February 2, 2023

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Get to know Peter Bendix, Rays' ping-pong loving GM

14 min read

Peter Bendix grew up in Cleveland with dreams of someday becoming the general manager of his hometown team. Instead, his career path took him to Tampa Bay, where he’s been part of the Rays’ front office for more than a decade, culminating with him being named GM in December.

MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand recently sat down with Bendix to discuss how “Family Guy” impacted his career, the challenge of being part of a small-market club, his hidden talents and much more in the latest edition of Executive Access.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

MLB.com: You grew up in Cleveland; was baseball always your favorite sport, or were you more of a Dawg Pound kind of guy?

Bendix: I was mostly into baseball, but I was into every sport, though. When I was roughly 8 years old, the Browns moved to Baltimore and they were out of the city for my formative sports years. The Indians were really, really good, so my first big sports memories were the 1995 Indians, who won 100 out of 144 games and had three or four Hall of Famers in their lineup. I can still tell you the lineup one through nine, so I think that really helped spur my love of baseball.

MLB.com: What was your peak as a baseball player?

Bendix: I played until high school, and I had to make a decision in high school because baseball and tennis were in the same season. I picked tennis; I always liked baseball more, but I was a better tennis player.

MLB.com: When you were a freshman at Tufts, you were asked to describe your career goals. You said you wanted to be GM of the Indians. Did it seem like a realistic goal?

Bendix: Absolutely not. You can tell when somebody doesn’t know what the job is, because they’ll say ‘That’s what I want to do.’ My freshman year was 2004, and Theo Epstein had been GM of the Red Sox for two years. He was the only person who had anything remotely resembling my background. I was a freshman and didn’t even have that background. It was a total pipe dream.

I was interested in baseball, and I became interested in baseball beyond just being a fan in my teenage years. When the Indians started to rebuild a little bit, I became interested in prospects and the financial side when they let Jim Thome sign with the Phillies. But I didn’t even to know what I was saying when I said I wanted to be a GM.

MLB.com: Were there baseball executives that you admired when you were a fan growing up?

Bendix: My formative time was with the Indians, so John Hart was ahead of his time at the time, or at least that’s what my understanding was. Mark Shapiro had a little bit different background than a lot of other executives. I don’t know if he even knows this, but in high school, I sent out random cold e-mails to people asking for advice.

Mark responded and actually invited me down to the executive offices and met with me for 20 or 30 minutes for an informational interview. I wasn’t there for a job. I couldn’t get a job at the time, but he actually gave me his time and I always remember that. Every time I go to Cleveland now with the team, I will enter in the same place that I’d gone in as a high schooler and it brings back those memories.

MLB.com: You took a sabermetrics course at Tufts, you went to a SABR conference in Toronto while you were in college to present some research, you created a baseball analysis club at Tufts. When did you first start to feel like a career in baseball was within reach?

Bendix: In college, I did those things as a hobby because I really enjoyed it. It had the side benefit of building up a résumé and building up connections, but it was never real in the sense that I thought this would lead to anything substantial. I just enjoyed doing those things. As part of the baseball analysis club, we invited local speakers, and one of them was Chris Snow, who was working for the Boston Globe. He wasn’t that much older than me, and he said you should email GMs in baseball and just ask them for advice; you’ll be surprised at how many of them will respond.

I did and a handful responded; the one person who gave me the longest, most thoughtful response was Andrew Friedman. It kind of humanized the idea that these are just people doing this job. The more I did my own research, the more I realized I might actually have something that I can add; as small as it might be, I might have something I can point to and say, ‘Hey, this is something that I can help with.’ That started to make it a little bit more real.

The time it became most real was when I went to the [2008] Winter Meetings. It was in Las Vegas, I paid $20 a night to stay at the Stratosphere. I won $200 at poker. I had maybe 15 interviews; some of them were very informal, some of them are a little more sit-down formal, but these people were actually taking me a little bit seriously in the sense of considering me for an internship. That was when it really became real that I might actually have a chance to be an intern.

MLB.com: Your research project on Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone led to a pair of offers for internships with the Rays and Mariners. How did you wind up with the Rays?

Bendix: I wish I had a great reason, because I’m very, very happy with my decision. There was a woman who worked for the Diamondbacks — she worked for Josh Byrnes — and she had been in the sabermetrics class that I was in. When I had the Mariners’ and the Rays’ offers in front of me, I had no idea what to do. I emailed her and I said something along the lines of, ‘The Rays seem like they are the gold standard: great people, ahead of the curve, would be great to work with.’ The Mariners had just hired a new front office and seemed like they might have a chance to be really good.

She sent me back a clip from “Family Guy”, and in this clip, Peter is at some salesperson’s office and the salesperson is offering him two choices: you can have a boat, or you can have the mystery box. Peter wants to take the mystery box. He said it could be anything — it could even be a boat. That always really resonated with me; no matter how great one offer sounds like it could be — and maybe it would be — if you’re telling me the other offer already is that, that’s probably the way to go.

MLB.com: You interned with the Rays but didn’t get hired after it was over, so you took a second internship. Was there just a belief that if you kept proving yourself here that something would happen?

Bendix: I guess. If I’m being totally honest with you, there were times that I questioned whether I wanted to continue working in baseball. The Rays were generous enough to let me have another internship, but they also said, ‘If you’d like to go try to find a different internship or a job elsewhere, you’re welcome to do that.’

I poked around a little bit but decided that I learned so much over my first year, that I could learn a lot over the second year. Erik [Neander] and James [Click] were my direct bosses at the time. I appreciated the fact that they gave me feedback. They said, ‘You are good at these things. This is the reason why we don’t have a full-time offer for you; here’s what we want you to improve in.’ I guess I improved enough and I was lucky enough to get the offer.

MLB.com: You were hired as assistant of baseball operations and coordinator of baseball research and development. The R&D department was still pretty new; how exciting was it to be there as this department was being developed?

Bendix: The best thing about it was the fact that it was so small. I was doing a lot of different things, even in my internship years; I was pulling magnets off the off the Draft board, I was able to go out and see amateur and pro games in the area. I was very fortunate that the people running those departments were not only supportive, but they were encouraging me going out and trying to learn.

My primary focus was what we called R&D, but to be honest, what was R&D back then wouldn’t be considered R&D now. It became clear over several years that we needed people who were, frankly, a lot smarter than me and had a lot more mathematical education. I didn’t really have any. I was able to pick things up along the way, but we were very unsophisticated back then.

MLB.com: Your bio says that you “claim to be” an excellent ping pong player, which made me laugh out loud. Explain.

Bendix: I’ve always been good at racquet sports; that’s kind of my little secret skill. Everybody’s got their one thing that they’re good at, and I’m racquet sports. The legend as it were spread a little bit to the clubhouse, but I haven’t had too much of an opportunity to play. I played a little bit in the bubble in 2020 when we were in the playoffs. I didn’t play too many players, but a handful saw me play and then wanted nothing to do with it, so that’s perpetuated it a little bit.

MLB.com: Your name surfaced as a potential candidate for the Mets’ GM job last October. Is it flattering when you hear that other clubs are noticing your work and talking about you as a candidate for these jobs?

Bendix: Yes, it is flattering. I try not to let any kind of external validation influence how I feel about myself and whether I’m doing a good job. We’ve won games recently, and so there’s a perception that we’re doing a good job; a few years back, we were not winning games and there was a perception that we were doing a bad job. Maybe that is true, but to me it feels like we are always trying to do our best. If things come together in such a way that we’re winning games and the people think we’re doing a good job, that’s not something I can control. It’s certainly flattering, but it’s also not a thing where you really want to pay too much attention because there’s going to be plenty of times when people have a different opinion and I still think I’m doing my best.

MLB.com: In December 2021, Erik was elevated to president of baseball operations and you were promoted to general manager. For a kid who once said as a freshman that he wanted to be GM of the Indians, what did it mean to you to actually be named the GM of a Major League Baseball team?

Bendix: It was incredible. It still feels surreal, but the fact that I’ve been with this organization since 2009, and the fact that I’ve worked with Erik for that entire time, Stu [Sternberg] has owned the team for that entire time, a lot of people I’ve worked with — some of whom are with other teams now — I’ve worked with so many great people, and to know that the organization trusts me and is willing to put me in this level of responsibility, I’m just incredibly grateful that they feel that way about me and that they haven’t kicked me out yet.

MLB.com: After that move happened, Erik described your relationship as “an interchangeable partner.” How much does it help that the two of you have worked together as long as you have?

Bendix: For me, it’s everything. I trust him implicitly, we have a phenomenal relationship, and I know he has my best interests at heart. With that as a starting point, everything else is easy, because I know that I want to do everything I can to help the organization, to help him, and I know that he’s going to be looking out for me and trying to put me in a position to succeed.

Running an organization now is enormous. I feel like I haven’t been in baseball that long, but I look back and I have since 2009. The size of our organization in baseball ops is probably four times what it was — and it’s continuing to grow. Helping to understand everything that’s going on, overseeing it and putting other people in a position where they feel like their work matters, that’s more important than ever and more difficult than ever.

MLB.com: It’s your 14th season; that means that during your time here, you’ve worked with Andrew Friedman, Chaim Bloom, James Click, Matt Arnold and Erik Neander, among others. How cool is it to see people that you have worked with for such a long time now running other teams around the league?

Bendix: It’s incredibly cool. In a lot of ways, the thing that I’m most proud of is those people all treat people incredibly well. I especially got to know Chaim and James just because I worked with them longer, but Matt, Andrew — they treat people as people. They create cultures of positivity and support and inclusion, and to see people who have those core values being successful and running their own teams and being successful on those teams, it’s just an incredible validation of those character traits and their leadership ability. It makes me very proud of having worked with them, proud of them, and just incredibly grateful that I got to witness them here and learn from them and consider them friends.

MLB.com: I’ve heard you described as a “numbers guy.” Do you agree with that sentiment, or do you think that sells you short?

Bendix: I strongly disagree with that sentiment. I don’t like the concept of “numbers guys” because I think we all bring different things to the table. I think the idea of a quote-unquote is a little demeaning and the idea of a “baseball guy” is a little demeaning, too. Different people have different levels of education in different areas, and that’s great. They have different experiences, life experience expertise and whatnot, but the best people are always trying to be well rounded.

You can’t necessarily change that I’m not 6-foot-3 with plus power and I never played baseball; I’m never going to have those experiences, and the people who do will have valuable information that I don’t — just like I hope to have valuable information that others don’t. That doesn’t make any certain kind of person. Even if I had a PhD in math and had studied statistics my whole life, I still wouldn’t consider myself a “numbers guy” and I wouldn’t consider a coach just a “baseball guy.” The more that we think of each other as people who are all trying to solve this game that is inherently unsolvable, I think it breaks down those barriers that might otherwise be there.

MLB.com: Analytics has become such a wide-ranging, all-encompassing word. What does that word mean to you?

Bendix: I think every single person, every single day performs analytics, and many of us don’t know it. When you are deciding whether to bring an umbrella to work today, you are in your head making a prediction on what’s going to happen in the future. That’s all anyone is trying to do, and that’s what analytics in my mind is referring to. We’re trying to predict the future, and we’re applying that right now to baseball by trying to predict who’s going to be good today, which players are going to be good this year. How do we want to build our team? That to me is analytics.

It’s not just baseball and it’s not just numbers. A lot of that comes from experience, from intuition, from accrued knowledge over the years, but it’s applied every single day. People don’t necessarily even realize that they’re applying it when they are making decisions, but every time you make a decision about what might happen in the future and what I’m going to do now because of that, to me, that’s analytics.

MLB.com: How challenging is it for a small-market team when you can’t just throw money at problems?

Bendix: We relish that challenge. I think we have one of the most difficult circumstances in professional sports — and I love it. We have less of a margin for error and we know that we have to be creative. We know that we have to be trying new things, because if we’re doing the same things as the Red Sox and the Yankees and the Blue Jays, we’re going to lose. That is, in a lot of ways, empowering to have that sort of freedom; to be able to try things knowing that some of these things are not going to work.

The point is not to be different for different’s sake, but the point is to say we are all trying to win a baseball game, and we have different resources, so we can’t do things the exact same way. We have to be not just better, but different. That’s a lot of fun. At times it’s frustrating, but that’s part of the game. Ultimately, the challenge is different for every team; ours is about resources and revenue, but every team has their own unique challenge.

MLB.com: What’s your greatest strength as an executive?

Bendix: Besides ping pong? I think I’m a good communicator. I think I’m able to help other people understand complicated concepts in a succinct manner. I think I’m able to help people understand scary concepts in a non-scary way. I hope that I am somebody who empowers those who work with me to feel like they can really be their best. I want anyone who I’m working with to feel like I’m here for support and I’m here for guidance, but that I’m trusting them and holding them to a high standard and in doing so, doing the things that were done for me by Andrew and Eric and James and Chaim — which is assume that I’m going to do a good job, and then hold me to that standard.

MLB.com: The 2020 postseason was obviously a unique situation with the bubble. What was it like being part of that run to the World Series?

Bendix: It was wonderful, incredible, thrilling and disappointing, not just because of how it ended, but so much of the fun of this is doing it with your family. Not being able to have our families in there, I understand why and I’m supportive of that, but it does take away, and it does make it a little bit less fun than it would be otherwise. So we’ll have to do it again.

MLB.com: We’ve seen the Lightning and Bucs win it all in recent years. The Rays have never won the World Series. What do you think it would mean to the Tampa Bay area for you guys to hoist that trophy?

Bendix: It would complete the trifecta of Champa Bay. The success that the region has had recently is incredible. The growth that the region has had unrelated to sports has been really fun to see. I moved to St. Pete in 2009, and the city now is completely unrecognizable in a very positive way. To be part of that and to see its growth and evolution, and to be part of the community and contribute to the success and ultimately, hopefully win a World Series, that would be fantastic.

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