Derrick Hall is known around Major League Baseball for being one of the most affable, hard-working and efficient club heads around the league. The 44-year-old Paradise Valley resident and Los Angeles native took over as the Arizona Diamondbacks president in 2006, after working for 12 years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and was named CEO in 2009. Since then, he’s seen the D-Backs win the 2011 National League West Division Championship and says this year’s team is a definite stand-out when it comes to winning a World Series. The Diamondbacks have also continued to strengthen their reputation for being one of the most charitable sports organizations, including winning the 2010 inaugural United Nations NGO Positive Peace Award, for being the most positive team in the world. Not only does Hall play a key role in team management, he also serves on nearly 30 Arizona community boards. Check out the Diamondbacks tonight at Chase Field for Opening Day against the St. Louis Cardinals at 7:10 p.m. Read on for Hall’s take on this year’s team, as well as to hear five reasons why he loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I’m an L.A. native. I went to school at Arizona State University, and my wife is from Tucson. It’s like home to us.
What made you want to go to ASU?
I was set to go to West Point and have a career in the military. I really wanted to be in baseball somehow and realized at the last minute I didn’t want to go to West Point. I looked at the schools that had offered me scholarships, and one of them was ASU. With about 3 weeks to go until school started, they said, “We’ll still take you, come on in.” I came down here, and it was great.
What’s your first memory of being interested in baseball?
Being a kid, I grew up a big Dodgers fan and always wanted to work for the Dodgers. It was pretty clear when I was a youngster, following the Dodgers and Vin Scully each and every game, I wanted to be in baseball somehow. I thought I wanted to play when I was younger, realized I wasn’t good later but still wanted a career in sports. I studied broadcast journalism at ASU, thinking that was one way to get in. I actually got to broadcast for about a year in L.A., which was a lot of fun, but I realized after doing it, I missed baseball and came back into the sport.
What was your baseball playing experience like?
I played as a kid. I was never good enough to play collegiately, and at that point, it turned to softball and intramurals and was a lot of fun. I played more tennis in high school than baseball, because my skills had diminished so much, and I ended up loving tennis as a sport to play but still loved baseball as a sport to watch.
Besides getting married, what made you want to stay in Arizona?
I really enjoyed my time here at school and realized when I was in college I wanted to return here at some point. I loved the Valley and wanted to make this a permanent home and am thrilled we’re here. It was very clear when I was going to school here that the lifestyle here is one that is more relaxing than some of the other large markets.
You didn’t think California had a relaxed lifestyle?
It’s a little more hectic in Los Angeles — there are parts of California that are absolutely like that, but in L.A., it has the hustle and bustle of a large city.
What about the Arizona Diamondbacks made you want to be a part of this organization?
When I was in L.A. and knowing I wanted to stay a part of baseball, when we would come over here to play the Diamondbacks, I was like, “I’ve got to get in here. I’ve got to get in this franchise.” As much as I loved the Dodgers growing up, it becomes more of a job in LA. I had really admired what the Diamondbacks had done from afar, and when I had the opportunity to come over here (as Senior Vice President in 2005), it was a different feeling than the Dodgers. That was more of a job for me, and this is a life, a family, a passion. It’s so different what we’ve created here, but I wasn’t in a role to create that there. I wasn’t the president or owner of the Dodgers, I was just a part of that culture. Here, to have a footprint or fingerprint on the culture here has been very special to me.
What do you attribute to your success here?
The staff. I think we have special people working here who can make you look really good. It’s an amazing group. When I use the word “family,” I mean it. There’s really a strong sense of family here, not just with the employees, but with the season ticket holders, with the players. This is a very unique franchise.
What do you attribute to the uniqueness?
The culture we’ve created. We stress that family culture. We stress the wearing of the logo and the pride that goes with it. It’s a very positive atmosphere. Everyone is on the same page. There are no agendas, there’s no backstabbing, there are no silos, it’s just a very free and easy and participatory work environment. Everybody loves coming to work each and every day, and it’s not an exaggeration — they truly do.
Yahoo! has called it one of the best places to work. Why do you think that is?
It’s nice to be recognized as that. It again goes back to that culture. We have different philosophies internally — it’s really a work-hard, play-hard environment. We do work really hard, but we also have a lot of fun, and I think you have to with the grind of baseball. You have the longest season of any sport — 162 games, 6-8 weeks of spring training prior to it, you hope you go to the playoffs. It’s a very long schedule, and you get to work at 7 or 8 in the morning, and you stay ’til 11 o’clock when there are home games. You have to make sure it’s enjoyable for everyone, and we have that.
We focus so much on constantly improving the culture. It’s a place where, when employees leave, they immediately get in contact with me and say, “Wow, we didn’t realize how great it was over there now that we’re away,” and we’ve also had a lot of employees come back after leaving for their dream job because they miss what we have here. A lot may give credit to me and my vision, but it’s the execution by our leadership team and all our employees. Everybody knows what the culture is, everyone buys into the culture, and everyone’s really proud of that culture. The culture is providing the best fan experience in baseball, about providing the most affordability in sports, about being pioneers in the industry and taking care of the community the best we can and treating our fans better than anyone in sports.
How would you characterize the 2013-2014 Diamondbacks team?
I think I’ve been more excited about this team than I have been in probably the last 5 years. It is looking really good. The chemistry is better than I’ve ever seen before — in my 20 years of baseball, I’ve never seen chemistry like this in the clubhouse. It’s a group of guys that loves being together that are all focused and want to win and prove others wrong. That was the feeling we had in 2011, as well in the clubhouse. They had that goal in mind, to get to the postseason. This group does, as well, of not just getting to the postseason, but of winning.
The fact everyone has chosen the Dodgers or the Giants to win the division is good for us. It’s a very motivating fact for us, to fly below the radar screen. The players we’ve brought in are fan favorites everywhere they’ve been. Martin Prado, our fans are going to love the way he plays. Cody Ross is a lot like Danny Ainge was in basketball — if he wasn’t on your team, you couldn’t stand him, but when he’s on your team, you love him. That’s what Cody Ross is — I remember when he was with the Giants, and they won the World Series in 2010, really because of him. I did not like Cody Ross at all, and I always said, “I want him on my team,” and he’s here now, and I’m just thrilled.
The veterans we’ve brought in, Brandon McCarthy, who’s going to be great on our pitching staff, Eric Chavez, just wonderful clubhouse presences. They know their roles. I think we have one of the best bullpens in baseball. We’re going to have one of the most competitive starting rotations in baseball, and our position players right now are going to be very difficult outs. 27 outs are going to be difficult to come by with us. We’re going to put the ball in play.
For someone who’s never been in the clubhouse before, what’s the atmosphere like?
You get a sense of it as soon as you walk in that it’s all professional but they’re also having a lot of fun. You need to have that because baseball is a sport. It’s a shame when you see teams that are pressing too hard, or they’re unhappy, or they’re just going through the motions because really all they care about is a paycheck. That’s not the case in this clubhouse.
These guys come in early, they get their work in, they stay late getting their work in, and it’s infectious when a player like Martin Prado, who is such a well-prepared veteran, that sometimes after taking batting practice, who could go back to the clubhouse and take his bat and leave, instead gets his glove out and takes extra ground balls at third, and then you watch Aaron Hill take out his glove and go take extra ground balls at second — that’s the feeling in the clubhouse. It’s a very unified club, a cohesive group and a very focused group as well.
What do you attribute to that focus?
I think it’s bringing the right guys in. I think we’ve done a good job at identifying really good ball players that go about the game the right way — guys that want to win, and we’ve brought in a few that have won and know what that feeling’s like. I attribute that to our coaching staff, as well — Kirk Gibson. They have such good leaders down there with such good credibility because of their careers. You look at the careers of Kirk Gibson, Alan Trammell, Don Baylor, Charles Nagy, Matt Williams, Steve Sax, Glenn Sherlock who’s been here since day one — they’ve been a great, great coaching staff.
What’s your typical year like?
It depends on the day, because I wear so many hats in my role. There are days where it may be filled with a lot of political needs, where I’m dealing with elected officials and ballot proposals. There’s days where it’s more media-driven, where I’m dealing with our communications staff. There’s days where I’m more focused on baseball operations, times near the trade deadline, where I’ll shift everything else off my plate. No matter what it is, working with biz ops, finance, budgets — every day, I’m focused on our fans, and I communicate with the fan base. If they e-mail me, Facebook me, whatever, I make sure we always get back to them. Every day, I’m making sure I take time to answer my e-mails, even if it’s late at night when I get to that.
Why is having a huge connection with the fans so important to you?
The fans here just love this team, this franchise, and they’re so loyal, and I think we need to pay that back to them. It’s our philosophy we have to earn every fan, one at a time. We really have an organizational philosophy now that we don’t leave any phone call, text message, voicemail, letter unanswered. It’s very important for us to give back to them and let them know that they’re important — especially those that are upset or had a bad experience. That’s very rare, but we want them to know we’re listening to them and want to reach out and talk them through it and explain why we do things the way we do, and nine times out of 10, they’re going to respect the organization for that and feel much better.
What are the most challenging aspects to your job, and what are your favorite parts about your job?
The most challenging are the wins and losses. I’m very competitive and want to win every game, but you know you’re not going to — along with attendance, we’re constantly challenged. I think every team is, with the exception of very large markets that have a history of 100-plus years in baseball. For us, it’s filling the ballpark, increasing season ticket sales and winning more. Those are ongoing.
As far as what I enjoy the most, just being in this role. I’m so proud of our staff and love to come to work each and every day. I really enjoy the interaction we have with the fans. I enjoy making a difference in the community because we can. We have a social responsibility. The more we give back, even when times are tough, the better off we’re going to be, and the better off our community’s going to be, because we’re a community asset and have that social responsibility.
You’re on 27 community boards. How do you find the time to be a part of so much?
It’s tough, it’s challenging. There are some boards where we’ve told them I’m not going to make a lot of your meetings, and they say that’s OK, we still want your involvement, and then there are some boards where I’m highly visible. For example, I’m in my second year as chairman of the board of the Valley of the Sun United Way. Those are meetings I cannot miss, and it’s almost like a speaker circuit, where they send me out to talk to companies during the campaign, and I enjoy doing that because of all the great work they do in the community. You have to find time in our roles to make sure you do serve on boards, you do help out charitable organizations and endeavors, so I find time to do it because I enjoy it, I really do.
Do you have any time management tips?
Time management is always a challenge. You have to have very effective assistants, and I couldn’t do it without my executive assistant or without a supportive family. They just schedule it. As long as it’s scheduled, I’ll be there.
Do you have any tips for managing stress?
What I’ve learned in the past is that when you book yourself with meetings back-to-back-to-back, you have to be careful, because you’re going to fall behind. It’s not fair to anyone who’s coming to visit you or coming to a meeting if they have to wait a half-hour to an hour because you’re overbooked. Over time, what you have to do with your assistant or your scheduler is figure out what your style is like and if you’re capable of keeping an hour meeting within an hour and get in that comfort zone where you’re in a routine. You have to stumble first to realize what you have to do differently.
You have to get up early, you have to realize you’re probably going to work later than you want to, and as long as you know that going in mentally, you’re going to be OK. As far as stress, you have to find time to exercise if you can. I try to exercise every day if you can, but I thrive off stress. I’m always energetic, and it’s during downtime that I go crazy.
What game should fans most look forward to?
I always look forward to opening day because that really sets the table. It’s sad, because it seems like for the past couple years, whenever we have 50,000 fans in attendance, we lose. We have to win those games, but regardless, even when we lose those games, the fans say, “That was so great, I can’t wait to get back.”
If people haven’t come out before because it can be intimidating going to a major sporting event or because they worry about where to park or public transportation or cost, once they come and experience it here, they realize that not only is it a great time, it’s affordable, as well. We have the most affordable beer in all of baseball — a $4 14-ounce beer. We have $1.50 kids’ food items every day — popcorn, hot dogs, corn dogs, milk. We allow people to bring their own food and water in. We have the most affordable ticket in all of baseball for the fifth or sixth straight year. That’s why I love opening day — come fill the place, see what a great experience it is if you haven’t been there. If you have, opening day just reignites that desire to come out. I always look forward to opening day.
What are your professional goals?
My professional goal was to get where I am. Now, it’s to maintain and challenge myself every day. What we’ve created, I don’t want to slip or step back. I only want us to get better. Goal-wise, I always wanted to get here. Fortunately, I have. I want to win a championship — I want all our employees to experience a Wold Championship, and I would love to present them with rings. I don’t see myself leaving Arizona. I’m having too much fun, and I love this organization, and I bleed Sedona red. Building Salt River Fields as a legacy and to have Chase Field in one market, I’d be crazy to go anywhere else.
You were diagnosed with prostate cancer a couple years ago. What advice would you have for others now that you’ve gone through that experience?
Get tested. They usually tell men to wait and get tested at 50, and I think that’s crazy. I was 42 when I got diagnosed, and as long as you’re diagnosed early, you have a good chance of treating it. Early diagnosis, early detection is key. Too many men avoid it or worry about it, but it can be as simple as looking at a blood test to see if your levels are high. I think we all need to do all we can to get in and get tested as early and often as possible.
How does that experience affect you today?
In a number of ways. I think it’s brought our family, which has always been close, even closer. It’s also allowed me to look at it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. We’re launching a family foundation soon, and it’s allowed me to get in front and drive awareness, educate men, get them to overcome fears, and get them in.
Who is your favorite Diamondbacks player of all time?
Probably J.J. Putz. He’s a great guy, he’s really the personality of the team down there, and he was with me when I was diagnosed with cancer. He and I were together having breakfast in San Diego before our Saturday game, and the doctor called me, so he’s always going to have a special place in my heart. There are so many of our guys who are great, though. There’s nobody better than Aaron Hill, for example. I’m getting to know Cody Ross and what a great guy he is. Gerardo Parra has the biggest heart of anybody I’ve ever dealt with in baseball. He’s a great, great kid, and I love his attitude. The fact he’s always got to battle for a job, and he never complains. Every year, the poor guy, what does he have to prove, and he’s the fourth outfielder? He ends up getting as much playing time as anybody because he has a great attitude, he works hard, he prepares well, and he’s effective on the field.
Miguel Montero — there’s so many guys I like, I could go on and on — Ian Kennedy, Goldie (Paul Goldschmidt), the fans are going to love him for years. We’ve got great guys. I’ve never seen a team like this where you can’t point at any one of the 25 and say, “He’s not a good guy.” That’s what we’ve really created, just bringing in the type of person that gets along with everybody, works hard, cares about our fans, and wants to win. That’s what this team is made up of.
Why should people support the Diamondbacks?
They should come out to a spring training game at Salt River Fields because this is the best facility in all of baseball. There will never be another one like it — we created it with the fans in mind. For fan interaction with our players, to be able to walk from field to field with the players, making sure that when the players come out from the bullpen area to go to the field, they have to walk by the fans and take pictures and sign autographs, that’s what it’s about out here — fan interaction.
You would think that would change going to Chase Field for the regular season, but it doesn’t. Our guys are the most fan-interactive group of guys in all of baseball. They know how important the fans are, so just for that alone, they need to go to the games. At Chase Field, when the roof is open and the panels are open, it’s as beautiful as any ballpark.
We’ve had other teams come and take notes on game operations and presentation because our folks are the best. We put on the best show. Even if we’re down 10-0 (hopefully we never are), fans are still sticking around and having fun. I’m shocked, because I’m sitting there, and I’m depressed that we’re losing, and then I pinch myself and look around at the 7th inning stretch, and I’m like, “Wow, they’re still having a great time.” When I have fans after a loss, while I’m so angry, come in and say, “Hey, last night was great,” and I’m like, “Yeah, but we lost,” and they say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, we had a great time,” that’s different and unique, and that’s because of the experience we create.
Where can people find you when you’re not working?
I’m never not working, unfortunately. When I’m at home, I’m working, and my family has accepted that, or I’m at one of my kids’ sporting events or school events. My middle son plays baseball, basketball and runs cross country, and my oldest son is a junior in high school going to school in Florida — he’s a tennis player at IMG Academy. My youngest is a daughter — she’s 11, and she plays softball, soccer and tennis.