John Stuper loved coaching Mike Elias at Yale, for reasons that extended far beyond the left-hander's prowess on the baseball diamond.
"He's always been one of my favorites," said Stuper, who's been Yale's head baseball coach since 1993.
Elias was a four-year letterman at the Ivy League school, appearing in 44 games, including 22 starts, from 2002-2006. He won nine games and struck out 80 batters throughout 148.2 innings.
After graduation, he pursued a career in the management side of Major League Baseball and has thrived each step of the way. Elias' rise through the ranks culminated in him being named the new executive vice president and general manager of the Baltimore Orioles Nov. 16.
"He was, without a doubt, a student of the game, especially after his junior year, when I think he realized he wasn't going to be involved in the game as a player after college," Stuper said. "He would often quiz me about various things. Game situations. Talent evaluation. Ask me about my career experiences.
"Mike is off-the-charts smart. Many people like that do not have great people skills, but Mike does."
Stuper helped Elias get an internship with the Philadelphia Phillies before he graduated. He also called the St. Louis Cardinals afterward. Elias began as a scout for the Cardinals in 2007 and advanced the old-fashioned way with hard work and discipline.
"I only gave him one piece of advice when he left for the scouting world: sit with the older guys and listen and learn," said Stuper. "Make sure they know that you realize you don't know it all. This was still in the infancy stages of analytics, et cetera, and I know firsthand that it met resistance from old-school baseball guys. How do I know? I was one of them. I still think that players are sometimes overloaded with information to their detriment, and that is why Mike's approach, in my view, is so good. The human factor remains.
"For old-school guys like me and many others, that's important. I don't want to sound like I can predict the future, but I knew long ago, when he took that first scouting job, that this would be his final destination. I'm sure I wasn't the only one."
Elias, who turns 36 in late December, most recently served as the Houston Astros' scouting director and assistant GM. He played a key role in rebuilding a club that went from last place in the American League West in 2013 to World Series champions in 2017. He takes over for Dan Duquette, who was not offered a new contract to return as the Orioles' baseball chief after the 2018 season.
The Orioles lost a franchise-record 115 games last season. Nonetheless, Elias is confident there are enough pieces in place to be competitive in the short-term. The Orioles parted ways with several key players at the trade deadline, including infielders Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop and pitchers Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman, Darren O'Day and Brad Brach. In return, the franchise was able to stock its minor league affiliates with 15 prospects and international signing bonus slot money.
The immediate commitment to analytics and international scouting -- areas where the Orioles have lagged behind other clubs in recent years -- should be make a huge difference with the direction of the franchise.
"We're going to work as fast and as smartly and as hard as possible," Elias said. "We're going to remain focused on the process. We're going to continuously improve the talent base up and down the organization, whether that's at the major league level or the minor league level, and we'll see what happens. I have confidence that we can do this and we can do this in the right amount of time. And the analytics portion of it is something that's not optional in today's game. It's a lot of advanced information.
"The trick is how you incorporate it into decision-making and into baseball practices so that it's not two different approaches going on, but it's one approach that comes out of that. So there will be a lot of work and a lot of expertise in that area."
Orioles Hall of Famer Rich Dauer was a coach in Houston from 2015-2017 and is impressed by Elias' acumen. Dauer believes Elias was the perfect choice to get the franchise moving in the right direction.
Dauer said the addition of Sig Mejdal -- who was with the Astros from 2012-2017 -- as the Orioles' assistant general manager, analytics, is also going to be a huge boost.
"You're getting two top-shelf guys that know what they're doing and have already been to a World Series," Dauer said. "They've also gone from taking a last-place team that was getting killed 114 games a year to not only a good team, but a team that was going to compete for several years."
Dauer said one of the keys to Houston's success was the extensive research and analytics on players. That approach to the game provided a competitive edge.
"They don't just want to be the best, they don't want anyone catching them," Dauer said.
Elias did not waste any time putting his stamp on the Orioles by bringing in his own people, and Dauer is confident the Orioles can turn their fortunes around fairly quickly. He said the franchise will function in a completely different way under Elias.
Stuper agrees, and he has no doubt that Elias will thrive with the Orioles.
"He'll succeed in Baltimore because of these traits: smart, good with people, great guy to work for, devoid of ego, hard worker, great judge of talent, which will include his staff, and he's thrilled to be back home," Stuper said of Elias, a native of Alexandria, Va. "I've said it before and I'll say it again: I do not believe the Orioles could have chosen a better person. I grew up in the '70s when the Orioles were a regular participant in the World Series, when they had four 20-game winners on one team.
"I'm still amazed by the play Brooks Robinson made on Lee May in the Series, Jim Palmer's flawless delivery. I think he can bring them back to that despite playing in by far the best division in the big leagues. I could not be prouder of him. If it couldn't be my Cardinals that he would lead, at least it is still in the bird family."
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Yale Athletics and Courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles
Issue 250: December 2018 / January 2019
Originally published Dec. 19, 2018