Phils' new GM comes highly recommended

ON SATURDAY afternoon, when a rising career as a baseball executive was taking him from the West Coast back to his roots on the East Coast, from the shotgun seat in Anaheim to the head seat at the table that is the Phillies' front office, Matt Klentak's voicemail was full.

But Klentak, who was introduced as the Phillies' general manager in an 11 a.m. press conference today at Citizens Bank Park, at least had some battery life left on his cellphone.

On Saturday morning, he called Justin Hollander, the director of baseball operations with the Los Angeles Angels, with whom he worked as an assistant general manager over the last four years. Later that night, after the sun had set and Bob Whalen had settled in to watch his son's high school football game at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the longtime Dartmouth College baseball coach received a call from Klentak, too.

"There are not many people I'd step away from my son's game for," Whalen said with a laugh on Sunday.

But both Whalen and Hollander - one who met the new Phillies GM as a junior in high school, the other who worked closely with him in the Angels' front office - were ecstatic that Klentak was getting the opportunity to run a major league team.

Klentak, 34, succeeds Ruben Amaro Jr., who was fired last month after seven years on the job. Coincidentally, Amaro also landed a new job over the weekend: He will reboot his baseball career as the first-base coach for the Boston Red Sox in 2016.

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Is Matt Klentak the right choice for the Phillies as general manager?

Klentak, meanwhile, is continuing a front-office trajectory that began with the Colorado Rockies in 2003, a year after he graduated from Dartmouth with an economics degree. In the dozen years since, Klentak has worked in the commissioner's office and in Major League Baseball's labor relations department; been hired by Phillies team president and then-Baltimore team president Andy MacPhail to be the Orioles' director of baseball operations in 2008; and spent the last four years as an Angels assistant GM, working under GM Jerry Dipoto until this summer, when Dipoto was forced out.

Although he wasn't the one who received the interim GM title - that was Bill Stoneman - Klentak handled a majority of the day-to-day operations with the Angels in the second half of the 2015 season.

"Even before Jerry left," Hollander said Saturday in a phone conversation. "Jerry was a big delegator. So (Klentak's) role didn't change all that much, but a lot of things went through Matt's office. Jerry was a very hands-on GM in a number of areas; in a transactional area, Jerry would defer to Matt's expertise in that area, managing the roster, navigating the rules - contract rules, negotiation strategy. Jerry would lean on Matt a lot, as would the rest of us."

With little ego, a positive disposition and a hunger to get to the right answer, Klentak was popular with co-workers in Anaheim. Hollander said Klentak's personality made him the go-to guy for nearly everyone in the Angels' baseball operations department.

"He has a really unique ability - people want to talk to Matt, they want to use him as a resource, they trust him," Hollander said. "The best way of saying it is that his office kind of became a stopping point for a lot of different people in our office - whether it was Jerry when he was the GM, Jerry going in there and seeking his advice on a personnel matter; both on the field or off the field; or whether it was me coming from below him on the ladder up, asking him for help on something or advice; or our interns or younger people. Everyone feels comfortable talking to the guy."

As a thirtysomething Ivy League graduate with a firm grasp on analytics, Klentak sounds like exactly the kind of executive that Phillies ownership partner John Middleton was interested in finding. Middleton - and by extension, MacPhail - expressed the importance of analytics this summer, when the Phillies' front office began an overhaul at the top.

But Hollander said Klentak is best described as "well-rounded."

"I don't think you'll ever see Matt solely looking at the stat sheet nor the scouting report and ignore the toolboxes that go into the player," Hollander said. "But he's definitely a believer in analytics, in getting information, in medical information, in sports science, in technology, in sort of pushing the envelope for the next wave of how front offices can gain an advantage. That's something Matt and I have had a lot of conversations about. I'm sure he'll push that envelope in Philadelphia . . .

"But I would definitely describe him as a balanced person. He gets along very well with the scouting group when he's in the amateur draft room, when he's in pro meetings, he has his ears on everyone, getting all of the information, combining it with what we know in the office."

Once upon a time, Klentak was more comfortable with a baseball glove than a cellphone or laptop. Whalen first met Klentak almost 19 years ago, when the Medfield, Mass., native was a lanky high school shortstop who idolized Cal Ripken Jr.

"He's genuinely one of the nicest kids I've ever had here," Whalen said. "He's incredibly respectful, loyal, thoughtful, he has excellent communication skills."

Whalen thought enough of Klentak as a player that in 2000, Klentak's second season with Dartmouth, the coach moved his shortstop to third base to make room for Klentak in the middle of the infield. The infielder Whalen moved over? Ed Lucas, who broke into the big leagues as an infielder with the Marlins in 2013.

"Showed you how smart I was," Whalen joked.

But the truth is, Whalen admired Klentak's intangibles as a leader along with his physical abilities. Klentak started at shortstop for three years, the first two with Dartmouth winning its first Red Rolfe Division championships under Whalen, who began coaching at the school in 1990. Klentak was named team captain as a senior.

Klentak also met his wife, Lauren, at Dartmouth. They have two young daughters.

"She's fantastic," Whalen said of Lauren Klentak, reiterating the adjectives he used for more than 10 minutes talking about her husband.

"I'm not trying to make him sound like Beaver Cleaver here," Whalen said. "He's a very bright, analytical kid and . . . I'm just really happy for him. He has worked very hard, with a very diverse cross-section of experiences, to prepare for this opportunity."

Is the 34-year-old ready for the challenge of running a team in a frenzied sports city like Philadelphia?

"I'm clearly not unbiased in my opinion," Whalen said, "but you remember that he grew up in the Boston area as a Red Sox fan . . . so if you can handle that . . .

"I know Philly and New York can be tough, but he's going to do just great. I'm really proud of him."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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