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Richard Justice

Melvin practices all he learned from the best

Justice: Melvin practices all he learned from the best

Melvin practices all he learned from the best
Brewers general manager Doug Melvin loves to tell the story of his first job in baseball, that of a front-office assistant for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner from 1979-85. Maybe you've heard Steinbrenner could be a demanding boss.

For instance, Steinbrenner might telephone Melvin at 10 p.m. and announce he was discussing a trade with, say, the White Sox.

"I need the names of their top five prospects and the latest reports," Steinbrenner would say.

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Wait for it.

"Right now," he would add.

Melvin dreaded those late-night telephone calls, because there was no way of knowing what Steinbrenner might want. Looking back on it three decades later, he can laugh about the pain and pleasure of working for the Boss.

"If you worked for George, you had to be prepared," Melvin said. "You had to anticipate anything. If you didn't have an answer, you had to know where to find it."

Melvin's reputation among his peers is that of a guy who prepares thoroughly and pays attention to detail, and all those traits were honed during his years with the Yankees. He's also essentially decent and instantly likeable, two characteristics that play well in an industry in which building relationships and trust are critically important.

During Melvin's days with the Yankees, Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams got wind that Steinbrenner had a smart, young executive working his way up. He promptly lured Melvin to Baltimore in 1985 with the idea of someday making him his general manager.

It was in Baltimore where Melvin met Roland Hemond, who became both a mentor and a role model. Williams died in 1988, and Melvin never did become general manager of the Orioles. He finally got that chance with the Rangers in 1996, and it was there that he established his talent as a GM.

Melvin put a first-rate organization in place and led the Rangers to their first three postseason appearances, all American League West championships. He was fired in 2001 after an ownership change, before being hired by the Brewers in '02.

Melvin worked his magic again in Milwaukee, leading the Brewers to their first postseason appearance in 26 years in 2008, and then another last season. He has used every avenue to acquire players, from the First-Year Player Draft (Ryan Braun) to trades (Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and CC Sabathia, among many others) to the waiver wire (Casey McGehee, Scott Podsednik and others).

When Melvin faced the realization that the Brewers wouldn't re-sign Prince Fielder in the offseason, he moved quickly to shore up his lineup by signing Aramis Ramirez and Alex Gonzalez. With Milwaukee on its way to drawing three million fans to Miller Park for the fourth time in five seasons, this is a great time to be a Brewers fan.

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio acknowledged as much Tuesday, when he announced that he'd signed Melvin through the 2015 season and given him the title of president of baseball operations.

Melvin's extension -- and one for manager Ron Roenicke as well -- came at a time when the Brewers have been decimated by injuries. Milwaukee is tied with the Cubs for fourth place in the NL Central.

Five players -- including shortstop Gonzalez, center fielder Carlos Gomez and first baseman Mat Gamel -- are on the disabled list.

Regardless, good organizations endure, and the Brewers are one of baseball's best. Melvin said it was his time with Hemond -- and his friendship with Pat Gillick, a Hall of Famer -- that reminded him of the importance of treating people with respect and valuing every member of the organization.

Melvin loves talking about the game, debating trades and free-agent signings. He keeps detailed records of players in every organization and includes a large number of people in his decision-making processes.

In the end, the decisions are Melvin's, but a willingness to listen makes every employee feel his opinion is valued. He has been in the game long enough to know how lucky he was to be able to sit in with baseball veterans like Bob Lemon and Clyde King with the Yankees and Birdie Tebbetts and Frank Robinson with the Orioles to soak up their perspective and institutional knowledge.

"It's a business in which you can manage by storytelling," Melvin said.

As he was preparing for his induction into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame last winter, Melvin revealed much of himself in a comment to reporters.

"I don't have a college degree, and I don't think you have to," he said. "Have integrity, be honest with people, and respect the players and the game."

As legacies go, that's a pretty good one, and it's Melvin's.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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