Pittsburgh Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington
Pittsburgh Pirates fans recently suffered through 20 consecutive losing seasons. They can thank the son of Amherst dairy farmers for reversing the streak
New Hampshire, as Daniel Webster brazenly pointed out, has always been a steady producer of mountain men. But the Granite State also has an impressive track record of churning out Major League Baseball general managers.
Before Meriden’s Ben Cherington resigned as Red Sox GM in August, four of the 30 MLB teams (or 13 percent) had GMs who know their way around Hampton Beach. Brian Sabean (Concord) built last year’s World Champion Giants. Neal Huntington (Amherst) and Jed Hoyer (Plymouth) call the shots for the Pirates and Cubs respectively.
At press time, Huntington’s Pirates were in the lead for the first Wild Card spot, followed by the Cubs and the Giants. The team previously had a losing record for 20 straight consecutive seasons — an MLB record.
Huntington, who grew up on his family’s Chestnut Ridge dairy farm in Amherst, says, “GMs and managers get too much credit when things go well and they get too much blame when things don’t go so well.”
In your hometown of Amherst, more kids now want to play lacrosse than baseball. What can be done to encourage more kids to play baseball? The big challenge is that baseball is boring for 8 and 9 year olds to play. Because the pitcher is active, the catcher’s active and the hitter’s active, but there’s very few balls in play. As an industry, we need to do a better job teaching young boys and girls to catch, throw and hit. You can hide a little bit on the soccer or lacrosse field, but in baseball if you don’t have the skills, you’ll be exposed and it’s not going to be fun. Maybe we should take away wins and losses for ages 6-10 and just teach baseball skills. We have to make some adjustments to keep the game growing.
Some critics of baseball complain that games are way too long. Should we shorten them? At the Major League level, there has been a significant effort to increase the pace of the game. But part of the fun of baseball is that there isn’t a clock. There’s downtime for a parent and child to talk. That’s a great part of the game and we don’t want to lose that.
You’re a city guy now. What was it like growing up on a farm? I wasn’t the typical farm kid who was up doing chores at 4 a.m. before school, but I did plenty of chores and often went from the hay field straight to the baseball field. As a kid, I wanted to be anywhere but growing up on a farm, but in hindsight, I can’t think of a better upbringing.
Any parallels between working on a farm and running a baseball team? Sure, there’s hard work, discipline, patience and reliance on others. You realize that you only have so much control over events. You might do everything right and still not get the outcome you want.
You grew up in Red Sox country. Who did you pretend to be when you were playing Wiffle Ball? It was always the utility players, not the stars. Everybody loved Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk and Yaz. But (backup infielder) Ramon Aviles was my first autograph, so I always liked him. I admired the obscure players because they had to work so hard to stay at that level, let alone get there.
Do you come back to Amherst often? I drove through town about three years ago. It’s actually tough for me to go back. The barns are gone. The house I grew up in has been torn down. I don’t recognize the place at all.
Why do you think New Hampshire is a breeding ground for MLB general managers? We’re certainly doing well as a state, aren’t we? Maybe it’s the weather. We can’t play for half the year, so we’re forced to think about the game more.