MIAMI — The Marlins go-to man is a Harvard grad, a former professional baseball player, a husband and a doting father who lives in South Florida.
Marlins General Manager Michael Hill landed the position in September 2007, and has high expectations for his team.
Hill, 38, graduated from Harvard University in 1993 and has worked in the front office of professional baseball for the last 15 years.
Injuries halted his minor league career with the Texas Rangers and ended any Major League pursuits.
In 1995, Hill took a job with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I started as an assistant in the scouting department,’’ he said. “There’s a knowledge base in scouting. It all comes down to your own ability to evaluate.”
After five years with Tampa Bay, Hill joined the Colorado Rockies as the club’s director of player development.
He said this was a special time for him because he met his wife Vivian shortly after arriving in Colorado.
“In this game, you want a support system, a sound, solid support system. Vivian understands the time it takes to do my job, the travel,” he said.
“We have three beautiful sons, Donovan, 6, Xavier, 4 and Baron, 17 months.”
After several years in the front office, the Marlins promoted Hill to general manager Sept. 30, 2007.
The Florida Marlins had already won the World Series in 1997 and 2003 but have been looking for a playoff berth ever since.
Hill was there for the 2003 win with then manager Jack McKeon and knew he had his work cut out for him.
“Mike Hill is a guy who understands player evaluation,’’ said Larry Beinfest, president of baseball operations for the Florida Marlins. Beinfest is also Hill’s supervisor.
“He has people skills and the ability to make adjustments as well as professional skills,” Beinfest said.
“He brings the whole package to the Marlins organization. Mike is well respected throughout major league baseball, in the front office and in the club house. He has a good relationship with the players and the players enjoy being around him. He is a good baseball executive, evaluator and administrator.
We've had a lot of success, including winning a World Series and Mike was a part of all that."
Although the 2009 regular season was the third most successful in franchise history, Hill said he was disappointed the team did not make the playoffs.
Rumors circulated that manager Fredi Gonzalez would be replaced, even though his contract had been extended until 2011.
Reportedly, the head coach’s job was in jeopardy because owner Jeffrey Loria was upset that the Marlins did not make the playoffs. Yet the team did finish the season 12 games above .500 with the smallest payroll in baseball.
Hill said media speculation helped fuel these rumors, but expectations every year are that the Marlins will make the playoffs.
“Regardless of previous wins or losses, we expect the team to make it to the playoffs. We won 87 games but we feel like we could have done better,” he said.
Gonzalez is doing a good job, Hill said, and will stay on as manager. Gonzalez, he said, is the most successful manager with the most wins in Florida Marlins history thus far.
Baseball is a demanding, high-profile game with high expectations.
Hill said everyone and every position is routinely evaluated, and that damage control comes with the territory.
Take the starting pitching, for instance. The rotation of strong, young players was touted as the anchor for the team’s success in 2009, but quickly broke down.
Over the course of the season, four out of five starters were sent back down to the minors.
The exception, National League All-Star pitcher Josh Johnson, who had a career season.
“Whenever you have good starting pitching, you usually have a good season,” he said.
Hill said Palm Beach Gardens High graduate Chris Volstad is a perfect example.
“Chris Volstad was a senior in high school in 2005 and he’s a major league baseball player in 2008,” he said. “They’re just young.”
Hill said most major league teams can groom pitchers in the minor leagues before promoting them to the majors, but revenue constraints make it difficult for the Marlins.
“We have revenue of about $30 million. I’m not complaining or making any excuses but we realize that we will have to make major league players in the major league,” he said. “The New York Yankees (the 2009 World Series Champions) have $250 million in revenue. Other teams can get pitchers ready in the minors.”
But Hill, inspired by his upbringing, said he isn’t worried.
His parents, Irene and Benjamin Hill, were working-class people from Cincinnati who sacrificed plenty for him to attend Harvard. There, he said, he majored in government and became the first African-American captain of the university’s baseball team. The experience prepared him for any position and anything, he said.
Hill has an extended contract with the Marlins until 2015. He currently lives with his family in Plantation Acres.
Photo by Denis Bancroft. Marlins General Manager Michael Hill