CINCINNATI – This story starts on the telephone, because that's where most good Wayne Krivsky stories start. On this particular day in the winter of 1977, Krivsky was sitting in his office in the season-ticket sales division of the Texas Rangers when a ring startled him.
"I'll never forget my first sale," Krivsky said. "Her name was Renee Davis. She worked for Mostek Corp. in Carrollton, Texas. I don't even know what they did. Now, I used to get funny questions when I'd call people. Texas Rangers? I don't understand. What are you selling? Aren't you guys law enforcement?' That's the kind of name the Rangers had back then. I got that. More than once.
"Anyway, it was about two weeks after we first talked, she called and said, Hey, Wayne, you think there's any way we can get four more tickets?' I said, Yeah, Renee, I think we can find you four more.' "
Krivsky tells this tale not to flaunt his rise from ticket pitchman to general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, the National League's surprise team even despite their recent five-game losing streak. There's a bigger point here, one that seems to embody the Krivsky ethos: Stay true to who you are.
In Krivsky's case, he's the guy who culled phone numbers from printouts that seemed to stretch a mile and made hundreds of phone calls before Renee Davis, that sweet, sweet woman, called him back. He's the one whose baseball-operations career started behind home plate clutching a radar gun and progressed to the driver's-side seat of a car, where he'd chauffeur the Rangers' scouting director to the airport and retrieve players on their way to doctor's appointments. And he's the one who, after nearly 30 years in baseball, most of them as a top-level scout and executive with Texas and the Minnesota Twins, finally got his chance to steer a franchise and, call by call, has moved the Reds from doormat to contender.
"I'd rather pick up the phone and call somebody than write an email," said Krivsky, 50. "Some guys like the email thing – not that I don't – but I was overmatched by my BlackBerry for a few days. Still am, I guess. Though it makes me look the part."
Which isn't nearly important as acting the part. And one of Krivsky's first steps was to call the Reds' veterans and introduce them to his philosophy. He spoke with Austin Kearns and Jason LaRue and Adam Dunn, with whom he was negotiating a contract extension. At around 7:20 p.m. on Feb. 12, just four days after he was hired, Krivsky was finishing the particulars on Dunn's deal when his call waiting beeped with a number he didn't recognize.
"Hello," Krivsky said.
"Yeah, hello," the voice replied.
"This is Ken."
At this point, Krivsky was close to hanging up on the man to whom the Reds once committed $116.5 million.
"Hey, man, you must have the wrong number," Krivsky said.
"No, no, it's Ken."
"Look, I don't have time. I've got to go."
"Wait a minute. This is Kenny from the 407."
In Krivsky's defense, how many people know 407 is Orlando's area code?
"Man, I don't know what you're talking about," Krivsky said. "I'm in the middle of something really important."
"What do you do?"
"I'm the new GM of the Cincinnati Reds."
"This is Griffey!"
Embarrassed, Krivsky said he'd call Griffey back an hour later once he finished the Dunn deal. Not before Krivsky's wife, Linda, chimed in.
"Who were you talking to a minute ago?" she asked. "You sure were rude."
Eventually, Krivsky and Griffey did talk. And what Junior heard that day was particularly refreshing after years under the ownership of Carl Lindner and stewardship of GM Dan O'Brien.
With Krivsky trying to copycat the success he helped beget in Minnesota and new owner Bob Castellini providing the foundation for it, the Reds were evolving.
"This team is going in the right direction," Griffey said, "and it starts at the top. When your owner cares – and I'm not saying Carl didn't care – and you have a GM who wants to make changes and wants to improve and has the respect of people in the game, that says a lot."
Parlaying respect into something tangible is something entirely different, and something Krivsky did quickly. He signed Scott Hatteberg, whose .403 on-base percentage is best among Reds regulars. Two weeks before Opening Day, he traded Wily Mo Pena, one of a surplus of outfielders, for starter Bronson Arroyo, who is nearly a lock for the All-Star Game. The day after, on the advice of advance scout Pete Mackanin, he acquired catcher David Ross from the San Diego Padres for Bobby Basham, a 26-year-old in Double-A. In 79 at-bats, Ross has 10 home runs and 23 RBIs and is slugging .797.
Krivsky's shrewdest move came a few days into the season. The Cleveland Indians had designated Brandon Phillips for assignment, meaning the failed prospect was there for the highest bidder. All it took was a player to be named later for Krivsky to make perhaps his most satisfying call.
"When I heard from Wayne, I thanked him," said Phillips, hitting .303 with 38 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. "The way he was talking, I thought, I'm going to enjoy this.'
"If it wasn't for them, I'd still be buried. I always believed I could do something like this. I needed someone who believed it, too."
Krivsky knows something about belief. He got his first interview for a GM job in 1994 with the St. Louis Cardinals, which hired Walt Jocketty, who's still there. Krivsky waited nine years for his next interview – with Cincinnati. The Reds hired O'Brien instead.
Funny the way baseball works. Dan O'Brien Sr. had hired Krivsky in ticket sales with the Rangers. A baseball player and business major at Duke, Krivsky was bartending at Darryl's in Durham, N.C., in 1980 when Brad Corbett, the Rangers' owner and a PVC-piping competitor with Krivsky's dad, called him in for his first baseball interview.
He'd have others. The Boston Red Sox brought him in during Theo Epstein's sabbatical this offseason. Castellini didn't want to make the mistake his predecessor had.
So he encouraged Krivsky to tinker with the Reds. They had won 78 or fewer games each of the past five seasons. They haven't made the playoffs since Davey Johnson left after the 1995 season. They certainly showed no indication they were ready to sprint with the favored St. Louis Cardinals more than one-third of the way through the season.
"I'm not surprised by our record," Krivsky said. "We've earned it."
People around the office walk up to Krivsky, unprompted, to thank him. The environment around an organization changes when the team wins, as it did Wednesday in dramatic fashion, Dunn's three-run homer in the 11th inning snapping the five-game skid.
Krivsky makes sure to thank others, too, taking a shine to those in ticket sales.
"Good management is communicating," he said. "You tell them what you expect, and then you inspect what you expect. It's being honest. It's dealing directly with people. It's giving them a job and letting them do it."
He knows a job well done. He remembers what it feels like every time he hears a phone ring.
- Wayne Krivsky