Brown seizes opportunity in Jays' front office
Special assistant helps pave way for future African-Americans
TORONTO -- Dana Brown took a big step forward this offseason in his quest to become a Major League general manager.
The New Jersey native was granted an interview in October for the vacant GM position with the New York Mets. He was eventually passed over for Sandy Alderson, but that didn't sour the experience for Brown, who was going through the intense process for the first time in his career.
For Brown, it was an opportunity to learn more about the administrative duties of the job and what teams are looking for in an ideal candidate. It was also an eye-opening experience, as he received help from multiple levels of the Blue Jays organization, which was eager to see Brown succeed.
"The thing that I learned is that I'm around a good group of people in the front office of Toronto that were able to prepare me for the interview," said Brown, who currently works as a special assistant to Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
"When you pour your passion into your fellow workers and you're invested in them growing, I think what happens is that you become stronger as an organization. You become a family, and if someone in your family is going for an interview, you get excited about it, and I think that's the environment that Alex has created."
Brown's goal of eventually becoming a Major League GM is something that has been accomplished by just five other African-Americans -- Bill Lucas (Braves, 1976-79), Bob Watson (Astros, 1993-95; Yankees, 1995-98), Kenny Williams (White Sox, 2000-present), Michael Hill (Marlins, 2007-present) and Tony Reagins (Angels, 2007-present).
Those aren't ideal numbers, but Brown thinks that creating opportunities like the one he received in New York will only help to increase the number of minorities working in front offices around baseball.
"I think the more doors that you open, the greater the opportunity there will be for more African-Americans," Brown said. "Part of the issue is just sitting down and getting the chance to interview.
"I think we're starting to see more of that around Major League Baseball. It's about getting an opportunity, and then it's up to the individual to prove that they can be a valuable addition to an organization."
Brown grew up in the inner city of New Brunswick, N.J., during the 1970s and early '80s. As an athletic outfielder, he received a scholarship from Seton Hall, where he became teammates with future Major Leaguers Mo Vaughn, Craig Biggio and John Valentin.
Brown's professional career began after he was taken in the 35th round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft by Philadelphia. Brown advanced as far as Double-A Reading before realizing in 1992 that if he wanted to continue his baseball career, it would have to be as a coach or in a front-office position.
He spent two seasons as a Minor League instructor with the Phillies before becoming a scout for Pittsburgh. At the time, there weren't any African-Americans working in a Major League front office. Lucas had been the only black general manager in history, and he passed away when Brown was just 12 years old.
It was during his tenure with Pittsburgh that Brown began developing a strong relationship with Omar Minaya, as the two got to know each other while scouting amateur players during the 1990s.
Minaya went on to become the first Hispanic general manager in the Major Leagues when he was hired by the Expos in 2002. Within a month, he called Brown and expressed interest in bringing him on as the club's new scouting director.
"Omar was a guy that I always looked up to," Brown said. "He created an environment where he allowed us to do our jobs.
"We started off with a shoestring budget -- we only had nine scouts. We built it from the ground up and we couldn't go over our budget in scouting, so we were really restricted in terms of going after some of the top players. But it taught me a lot, and I helped build and develop a lot of the top talent they have in Washington."
During Brown's nine-year tenure with the Expos and Nationals, he was credited with guiding the organization toward draft picks such as Ryan Zimmerman, Stephen Strasburg, John Lannan, Ian Desmond and Drew Storen.
It was also in that scouting department that he first encountered current Blue Jays GM Anthopoulos. Shortly after he joined the organization, Brown promoted Anthopoulos to coordinator of scouting operations.
"To me, that's a wonderful story in itself that Omar got the opportunity to become a general manager," Brown said. "He gave me the opportunity to work in the front office as a scouting director and then I crossed paths with Alex, which ended up being a great story.
"In essence, one of the reasons why Alex Anthopoulos was hired was because Omar opened the door for me, and then I opened the door for Alex."
Brown was reunited with Anthopoulos in 2010 when he decided to leave the Nationals to take a front-office job in Toronto. While some people might find the situation awkward, Brown said that he doesn't have any problem reporting to someone who he used to be in charge of.
"He's truly like a brother to me," Brown said. "We can talk baseball and both give our opinions freely without feeling like we're going to hurt each other's feelings. I think that's why he has me involved so much, because he trusts me to give my opinion without hesitation. I don't have to be political about it."
The move to Toronto also was a chance for Brown to further his career and take on more responsibilities, instead of solely focusing on player development.
"I knew this opportunity to work with Alex was another stepping stone in my career and where I wanted to go," Brown said. "I have aspirations of being a GM in the future, and I knew this would help a lot in terms of learning more about the administrative duties, the front office and staying closely involved in the baseball part. It was a difficult decision to leave [Washington], but I knew it was a something I needed to do."
The presence of Brown, Reagins, Watson, Hill and Williams in Major League front offices should help increase the likelihood of other African-Americans holding those types of positions in the future. Brown said adding to the number of minority owners would also be beneficial, but the No. 1 priority has to be reaching out to younger athletes and making sure they stay involved in the game.
The percentage of African-Americans playing Major League Baseball was 10.2 percent in 2009, the first increase since 1995, according to a study by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
If that upward trend is going to continue, Brown thinks it's essential for programs such as Major League Baseball's Urban Youth Baseball Academy to succeed in its quest of making the sport accessible to inner-city youths.
"I started playing at like 8 years old. If you're not playing at a young age, it's a very difficult game to begin playing when you get to high school, to then all of a sudden turn it on," Brown said. "There's a lot that goes on with the instincts of the game. When you grow up with it, you get a lot better, but if you're not around it, you're going to lose it and not play.
"I think the main thing is that baseball is aware of it, and there are a lot of things being done to try and revive baseball in inner cities and throughout the country."