Dayton native named Seattle Mariners’ new GM
By Marc Katz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
Native Daytonian Justin Hollander was already 29 years old in 2008 and three-plus years into a law career when he took a tedious, low-paying, entry-level job as a “stat stringer” at San Diego Padres games.
During home games, he sat next to the official scorer, coding in every play to be sent to ESPN in New York.
“I made it a condition of every day job I had that certain days, certain times, I had to be at the park. If there was work (in the law office) to be done, I would go back late at night.
“When I was scheduled to go to a Padres game, I had to go work, which seems insane to tell your boss when you’re a lawyer. But it was something that was important to me.”
It worked out. In October, Hollander was named general manager of the Seattle Mariners, recently named the best organization in the majors by Baseball America. The Mariners had a very successful year, starting out with its minor league system ranked No. 1, also by Baseball America.
The Mariners garnered more headlines last summer as Hollander, an assistant GM at the time, helped extend pitcher Luis Castillo’s contract following a trade with the Reds. In mid-November, Hollander traded with Toronto for 2021 All-Star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, his first deal in his new position.
Hollander became a bar mitzvah at Beth Jacob Congregation and graduated from Northmont High School. He is believed to be the first Daytonian to hold a major league GM position, certainly the first from Beth Jacob.
“I was a no-talent athlete,” Hollander said. “I knew playing wasn’t an option.”
Once, in high school, he participated in a job shadow program, following a lawyer for a day. One of his friends was able to shadow Dayton Daily News Hall of Fame sportswriter Hal McCoy, who covered the Reds.
“My friend had more fun than I did,” said Hollander, who eventually made it to the fun side.
Justin finished Northmont a year early to attend Ohio State, where his brother Jonathan was a senior. Then he graduated from University of San Diego School of Law and was working as an insurance and employment litigation lawyer when he accepted the stat job.
“I was sort of kicking the can down the road for three years hoping something would fall in my lap,” Hollander said.
The can landed when an Angels employee friend in his fantasy baseball league told him of an opening with the team.
“It was as an (operations) assistant,” Hollander said. “I asked the guy if I would be a fit. He said yes, if I wanted to do it. It didn’t pay much money and I’d have to work crazy hours, get coffee when people wanted it, pass out meal money, write advance scouting reports, prepare notes for the draft room, and all that stuff. It sounded amazing.”
Another person turned down the job. Hollander, next in line, did not. Even though the pay was a hefty cut from his work as a lawyer, he justified the move by noting he wasn’t yet married, didn’t own a house, and his brother gave him his old car.
“I bought a TV at one point,” Justin said. “But I didn’t buy anything (else). I was just saving, sharing a three-bedroom apartment with two other guys. My room was the size of a bed, basically.
“Whenever there was food in the GM suite or in the clubhouse, I made sure I grabbed a plate. You just made it work. I don’t want to make it dramatic. It wasn’t like I was living in a homeless shelter. I was just living modestly.”
Hollander graduated to more livable-paying jobs, married Whitney (through JDate), an anthropologist, has two young children, and stayed nine seasons with the Angels, moving to Seattle in 2016 to reunite with his old boss, Jerry Dipoto.
He and Dipoto helped lift the Mariners into a playoff team following 20 years of being shut out of the post-season. While they didn’t win, the eventual champion
Houston Astros had a rough time beating the Mariners, including 1-0 in a memorable 18-inning game.
It wasn’t enough for Hollander.
“I was disappointed this year when we didn’t win the World Series,” Hollander said. “I thought we had a chance. We want to win the World Series. That absolutely is our goal next year. We’re not doing this for participation trophies.”
In 2022, the Mariners won almost all their series with playoff teams — except, notably, with the Astros.
“We have one of the younger rosters in the American League, and while the Astros are in our division and never seem to get worse, we have to find ways to close the gap,” Hollander said.
He’s in a position to try that.