Pelicans' President Chuck Greenberg: We are very excited today to formally announce that North Johnson is the new General Manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Pelicans have established some wonderful traditions and an outstanding legacy during their first eight seasons. North Johnson is the man that is going to bring the franchise to even greater heights than has been achieved before. The time that was acquired the Pelicans we felt strongly that North Johnson was the man we wanted to lead us into the future. North is a long-time veteran of minor league baseball, 20-year GM, and a highly decorated executive. He's got a tremendous track record of creativity, innovation, and community involvement. We couldn't be more delighted to have him lead the Pelicans.
Pelicans' New GM North Johnson: Well Chuck thank you very much. I really appreciate your faith and confidence in me and the kind words you've said over the last few days. For me this is a phenomenal opportunity. It's just an incredible opportunity for not only myself but also my family to get back to the east coast and particularly to the Carolina League. I spent most of my career in the Carolina League. Everyone that knows me knows that I have a strong affection for the league. I have a tremendous amount of respect for John Hopkins, our league President. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to work with him again and the other general managers in the league. It's an incredible opportunity, especially working with Chuck. To be able to join this ownership group and be apart of what they are doing is very special. I'm looking for all of us to bring that creativity and excitement to Myrtle Beach. Again, I can't say enough - this is a dream come true for me. I'm just excited to join everyone there.
John Hopkins, President of the Carolina League: This is a happy day for the Carolina League. North has been a friend of this league for as long as I've been around and that's a long time. With seventeen years in Kinston and a three-time winner of the Carolina League Executive of the Year. Chuck you said you were going to go out and get one of the best operators in the business and you did that with North Johnson. His track record is second to none. We know that if you give him the tools he needs, he's going to do the job for you. So this is a great thing for the Carolina League, and I'm looking forward to having North in the league.
REPORTER: What do you see as job number one for you as you come into this job?
JOHNSON: It's probably going to be to meet with existing staff. We have plans to increase the staff. I think getting our staff lined up and going forth for next year. Bringing the whole culture of Greensons baseball to Myrtle Beach and getting everyone up to speed for what we want to do and what our plans are. We also want to get out in the community and meeting the city fathers and introducing ourselves and finding out who we need to have apart of Myrtle Beach baseball. There's a lot of things we have to do, but I think those are the top two things we have to do first.
REPORTER: Can you speak a bit on the difference of running a team on the west coast and running a team here in the Carolina League?
JOHNSON: I think probably one of the biggest things we've dealt with here is there is so much competition for the entertainment dollar. In our market we are 45 minutes from Los Angeles and 40 minutes from Anaheim. Typically the minor league team is the major league team of that community. But here, not only do we have two major league teams, we've got two NBA teams, two hockey teams, two major universities within our market in UCLA and USC. Not to mention there are four minor league teams within a sixty mile radius of us. So we really share the market with everybody. There's not a lot of loyalty to any one person unless you are a UCLA or USC grad. I think you can look at the Dodgers and Angels both over the last five years and see there's not a lot of what we would call east coast loyalty. Here in Rancho we have our core group of season ticket holders and booster club members that are out here no matter what. But again it's such a transient community and a transient area, our turnover with fans nightly is pretty phenomenal. There's probably 80% new people in our ballpark almost every night - as opposed to the Carolina League. Now Myrtle Beach will be a little bit higher because of the tourist traffic. But at the same point a lot of those fans coming into Myrtle Beach are coming in to see the Pirates' team from Lynchburg or the Indians' farmhands from Kinston, in addition to the Braves' fans. So it's a big difference. One of the big discussions out here about why the NFL has not come back to L.A. is that all the people that are football fans already have a loyalty to another team. I think that's part of the challenge we have here is getting our fans to attach themselves.
SHANKS: Can you talk about your role as the GM of the Pelicans in helping the players the Braves will send to you and how you can help in their development as a minor leaguer.
JOHNSON: If you were to go back and look at my track record with many years with the Indians, the Cubs, the Mets, and the Angels here I'm really a players' GM. I have a conversation with our team at the beginning of every season and I tell them the things we will do for them through the course of the year. Every year at every place I've been I've helped with the housing situation as soon as they get into town. With the coaching staff, we make sure they are set up, including having the electricity and phones cut on and every single thing they possibly need done so they can concentrate on baseball. As part of our speech to the team at the beginning of the season, I say, "anything you guys need help with off the field, I'm the guy you need to come to. The more we can do to help you off the field, the more you can concentrate on the field. That includes everything from the apartment situation, to if their wife or girlfriend is flying into town we can pick them up at the airport, making sure their families have reservations at the local hotels - anything possible that they can think of that we can do to help them. But I think part of our reputation is that I'm definitely known as a players' GM, and there are Farm Directors around the country that would verify that.
SHANKS: What's the latest on extending the affiliate agreement with the Braves?
GREENBERG: The affliation agreement with the Braves ends this season. We have spoken with the Braves throughout the year, and while we don't have a formal announcement today, we expect we will have one very, very soon. We're thrilled with the relationship the Braves and Pelicans have established. We have every intention of seeing it continue, and we are very confident that Atlanta feels the same way. Atlanta has been the model organization for player development. Their extraordinary track record of championships is a testament to that because they've primarily with homegrown talent. When you look at all the talent that has gone through Myrtle Beach - that's one of the great storylines of minor league baseball. In Altoona we have a "Road to the Show" wall that shows all the players that have made it to the major leagues, regardless of what major league organization they made it with. For a franchise like Myrtle Beach to be apart of the extraordinary player development system such as the Braves have had is something that is very appealing to us. We have every intention of it continuing, and we're confident that just around the corner we'll be announcing something formally.
In our discussions with the Braves, they've been very complimentary because they are familiar with how we've operated in Altoona. They're very much looking forward to that same level of service, not only for their organization, but to our guests from other major league organizations as well. That's something we can promise we'll be bringing to the table.
SHANKS: Since this is the only minor league affiliate not owned by the Braves, what can you do as the GM to make it just like a Braves-owned affiliate?
JOHNSON: Everywhere I've been I've operated it as close to first-class as you possibly can. That's one of the reasons I wanted to join Chuck and Parny; they do it the exact same way. It's first class plus. So we're going to do everything in our power to go into the clubhouse and make any changes. I know J.J. (Picollo) is leaving, but J.J. and I go back eight years when he was an assistant coach at George Mason. Having spent so much time in Kinston in the Carolina League I know a lot of people in the Braves' organization. Roy Clark was a second baseman on the team I was with in Lynn, Massachusetts back in 1980. So there are a lot of long-time relationships there and a lot of familiarity with the organization. So I think it's really going to be a really good transition, and I think the Braves will enjoy what we bring to the table.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look at the Braves’ traditional front office philosophies. He can also be heard regularly on the Braves’ Radio Network. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.