A Dream Job, and a Championship Season

Assistant general manager for baseball operations Mike DeBartolo, riding on a team bus in the parade celebrating the Washington Nationals’ 2019 World Series Championship

The District of Columbia was the happiest place in the world on Saturday afternoon (Nov. 2). And 2002 Bedford High School graduate Michael DeBartolo was right in the middle of all that joy.

As assistant general manager, baseball operations, for the Washington Nationals, Mike helped build the World Series champions who were celebrated by thousands at Saturday’s victory parade and rally.

It has been a gratifying and exciting ascent for the former co-captain of the 2002 BHS state champion tennis team. “I give so much credit to my family and the education I received in Bedford, which allowed me to pursue any passion that I had,” he declared.

At BHS Mike also played varsity golf as well as basketball in grades 9 and 10. Although he didn’t play baseball past youth teams, a relative introduced him to the approach of Bill James – described by the Society for American Baseball Research as “the best-known baseball analyst in the world, and the innovator of a plethora of performance measures.”

As a result, “I used to think strategically as a Red Sox fan, about what I would do. I dreamed of being a baseball general manager, but I didn’t think it was realistic at all.”

As an undergraduate at Tufts University, where he also feels he was “incredibly well-prepared,” Mike got to know venerable Professor and former Provost Sol Gittleman, an extraordinary baseball fan and writer.

After a few years with an investment advisory firm in Boston, Mike pursued his MBA at Columbia. He landed an internship with the Nationals’ front office in 2012, and has moved up the ladder since. “I think my appeal was my knowledge of how analytics affect decision-making,” he said. “I ended up getting hired as an analyst in baseball operations.”

Data analytics as a tool of evaluating baseball talent came on the scene less than 20 years ago, beginning with the Oakland Athletics, as described in the book Moneyball. “When I started there were a few teams that still didn’t have an analytics department,” Mike said.

Analyzing performance using data is “a different perspective than I had growing up,” Mike acknowledged. The data examine seemingly every known performance aspect, offensively and defensively.

“My job is to help the general manager make decisions around building our Major League roster,” Mike said. “That means presenting him with all the information we have in making recommendations for trades, free-agent signings, waiver claims. That information is statistical, plus scouting reports and medical summaries. It involves  negotiating– with agents, with other teams on trades, even with players who sometimes do those on their own.“

Of course, some of the world championship talent were athletes recommended by Mike. Nevertheless he said, “I’m hesitant to seem like I’m taking credit for any particular player. I had a significant role in several acquisitions, but in every case I’m using information from scouts and the analytics department. So all of the success we’ve had has been organizational.”

There’s not much downtime. “During the season there are discussions, especially when approaching the trading deadline. So a lot of my job is coordinating day-to-day transactions around the roster, including players on the injured list or promoting from the Minor Leagues. I have to be coordinating with player development staff, medical staff, public relations staff, coaching staff. There are a lot of moving parts.”

“We had already been preparing for next year during the playoffs,” he continued. “After the season free agency begins. There’s more than enough work to go around.”

Is Mike part of the Nats’ fan base? He explained that in his position, he can’t afford to be like that. “Of course I’m rooting for the team and hope it does well. And it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day narrative of the team and the players.”

“But I need to see the bigger picture. In my position, you actually have to do things like send a player to the Minors or deliver unwelcome news. I don’t really see it from the perspective that baseball players are larger than life. They are people just like you and me. They do incredible things on the baseball field, but the real heroes are doing everyday things in all walks of life.”

Mike and his wife Kate  – who he said was the one who “pushed me to get into baseball – have a 14-month-old son.

Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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