got Horton’s blessing.

Yep, there’s a lot to like about this guy.

Here we go again

We have seen a lot of general managers come and go over the last few years in Detroit, especially in the midst of all the losing.

We have seen the second-in-command get moved up to the top job — and, well, that didn’t work out. Al Avila was recently fired.

We have seen a draft guru take over — and Brad Holmes seems to be making progress with the Lions.

We have seen a hometown hero return — and Yzerman’s job with the Wings is still a work in progress.

And we have seen a young whiz kid, who failed miserably — ugh, the Bob Quinn era still haunts the Lions.

So what is Harris?

Yes, he’s young. And yes, he did a great job at his news conference, articulating his plan.

But the words of a new boss don’t matter.

All that matters are his actions — he has to hire the right people and make the right moves for this to work. And win. Oh, goodness, he has to win. That’s all we ask.

Harris promises to be aggressive.

“When we go into this winter, we’re not going to be risk averse,” he said to the media Tuesday. “We can’t be risk averse.

“We’re going to make a lot of moves, a lot of moves with strong conviction and confidence behind them. Some of those moves are going to be calculated risks. We have to take calculated risks to narrow the gap between this organization and the other organizations we’re facing right now.”

Harris didn’t give a lot of specifics, and I didn’t expect him to.

I imagine some of those moves will be hiring new people in the organization — he plans to hire a general manager but doesn’t have a time frame.

But I believe he will also bring in new players, or at least shuffle things around.

“He’s driven to win a World Series,” Ilitch said. “As simple as that may seem, not everybody is as aggressive in their thinking and commitment to want to be the best and to win a World Series championship. And I found Scott and I were very aligned in that respect. So those are some of the main things that I saw through the interview process that were very impressive.”

Amen to that.

Job 1: Putting a plan in place

Why did Ilitch hire him?

“His innovative approach and his passion for winning,” Ilitch said.

Harris declined to give specifics about those innovative ideas.

But a quick glance at some of the jobs in the San Francisco Giants front office is revealing.

Senior data scientist, biochemist, medical review analyst, mental health and wellness director.

Maybe, the Tigers have people doing some of those things.

But not spelled out like this.

It seems vital to have somebody studying injuries, especially at a time when so many young Tigers have experienced arm troubles.

That’s the innovation that I believe they are talking about.

But it’s also on how you build a roster.

“We need to build a diversity of skill set here,” Harris said. “We want to arm A.J. with the ability to throw out different lineups for different starters to match up differently against some of the different relievers that are coming out of out of the pen.”

That might be getting into the weeds.

But that’s exactly how Hinch thinks.

That’s going way beyond simple batting averages.

It’s breaking down matchups, thinking ahead, building with a purpose.

You want to know why so many of the Tigers pitchers are successful?

It’s because Hinch matches them up against certain hitters, putting the pitchers in the best position to succeed.

And it’s clear that Hinch and Harris speak the same language.

‘”I didn’t know him before this process,” Harris said. “I had never met him. But we’ve had many conversations about his role and his vision for the organization.”

Not quite a rebuild

Harris takes over an organization with a smart successful manager, young pitching talent, a couple of top-notch youngsters and some talent at the lower levels.

Best of all, Miguel Cabrera’s salary will be off the books after next season.

I know the Tigers are flirting with 100 losses. But this organization is not that far away from contending.

A crazy number of injuries skewed this season and many players underperformed, including Javier Baez.

“I haven’t talked to Javy since I left the Cubs,” Harris said. “But I’ve seen the absolute best version of Javy. He is a dynamic impact player who brings energy and 80 on-field makeup to every game he plays.

“I don’t know what has happened here in Detroit. But the first step to figuring that out is sitting down with Javy, trying to figure out what this season has been like for him and figure out ways that we can support him to be better, so we can help bring the absolute best out of him.”

That said everything to me, just how he thought through the issue.

Harris wasn’t talking about analytics, although I’m sure that will be part of it. He wasn’t talking about graphics or numbers.

He was starting with the person.

Yes, analytics will play a role. But it’s not everything.

From what I can see, Harris is a blend of new-school analytics and old-school people-centric approach.

Which is exactly how I would describe Hinch.

And that mix is why I’m encouraged that this might work.

Yes, he’s young.

Yes, he’s fresh-faced.

But there’s a lot to like about this hire.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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