Former Toronto Blue Jays G.M. speaks to MSBP students

By Nick Holden

MSBP students and staff participated in a question-and-answer session with Major League Baseball executive J.P. Ricciardi.

Major League Baseball executive J.P. Ricciardi spoke to 30 students and staff members of the MIT Science of Baseball Program (MSBP) on July 8. In the hour-long, informal seminar, Ricciardi answered questions about the business of baseball and urged students to pursue fulfilling careers.

“Whatever you do in life, you have to love it,” Ricciardi said. Among his many roles in baseball, Ricciardi served as the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays from 2001 to 2009 and is currently the special assistant to the general manager of the New York Mets. He played minor league baseball for two years.

Ricciardi stressed the importance of academics, noting that only a small percentage of baseball players ever play in the major leagues. He touched on some of the hurdles of adolescence and challenged the students, all rising eighth and ninth grade boys who all attend Boston or Cambridge public schools, to associate with friends who will support their long-term goals.

“Life is all about taking advantage of opportunities,” Ricciardi said.

Students in the audience peppered Ricciardi with a wide range of questions throughout the session. MSBP’s curriculum inspired a number of questions about his work in the late 1990s for the Oakland Athletics, a then-cash-strapped team that used advanced statistics to identify undervalued players, which served as the basis for the popular book and movie Moneyball.

“The object is to score more runs,” Ricciardi said of the metrics that the Athletics’ observed for player selection. “The more base runners you get, the more opportunity you have to score.” Ricciardi also noted the importance of intuition in compiling a competitive team.

Ricciardi touched on many of the high and low points throughout his distinguished career during his talk. One of his most difficult moments came when he was forced to release likely future-hall-of-famer Frank Thomas. “He handled it like a pro,” Ricciardi said, before reminding the students of the importance of character on and off the field. A career highlight for Ricciardi came in the form of a trade for all-star outfielder Jose Bautista. “It was my best trade and my luckiest trade,” he said.

Near the end of the question and answer session, one student asked Ricciardi about his salary. Ricciardi tactfully sidestepped the question and took the opportunity to offer advice.

“Don’t ever take a job because of what it pays you,” he said. “For 33 years, I have never felt like I’ve had a job. I love what I do.”