Former Phillies executive reflects on career, state of a changing game


Scott Proefrock was recently recalling some favorite memories from his 13 years working in the Phillies front office.

"Jimmy Rollins against Jonathan Broxton," he said with a laugh. "How could I ever forget that?

"We were up in the box. Jimmy crushes the ball to right-center. Here comes (Eric) Bruntlett. Here comes Chooch (Ruiz). The fans are going crazy. The players are going crazy. We're going crazy. And then Ruben (Amaro Jr.) does a standing high jump on top of the desk. I thought he was going to fall out the window."

Proefrock was the consummate behind-the-scenes lieutenant during his time with the Phillies. He shunned attention, stiff-armed the spotlight, and went to work every day trying to make the people around him better with a smart, earnest, detail-driven approach.

He was the guy who, in one of their many brainstorming sessions, turned to Amaro in the summer of 2009 and said, "What about Pedro? Let's see what he's got." Before you knew it, the Phillies were signing Pedro Martinez and the team was going 8-1 in his starts and winning a second straight National League pennant.

He was the guy who, after Cliff Lee was traded away one winter, rebuilt the organization's fractured relationship with the left-hander the next winter and helped bring him back to Philadelphia as a free agent.

He was the guy who was the Phillies' interim general manager between when Amaro was let go and Matt Klentak was hired in 2015.

Proefrock spent 35 years in the game, working in front offices for the Pirates, Braves, Rays, Orioles and Phillies.

The 13 years in Philadelphia were the best.

"Working under Ruben and David Montgomery was the most enjoyable and fulfilling time in my career," Proefrock said. "And the ownership group, John (Middleton) and the Buck family. I could never repay them for the way they treated me. They deserve endless success for the way they treated me and my family."

All good things come to an end and sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes that's a bad thing.

Proefrock still believes it will end up as a good thing.

The Phillies organization has undergone massive personnel changes in recent years. Philosophical changes, as well. Late last season, Proefrock, along with several other outstanding longtime front office/baseball men, were let go by the franchise.

"I miss it," Proefrock said. "I still have a passion for the game. I miss the competition.

"I used to joke that if I ever got kicked to the curb in this game, I'd go deal blackjack."

He actually did that for a while at a casino in Baltimore over the last few months. Dating back to his days in high school and college, he enjoyed playing cards. Dealing was fun for a while, it got him out of his wife's hair, filled his need for competition. But at age 61, in great shape and loaded with energy and experience, he longs to get back into the game. This is his first summer out of the game since 1987.

"I broke in when experience was valued," he said. "If I can keep you from making the same mistakes I did, that has value. Experience has value."

It used to, at least.

The modernization of baseball and the shift from the human qualities of instinct and feel to the cold, hard science of data and technology has left a lot of great baseball people, from scouts to instructors to front office men, on the outside looking in at a game they barely recognize anymore.

"It's a different game," Proefrock said. "And as much as I love it, for me personally, it's not as exciting as it was back then. You look at the average time between balls in play, the dead action. There was more to the game back then. Hitting with two strikes, hitting behind the runner, advancing the runner. I think that's a more enjoyable game. Now, we have the three true outcomes -- the walk, the strikeout and the home run. The game's not as exciting as it once was. Nobody plays the game of baseball, they play home run derby.

"We keep trying to appeal to young people and make the game more exciting and entertaining, but it seems to have the opposite effect. For whatever reason, we're not emphasizing the things that make it interesting, the strategy, advancing runners, productive outs. I don't even hear that anymore. People don't value it. They value home runs. Don't get me wrong, home runs have great value, but singles and doubles still matter, too."

Proefrock learned from some of the masters of the game during his time in the Braves front office from 1991 to 1995. He worked under people like John Schuerholz and Paul Snyder. He got a taste of scouting and player development working with people like Bobby Cox, Bill Lajoie, Bobby Dews, Mike Arbuckle and Brian Snitker. In Tampa Bay, he worked under Chuck LaMar and with Lou Piniella. In Philadelphia, he worked with Pat Gillick, Larry Bowa, Charlie Manuel, Amaro, Montgomery and later Dave Dombrowski.

"These were great leaders and there was one quality they all had -- they listened, they heard you out," he said. "They might not have agreed with you, but they heard you out and maybe came away with a usable kernel of information.

"Now, everyone is worried about being the smartest person in the room. Well, if you really were the smartest person in the room, you wouldn't be concerned about making sure everyone in the room knew that."

Snyder, the legendary Braves scouting and player development director, groomed many, including Arbuckle, one of the architects of the 2008 World Series champion Phillies. He used to have a saying that still resonates with Proefrock in this changing baseball world.

Common sense is not very common.

"To me, there's a lack of feel in the development process and it extends to the front office," he said. 

"Why can't pitchers get through a lineup three times? Because they don't have command of three pitches yet. Everything is max effort."

Pitchers used to develop their craft jousting more than just a time or two with a hitter, by making adjustments as the game went on based on how they felt, what was working and what the hitters were telling them with their approaches and swings.

Now, a good chunk of pitching development is done in laboratories where every movement of the body and the pitch can be scientifically mapped and measured on a computer screen.

It's good stuff. But there needs to be a balance.

"The measurement used to be wins, can a guy win you a ballgame," Proefrock said. "I grew up in the game when pitchers threw more (between starts) and with less intensity. They learned how to add and subtract. These are skills that can help them in a game. Pitchers need to learn to make adjustments on their own. Nobody is on the mound with them.

"We don't let players think for themselves anymore. They have cards in their hats telling them where to play. What happened to reading swings, understanding what a pitcher looks like when he's losing a little on his fastball and adjusting accordingly?"

There's another old saying that resonates with Proefrock.

What's old will be new again.

He was reading a story in the New York Post back in spring training and it almost made him jump for joy, just like Amaro did back when Rollins belted his famous walk-off double against Broxton in 2009.

The story was about how first-year New York Mets hitting coach Eric Chavez wanted to "declutter" the minds of the team's hitters, reduce the amount of information they took to the plate and "let their athletic ability take over."

It got Scott Proefrock to thinking that the pendulum might swing back someday and the game he loves will once again resemble the game he fell in love with.

Proefrock would love another shot to work in a front office, but, "If I don't, I don't," he said. "It was a wonderful ride and I have a full life."

He helped build the Rays from the ground up and wonders if he could lend a helping hand to an expansion team that may be coming, or another team that has a need in the front office. He believes that science, data and technology -- it all falls under the heading of analytics -- has its place and value in the game, but there must be a balance between these new ways and the ways he learned from the masters on the way up. It's still a game played by people and how those people fit together in a group matters.

"I think back to the Phillies' great teams," he said. "Ed Wade and Ruben built something special and Pat Gillick came in and finished it off. The core players were together for years and they learned to win together.

"That stuff matters. I'd love to be part of that again. Experience matters."

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