The Artful Dodger

by Victor Lee

What is a man of faith like Kevin Malone doing in the deal-making business of running the Dodgers? Plenty.

Last year media-mogul Rupert Murdoch purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers for a record-breaking, mind-boggling, market-rattling price of approximately $350 million. A few months later he turned over the baseball operations to Kevin Malone, a 41-year-old Christian.

To Murdoch, the fact that Malone is a follower of Jesus Christ was probably unimportant. To Malone, it is at the core of his being and is related to his hiring.

“That shows me the sovereignty of God,” Kevin says. “That shows me who is in control, and that God has a plan for each of our lives. Every day that I wake up and realize that I am executive vice-president and general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, then I think God is gracious and loving. That this middle-class boy from the wrong side of the tracks in Kentucky can be in this role…it just humbles me and makes me feel thankful.”

Day In and Day Out

Life borders on the frantic for Malone, but his stabilizer is Christ. A normal day? There aren’t any. There are always new challenges, new problems, more agents, more media. The routine is far from routine. It changes with each season.

There’s the off-season, which isn’t off at all. Who to sign… who to let go. Who to offer arbitration to, who not to. What free agents to pursue (and how much to pay). What trades to make. Coaches to hire and fire from the major leagues down through the rookie leagues.

Spring training brings another set of challenges, then comes the season, with different routines for road trips and home stands. “It is long hours,” Malone says. “I usually start between 6 or 7 a.m. with prayer and time in the Word. I get ready spiritually, then I get ready physically. During the school year, I take my kids to school, and the work day begins about 8:30.”

A phone is constantly in one ear, whether in the car or in Malone’s Dodger Stadium office. Malone goes home sometime between 6 and 7:30 p.m. in the off-season. “The earlier I’m home, the more time I have with the family,” he says. “Up until the kids’ bedtime, about 8:30, I’m with them. I pray with them, and then from around 9 until midnight I’m working on the phone. It’s pretty much every waking moment except for the time I try to give my family.

“I’ve got to be available to so many people, give advice, make decisions on a lot of different things, it’s all-encompassing.”

The categories of Malone’s job can loosely be broken down into dealing with agents, personnel decisions, administration, and dealing with the media. The overarching challenge is to maintain his close walk with Christ, which includes maintaining a check on the ego—something easy for any person to lose control of in light of the status afforded a major league GM.

“You know what—it’s all about attitude, and that’s one thing we can control,” Kevin says of his day-to-day challenges. “Instead of looking at self, it’s looking outward and being selfless. Then you really recognize the wonder and the majesty and the grace of God.”

Dealing With Agents

The agents want Malone to pay more. Malone wants to pay less. The Dodgers can afford to pay more than most teams, so Malone is very popular. How much to pay whom is the delicate question, and the agents are always the medium for the answer.

“Agents are business people, the legal and business representatives of the player,” Malone says. “I’ve gotten to know most of them, and most of them, I respect. A few I don’t, because of their ethics and moral values professionally. But on the whole, most of them are good, solid people. When you’re dealing in money—because of the enormous amounts of money these players are making now—there is a negative connotation. And in some instances it is all motivated by greed. But a lot of these guys are quality men who are just doing their job.”

The sticking point is always money, and the determining factors are market value (supply and demand) and talent evaluation. “I think most of the agents know my forte is player evaluation,” Malone says. “I’m a former player, coach, and scout. I think there is a respect factor I get there. Ask them what they’re dealing with in Kevin Malone, and I think most of the time they’ll tell you that I tell them the truth. They know it’s business. You try to keep it from being personal. The problems come when you disagree on a player’s value.”

Dealing With Media

Malone is popular with the media because he is easy to reach and speaks freely and intelligently.

“I do that for three reasons: one, for the fans,” he says. “I think the fans have a right to know as much about the team as possible. Two, because the members of the media have a job to do, and they are part of the game. They are promoting the game. Three, I want to be an example of the love of God. I want to show these guys that I’m here to help them, and I want them to know I’m different because of Jesus Christ.

“So I think nurturing and developing relationships is important. I think we should help them be the best they can be, and the more accurate information they have, the better they’ll be.

“I can’t tell them everything, and I can’t always tell them at the time they want to, but I do as much as I can.”

Sometimes he gets burned by a media representative. “You give them the benefit of the doubt until you learn you can’t trust them,” he says, “It’s like any other relationship, you eventually learn enough about them to know what you can and can’t do. I have to use discernment, and I seek God’s help for that discernment.”

Player Evaluation

This is Malone’s strength. And it isn’t as easy as it looks.

“It’s not rotisserie baseball,” Kevin says. “You use statistics; that’s part of the equation, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle. You can’t find chemistry in statistics books.”

When considering signing or trading for a player, Malone suggests several key elements that have nothing to do with talent.

“What are the player’s goals? What is his make-up? How will he fit in the clubhouse? In the community? All of these things are important. Ultimately, you ask yourself, ‘What are you willing to pay for the production he brings?’ It’s complex, and it’s not a scientific equation. I rely on knowledge, skills, and instinct—and I pray for discernment.”

Malone also relies on scouts, coaches, and his manager’s advice. For instance, when Malone hired Davey Johnson as manager, it meant outfielder-third baseman Bobby Bonilla had to be traded. The chemistry between the two was acidic, and Bonilla was considered a questionable influence in the clubhouse. So Malone dealt Bonilla to the Mets.

Running The Show

Malone doesn’t make baseball decisions only—he oversees a large organization. Managing people is a different challenge than evaluating talent. Malone feels better equipped to evaluate, but up to the challenge of managing.

“I think the GM job is a very different job because of the diversity that is needed to be successful,” he says, “A major part is relationships. I think I’ve improved in that area over the years because of my relationship with God. I’ve become a better listener. I have more compassion.

“I’m here to develop a winning organization through developing winning people. I try to delegate responsiblities, and I try to help people be the best they can be. Because of what Christ has done in my life, and because of what Christ has done in my life, and because of the time I spend in prayer and in the Word, I believe I have the ability to discern the needs of people, the direction they need, the advice I should give, and all the things related to leading them.

“I wouldn’t ask anyone in the organization to do anything I wouldn’t do, or that I haven’t done. I must recognize that I’m not any more important then any other part of this organization.”

Living Right

In the midst of all of those challenges, the greatest battle is to maintain a consistent fellowship with Jesus Christ. That is, to daily live as Christ would have Kevin live, seeking His wisdom and comfort constantly. No one does it perfectly, and Malone doesn’t dare suggest that he does. But He does have a plan.

“There’s only one right way to start the day, and that’s in fellowship with Him,” Kevin says. “I mean time on my knees in prayer and time in the Word. I try to begin it with Him, though I can’t always say I’m successful.

“Once I’ve laid the foundation by starting my day that way, I don’t ever feel that I get too far from His presence. In meetings, or before I do an interview, I pray. I find myself praying continuously during the day. I believe strongly in Proverbs 3:5-6. (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”)

“I can’t do this job without Christ. I need wisdom. I need so many things that only He can provide. There are so many demands on my time, and so many opportunities to make the wrong decisions and go down the wrong path. So I have to begin the day the right way, then constantly talk to Him and listen to Him throughout the day.”

Does It Make Any Difference?

“When I trust and depend on Him, he provides me with confidence and peace of mind,” Kevin says. “I know God is sovereign, in control. I feel that He blesses me with knowledge and allows me to focus. When I look to Him, I can live in a continual state of worship and praise. I want to be in continual communion with God.”

Malone was hired to rebuild the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he consistently prays that he will not lose focus of his true priorities.

“My prayer this morning was, ‘While I’m trying to make the Dodgers the best, please don’t let me get distracted from noticing those in need and actively helping them. Help me to love others in word, truth, and action.’”

“I want to be an example. I want people to see Christ in me.”

Whether he’s sitting in the comfort of his church in Panorama City or on the hotseat in his office at Dodger Stadium, to Kevin Malone, the goal is the same.

Taken from Sports Spectrum, a Christian sports magazine. Used by permission. For subscription information call 1-800-283-8333.