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Pirates Graham fills Pirates post as minor-league director

Tuesday, December 04, 2001

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The man hired to nurture the minor-league talent in the Pirates' minor-league system and get it ready for the majors comes from outside the system, but he once managed Brian Giles and a utility player closing out his professional career -- a fellow by the name of Lloyd McClendon.

The Pirates yesterday named Brian Graham as their new director of player development, a position General Manager Dave Littlefield considered one of the two most important hires in a revamped front office.

"This is big. It's a significant hire for us," Littlefield said yesterday. "He's another significant piece in putting things together."

 
 
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Graham, 41, is a former Indians coach and defensive coordinator. In nine years as a minor-league manager in the Cleveland system, Graham compiled a 704-491 (.589) mark and guided his teams to the playoffs in each of his final eight seasons.

He was named the Carolina League's manager of the year in 1991 and was named Minor League Manager of the Year by USA Today's Baseball Weekly in 1996 after guiding Buffalo to an 84-60 record and a division title.

Last season, Graham was the minor-league coordinator for the Florida Marlins. He was the offensive and defensive coordinator for the Orioles in 2000. Graham served as the Indians first base and infield coach in 1999 after serving as the organization's defensive coordinator the previous season.

With the Pirates, Graham joins an organization that has tied a franchise record with nine consecutive losing seasons at the major-league level, including a 100-loss season this year. It also is one that has not been known in recent years for injecting the major-league club with a stream of homegrown talent.

"Regardless of the numbers at the major-league level, I'm very excited," Graham said in a telephone interview from his home in Medina, Ohio. "It's excitement, not pressure. It's an opportunity to build a farm system. The opportunity to develop players, to watch young players grow, is something that absolutely motivates me."

Graham, a former second baseman who played for five years in the minor leagues, knows that the Pirates' minor-league system isn't rated highly by national baseball publications and that the organization's best young players are in the lower minors. But he believes there's a nucleus to build on.

"We have a job to do. We're basically starting over," Graham said. "But everybody I talked to said it's a win-win situation."

 
 
BRIAN GRAHAM
AT A GLANCE

Age: 41

Residence: Medina, Ohio

Position: Director of player development

Responsibilities: To oversee player development for the Pirates' minor-league teams in Nashville, Altoona, Lynchburg, Hickory, Williamsport and Bradenton. He also will work with the summer leagues in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

Education: Bachelor of arts degree in behavioral science from National University in San Diego after spending four years at UCLA, where he finished as the school's all-time leader in hits, stolen bases and runs scored.

Professional background: Selected as a second baseman by Oakland in the fourth round of the 1972 draft; spent five years in the minor leagues as a player; became a minor-league manager in the Indians' system in 1989; was the Carolina League's manager of the year after guiding Class A Kinston to a 1991 title; was named Minor League Manager of the Year by USA Today's Baseball Weekly in 1996 while with Buffalo; guided his teams to the playoffs in each of his final eight seasons and compiled a 704-491 career record; was the Indians' defensive coordinator in 1998; was the Indians' first base and infield coach in 1999; was offensive and defensive coordinator for the Orioles in 2000; served as minor-league field coordinator for the Marlins last season.

   
 

Graham believes the foundation of a successful, self-sustaining organization is the drafting and developing of young talent. His aim is to have three legitimate prospects on each of the Pirates' minor-league clubs and to have each of them properly nurtured to play in the majors.

"When the time comes, I'd like a player to go up and compete as opposed to going up and trying to survive," he said.

Graham succeeds Paul Tinnell, who was not retained after Littlefield replaced Cam Bonifay in midseason.

One remaining vacancy is an assistant general manager.

Hiring Graham follows the hiring of Ed Creech as the organization's scouting director. Littlefield believes that Graham's influence and input follows only that of McClendon and Creech as far as having an impact the organization's future.

"I'm very pleased to have them on board," said Littlefield, a former director of player development. "I don't think there are any shortcuts to what we have to do. We have to get better. We have to get to the point where we're churning out players [from the minors] every year."

Graham will oversee development of players on and off the field and will be responsible for making sure that fundamentals mesh with what is expected at the major league level.

"Philosophically, what we do in the majors is what we want to be doing throughout system. It brings consistency," Littlefield said.

Graham also will be in charge of minor-league staffing, including finding a replacement for minor-league hitting instructor Milt May, who has been hired as a hitting coach by the Devil Rays.

Graham will be part of the team's contingent at next week's winter meetings in Boston. But he won't have to introduce himself to McClendon, who is a year older than him.

In 1995, while managing the Indians' Class AAA minor-league team in Buffalo, Graham used McClendon as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter. Also a member of that team was Giles, who attended the same high school in San Diego as Graham.

"We'll have a great relationship because we know each other," Graham said. "And Brian Giles is my all-time favorite player. We have a lot of history."

While Graham was with the Cleveland organization, the Indians' minor-league system produced such players as Giles, Richie Sexson, Sean Casey and Jim Thome.

"I hope we can do the same thing in Pittsburgh," Graham said. "It's an All-American city and they love their sports."

Graham also knows a little about the region. His father-in-law is a native of Weirton, W.Va., and his mother-in-law grew up in Mt. Lebanon.

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