Former Braves executive Dana Brown returns to Atlanta as Houston’s GM

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

One day last offseason, Dana Brown was with his wife, Casandra, when Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos called with exciting news.

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane had asked for permission to interview Brown, then the Braves’ vice president of scouting, for his open general manager position.

“So right away, I got fired up, because I knew the team was a good team, and I knew they were looking for a GM,” Brown recalled about that moment.

To appreciate this moment, you must know the backstory: Last fall, as the Tigers searched for a president of baseball operations, Brown thought he might receive a call. It never came – a bummer for a man who believed he would have been a great fit for the job. A couple of other times in his career, he had been in consideration for general manager openings, only for teams to select someone else.

And now Brown had another opportunity.

He was excited for the interview with Crane. Eventually, the two met and talked. Brown thought it went well. He felt good about it.

“At that point, it was just a waiting game,” Brown told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a phone interview this week.

As he tells the story, he is not Dana Brown, the man who discusses the Braves’ draft strategy and the details of each prospect they selected. He is Dana Brown, the man tasked with keeping the Astros in contention for years to come.

Instead of talking about Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, he mentions Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman. Instead of managing a staff of scouts for the Braves, he heads all of baseball operations for the Astros. Instead of overseeing the draft for the Braves, he runs everything for Houston.

And on Friday, Brown will return to Truist Park, where his fingerprints are all over the Braves roster. During his tenure, the club drafted Harris, Strider, Vaughn Grissom and Bryce Elder. Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd – two pitchers the Braves drafted during Brown’s time with the organization – made their debuts earlier this season.

Brown, the man who drafted all of them, finally saw his hard work pay off when the Astros hired him. His current job couldn’t happen without perseverance or determination.

“As an African-American candidate, I knew it was very difficult to get this opportunity,” Brown said. “And I had (MLB Commissioner) Rob Manfred telling me, ‘Hey, stay the course, you’re gonna get a shot.’ And that was very helpful. So guys that are coming along, like a Manfred, or even like an Alex Anthopoulos, who was very instrumental in helping me, any of those things (help). When you have somebody who you feel like can encourage you, that’s a big part, because without their encouragement, sometimes you lose hope. For me, it was a guy like Manfred, and then of course people like Alex, who was very vocal in the media about my involvement in Atlanta and what I’d done with the drafts, and my ability to evaluate talent.”

The Braves, as you can expect, had mixed emotions about Brown’s departure. Of course, they will miss him. There’s a reason he’s now a general manager. But they’re really happy for him.

“I think like anything else, from a selfish standpoint and obviously from a Braves standpoint, we want to be able to keep him here. He’s been so impactful and he’s done so much already in all the success that we’ve had here,” Anthopoulos said on the AJC’s Braves Report podcast in February. “At the same time, you want to see your employees rewarded and acknowledged by other teams. And look, it’s flattering at the same time when you have organizations that say, ‘Hey, I like the way the Braves are doing things. We’re going to take a look at their (organizational) chart and see if there’s someone that we think can help lead baseball operations.’ So that makes you feel good about your hiring process and the people that you have, and so on.”

When Brown first stepped into the job in Houston, he prioritized getting to know everyone. The major-league players. Manager Dusty Baker. The coaching staff. The analytics staffers. The entire front office. The minor-league players.

“So there’s a ton of people that you have to get to know and meet and understand, and then you have to make your assessment on these people as you get to know them,” Brown said. “It was challenging.”

Of course, Brown knew the Astros would be competitive. They are the reigning World Series champions. Plus, the Braves and Astros met in the World Series in 2021. And before the interview with Crane, Brown studied the Astros, preparing for any topic that could arise during the meeting.

At heart, Brown is a talent evaluator. His background is in scouting. In Atlanta, he tried to contribute to the collaborative environment, something he might be using these days in Houston.

Brown will be heavily involved with the Astros’ drafts, working closely with his scouting and analytics departments. But his job also requires him to focus on culture.

“Well, I think the most important thing you have to do is create an (environment) where (everyone can grow),” Brown said. “And the way you create that environment is you find out what people’s strengths are, and you make sure you work collectively to make good decisions where strengths are. And then where there’s weaknesses, you work together to build up each other to make a successful organization.

“It’s never a one-man show, and I think it’s important for people to know it’s never a one-man show. I think you have to give credit where credit is due, and I think you have to listen to other employees in your organization, because that’s what a good leader does. And I think that’s one way that I want to run the organization, and that’s by collectively building each other up.”

Then there’s, you know, the baseball part of this. In recent years, the Astros have been one of baseball’s more successful organizations. Brown must continue the winning.

He said Houston has clarity on its roster for 2023 and 2024. In 2025, he will need to make some decisions. The Astros feature a terrific core, like the Braves, but long-term success is difficult to achieve. So many factors go into it.

“Yeah, so the most important thing is you want to build an organization through the ranks of pitching, which they pretty much already had,” Brown said. “That’s the first thing you’re thinking about: Build depth in pitching, build a good bullpen. Because if you can pitch, you got a chance. And then I started to think, like, ‘OK, what’s our hitting situation? Who do we have? Who do we have coming back? Who do we have long-term?’

“So I started to think of pitching first, hitting second. And then, what does the team look like going forward? Are there guys that we want to get locked up? Are there guys that you’re going to have to make a change on at the end of the year?”

In other words: Roster management. Brown and his staff will collaborate to make tons of important decisions. He’ll be judged on the success of each of them.

For Brown, a typical day is full of phone calls – with the athletic trainer, manager, assistant general managers and agents. He also sprinkles in family conversations. Oh, and don’t forget about checking text messages. Before he knows it, it’s time for the game. Eventually, it’s time for bed.

Then he does it all over again.

Two seasons ago, Brown tasted the sport’s pinnacle when the Braves won a World Series. Winning one as a baseball-operations leader would be extra special.

“I think it would be phenomenal,” Brown said. “I think it would be one of those things that you’ll never forget as a baseball man, and one who has been in the game for over 30 years. If you can accomplish that as a general manager, that would be phenomenal. I was part of the Braves’ World Series in 2021, and that was exciting as the VP of scouting. But being able to be a general manager and win the World Series would be something that would be very phenomenal.”