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Todd Stephenson doesn't have another job lined up, but the organization said it will back his search.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Baseballs sit in the grass during a Red Sox practice early this year.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
All of Todd Stephenson’s friends in the minor league baseball industry have told him the same thing: “You’ll never make it on the outside.”
He’s going to give it a try anyway.
After 14 years in the Boston Red Sox organization, Stephenson is stepping down as general manager of the Salem Red Sox effective July 15. Assistant general manager Allen Lawrence will take over the role on an interim basis as ownership conducts a search for a permanent replacement.
“I just felt like it was the best thing for myself and my family to just pursue another career that’s not quite the same number of hours,” said Stephenson, who doesn’t have another job lined up yet.
Although the timing seems odd — the Sox just crossed the midway point of their season — both Stephenson and the organization agreed it was better for both sides to part ways now once Stephenson determined he didn’t want to return for 2014.
The Sox would prefer to hire a replacement before the season ends so he or she can get a feel for the ballpark operations, while Stephenson wants to pour all his energy into finding his next career move.
“We’re committed to helping him in that search, as well,” said Tim Zue, vice president of business development for Fenway Sports Management and the Boston Red Sox. “We’re going to be his best references and referrals because we think so highly of him.”
Stephenson, 44, has held a variety of roles in the organization, including running their spring training operations in Florida for a time. He took over as Salem GM in 2009 when Fenway Sports Group bought the team.
The last year and a half have been trying for him, though. In 2012, the club had its lowest average attendance (2,628) since moving to Salem Memorial Ballpark full time in 1996. Although crowds have picked up lately, the Sox are averaging 2,600 this year — second-to-last in the Carolina League.
“Just kind of the weather and the impact it had on us in April and May, I was just extremely frustrated,” Stephenson said. “There’s just stuff that was happening outside of my control, and it’s hard to deal with at times.
“Some of the games, you spend lots of hours to plan. And if it rains, it’s kind of for naught.”
Stephenson, who is married with two children, also grew weary of logging so many hours.
“You put out a lot of fires, I guess would be one way to describe it,” he said. “You look at the different entities of the ballpark, and sometimes that entity can be on your desk whether you’re doing ticketing, corporate partnerships, concessions, ballpark operations. Oh, and let’s not forget, we still do play games. It can be a lot of things coming at you at once.”
Stephenson recently approached Zue and Boston CEO Sam Kennedy to discuss his concerns. It soon became clear that a change might be in everyone’s best interest.
“We both have absolutely left the door open for him to return to the organization in some form if and when the right opportunity arises,” Zue said. “But there just isn’t that role right now that matches his experience level and his tenure. That doesn’t mean there might not be something down the road.
“We’re definitely sorry to see Todd go, but we certainly respect his decision. I do think that he’s going to find a great role for himself. … When you work with someone for 14 years, you never like to say goodbye, but we understand his decision.”
Zue anticipates the GM search to take eight to 10 weeks, but he said they’ll take longer if they need it to find the right person. Many of the characteristics ownership will be seeking — people skills, creativity, energy, organization — are attributes Stephenson displayed, Zue said.
“We want Salem and the market to know that we are committed to the team, that we are committed to the region and that we’re really passionate about providing really high-quality, affordable family entertainment,” Zue said. “I think we’ve made some great strides. I think Todd’s done some great things. It doesn’t mean we can’t make improvements and continue to do better. We do care [about attendance]. We absolutely care. I think about it every day.”
Meanwhile, Stephenson is thinking about his next move, even as he concedes his buddies might be right and he will miss the ballpark.
“I just want to thank all the people for their support in the community,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been greatly appreciated.”
He paused, then wore his GM hat one last time.
“Please come to a baseball game,” he said.
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