Jed Hoyer, Anthony Rizzo, and Theo Epstein
Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, Holderness '92, Helps Team End Drought, Win World Series
By BOB YORK
Nearly a quarter century has passed since Jed Hoyer graduated from Holderness School, but he still recalls a homework assignment he received during his senior year in Walt Kesler’s theology class.
“We had to write a paper on life skills and what we hoped we’d be doing 20 or 30 years into the future,” explained Hoyer, who, well prior to his graduation in 1992, had earned a reputation as a baseball junkie throughout the Holderness, N.H., campus. “I wrote that in 20 or 30 years I hoped I would be the general manager of the Boston Red Sox.”
Hoyer couldn’t help but chuckle when reflecting on his esteemed project, primarily because of the succinct comment Kesler, who happened to be a huge Red Sox fan, had written atop the page in red ink. It read, “Me too! “
Hoyer turned out to be pretty much right on as far as what his future would hold in store. The good news was that it took him just 10 years to make his way into the Red Sox front office. The not-so-good news was that he ended up one door down from his desired destination. In 2002 he was named assistant to the general manager, who was Theo Epstein at the time. Hoyer would later be named the team’s assistant general manager in 2005.
Just four years later, Hoyer earned his first GM job, signing on with the San Diego Padres. Then, in 2011, he reunited with Epstein, via the Chicago Cubs, where this “dynamic duo of the diamond” captured their third World Series title in 13 years, with Epstein as the team’s president of baseball operations and Hoyer as its GM.
“At the age of 18, I don’t think you have any sense of how fortunate you have to be to become a general manager in professional sports … I know I didn’t,” said Hoyer, who admits that even though he was frequently in the right place at the right time and often knew people you needed to know, “I still took a rather circuitous route to get where I wanted to be. Once I got there, though, I was determined to work hard to stay there.”
No one who ever crossed Hoyer’s path during his days at Holderness is the least bit surprised that he not only found a home in the world of Major League Baseball, but that he currently occupies its penthouse, which is reserved for its world champion.
“Jed had all the ingredients to be successful in the game of baseball,” said Dave Lockwood, Hoyer’s varsity baseball coach at Holderness. “He had the talent to play the game and the intelligence to know the game inside and out. Plus, he was a fierce competitor and the competitive fires within him wouldn’t diminish until he felt he had outworked his teammates as well as his opponents.”
Reflecting on his 30 years of coaching baseball at Holderness, Lockwood said that he considered Hoyer “one of the best, if not the best player I ever coached at Holderness.
“Jed could do it all on the baseball field … hit, … hit with power … play all the skill positions … shortstop … pitcher … catcher. Plus, he had some wheels,” said Lockwood. “In fact, I frequently asked him to steal home. I’d be coaching third and under the right circumstances, I’d have him steal. It was a verbal call. I’d just say “Jackie” (after Jackie Robinson) and he’d be off. We’d try it three or four times a season and he was never caught once.“
Bruce Barton, an assistant coach at Holderness, echoed Lockwood as to what he remembers about the former Lakes Region League All-Star.
“Above all, I remember Jed’s highly competitive nature,” said Barton. ”We were fortunate to have two outstanding pitchers … Jed and Jim Gibbons … who were considered 1 and 1A as far as a team rating was concerned. When Jed was on the mound, he’d never back down from an opposing batter. He’d just come right at you and he had the attitude that ‘if you’re going to beat me, you’ll have to beat me with my best stuff.’”
With the Hoyers living in the neighboring town of Plymouth, his father, Robert, a pediatrician and his mother, Annie, the school nurse, Jed was pretty much of a known commodity long before he entered Holderness and it was during those pre-prep school years that “the seeds were sewn,” according to Barton, as far as Hoyer’s future as a baseball executive was concerned.
“Jed had a passion for the game ever since he was in grade school,” remembers Barton, “and his love of the game exceeded just playing it … he was also interested in what went on behind the scenes … what it was like to build a team and run it.”
“I think it was around the age of seven that my obsession with baseball began,” said Hoyer, “I always enjoyed playing it, but it was around that time that I also became fascinated by how teams were built and why some organizations always seemed to be much more successful than others.”
Hoyer became so fascinated in fact, that by the time he was 12, he had become a participant in rotisserie league baseball, a precursor of today’s fantasy league baseball. Participants would study statistics from newspaper box scores to determine who were the best players. Once the homework had been done, a draft was conducted prior to the season, with each player having a fixed amount of money to bid for players and had to fill his roster within the team’s budget. Adding to the realism, players could make trades with other teams and replace players who were injured or who weren’t performing at an acceptable level which, and as Hoyer noted, “turned out to be a harbinger of the future.”
Participants in the rotisserie league competed from their home once the season began, but Hoyer’s league held its annual draft in Boston, “so my father had to drive me down. In fact, I’ll never forget walking into my first draft … I was the only kid in the room … everyone else was at least twice my age.”
“Jed’s had a love affair with baseball the entire time I’ve known him,” said life-long friend Rick Eccleston, who lived on the Holderness campus, where his father and mother both taught. “He’d grab the sports section of any newspaper he could get his hands on and study the box scores daily so he could see who was doing well and who wasn’t.”
Eccleston, who, like Hoyer, attended Holderness for four years and graduated in ’92, shared at least one other common ingredient: both were three-sport athletes for the Bulls. Eccleston, who is back on campus, serving as the school’s athletic director and hockey coach, played football, hockey and baseball. Hoyer, meanwhile, was a wide receiver and safety in football, a point guard in basketball and basically, a pitcher and shortstop in baseball, “but you could also find Jed playing second base, leftfield and he’d even throw on the catching gear when needed,” said Eccleston.
“I’m not a bit surprised Jed has been as successful as he’s been,” added Eccleston, who says he invites Hoyer back to campus as frequently as possible to speak at the school’s senior assemblies. “He’s a perfect example of someone who followed his passion, someone who never gave up in his quest to achieve it and someone who made the most of whatever opportunities he was given.”
Hoyer’s next step up the baseball ladder took him to the collegiate level, where he played at Wesleyan University and became friends with teammate Mark Woodworth, who is Wesleyan’s head baseball coach today.
“He was really something,” said Woodworth of Hoyer. “He was a .400 hitter, batted third in the lineup. In the field, he was a starting pitcher, a relief pitcher (still holds the school record for saves), shortstop, outfield and catcher … he could do it all.”
At one point during Hoyer’s career at Wesleyan, he started both ends of a doubleheader – and won both games. “He threw six innings in the opener and five in the nightcap,” recalled Woodworth, and he dominated both games.
That was just the beginning, however, as Hoyer remembers “throwing a total of 31 innings over the next nine days,” while posting a 4-1 record during that span. “I figured that at 5-9, I didn’t have the stature major league teams would be looking for and knew my baseball career would be ending after college, so I wasn’t sticking to a pitch count, “ added Hoyer, who also played in the highly competitive Cape Cod Collegiate Baseball League for a number of summers.
It was Woodworth, who remains good friends with Hoyer, who helped his former teammate get his foot in the door with the Red Sox. And that assistance was made possible because Woodworth was also good friends with Ben Cherington, the Sox director of player development at the time. Prior to returning to Wesleyan, Woodworth served as an assistant coach at Amherst College, where Cherington (’96) played baseball.
“Ben called me, said he had an entry-level job for a videographer in the scouting department and asked if I knew of anyone who could fill the bill,” said Woodworth, “and I immediately recommended Jed,” who happened to be serving as an assistant coach to Woodworth as well as an assistant dean of admissions at Wesleyan. “I knew if Jed could just get that interview, he’d make his way into the organization and become a GM some day … I just knew it.”
Well, he did, and the rest, as they say, is history.