GLENDALE, Ariz. — The job title next to Rick Hahn’s name in the White Sox media guide reads “Senior Vice President/General Manager.”
As far as the organizational flow chart goes, executive vice president Ken Williams, who possesses the best winning percentage of any GM in franchise history and was the architect of the 2005 World Series champions, stands as Hahn’s boss.
Make no mistake about the fact that Hahn is the man in charge of the White Sox day-to-day operations and has put his stamp on this team through shrewd reshaping moves that have received great plaudits since last July. Those who doubt Hahn’s full power are selling short one of the brighter executives in the game.
But that potential doubt means little to Hahn. Nothing else really matters past his desire to win.
“In terms of perception, I really don’t care,” Hahn told MLB.com during an interview at a recent White Sox Spring Training workout. “Honestly, other than the occasional ill-informed or lazy analysis of how we operate from people who don’t spend any time at the park, I don’t really see that perception.
“Look, if we win a World Series when I’m sitting in this GM’s chair, and someone else in the organization gets all the credit for any work that I did, I don’t care. I’ll enjoy that parade just as much as the next guy.
“Credit is irrelevant to me and always has been. What’s important to me is that [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] and Kenny and the people around here feel that I’m doing everything in my power to get this thing on track.”
This management setup resembles that of the Chicago Bulls, with John Paxson serving as executive vice president of basketball operations, and Gar Forman holding the position of general manager. The Cleveland Indians have a similar structure, with Mark Shapiro having moved up to president and Chris Antonetti serving as executive vice president, general manager.
Antonetti and Hahn are good friends and discussed how things worked with the Indians, although no two situations are the same. Williams and Hahn also worked together for 12 years previously and had numerous discussions as to how this change-over would take place.
Williams has been great at providing Hahn his point of view. He also has allowed Hahn the “latitude to explore certain things that might have been different as to how he would have handled it and ultimately convert on some things,” said Hahn.
When asked how he was different from Williams, Hahn laughed and said that Williams was “taller and some argue not quite as good looking.” There of course was a more serious answer to follow.
“You start with the basics. We have very different backgrounds,” Hahn said. “He’s a former player, former scout, former player development person, who has come up in a baseball world where video tape is very important and the eyes and the gut are extremely important.
“I did not play professionally. I came up more through the academic side; more on the analytical side of things. So for years, when Kenny was GM, we were a nice complement to each other in terms of how we went about analyzing problems and trying to come up with solutions.
“Just because we had different backgrounds or approaches didn’t mean we would disagree. More often than not we would come up with the same analysis of why something made sense, with different reasons or through a different lens.”
Hahn has been an executive on the rise and a valuable member of the organization since October 2000. His goal always has been to win — and win in Chicago — and he helped facilitate that title in ’05. The goal remains the same as GM, even if his style is slightly different from Williams.
“Rick is the GM, so most of those conversations are him in my office and going over the direction and what we are doing,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Kenny does have a voice. He is there, but Rick is there. It’s a daily thing with him, which you would think of as the GM.
“Personalities are different. A lot of beliefs there are the same. There’s a different way to do it, but the focus and the intent of everything they are doing and the beliefs are very similar.”
In reality, Hahn is the son every parent wants: especially if you value higher education.
He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan, earned a law degree at Harvard and picked up his M.B.A. at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business. So with all of this impressive education behind him, the question has to be asked: Why baseball?
“Jerry asked me that when he was trying to throw me out of his office in about 1996,” a smiling Hahn said. “This is always what I wanted to do. Well, not entirely true.”
So, this is the point where Hahn admits to wanting to run a Fortune 500 company, not that running a baseball team doesn’t bring with it every bit as many challenges. Or maybe he wanted to develop his own startup company and eventually sell it for a huge profit.
Not quite. The married father of two wanted to be a baseball player, but when that option clearly wasn’t realistic, he put his education to good use as part of a front office team effort with the White Sox.
“It’s always what I wanted to do, be a part of building something that not only competes on a daily basis, but has a chance to win, and ideally do it in Chicago, the place I grew up,” Hahn said. “I have erred at times throughout my career on letting sentimentality play too big of a role in terms of what I do with my own career.
“Ultimately my goal is bring a World Series championship to Chicago. I couldn’t think of any, in terms of seeing 2005, having a broader impact on people’s lives and feel passionate about. This was the most appealing way to try to do that.”