First Pakistani-American Hired as GM in Major League Baseball

Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers franchise will name Pakistani-American Farhan Zaidi, an MIT and Berkeley-educated economist, as their next General Manager, baseball sources confirmed to Tuesday night. The news will be officially announced later this week.

Currently, Zaidi is an Assistant GM with Oakland A's where he has provided statistical analysis for evaluating players available on the free-agent and trade markets, as well as the draft, according to Los Angeles Times. He played a major role in the Athletics' signing of Yoenis Cespedes in 2012. He also assisted on arbitration cases and worked with the coaching staff to analyze scouting reports.

Zaidi was born in Canada to a Pakistani father. He grew up mostly in the Philippines, where he played Little League, and is one of few Muslims in baseball today.

Speaking to The  Los Angeles Times, Zaidi said his interest in the analytic side of the game started to develop when he was in grade school and read “The Bill James Baseball Abstract”. “I bought that book each year and I basically carried it around with me everywhere,” Zaidi said. “Then I think the bookstore realized there was only one customer for the book and they stopped carrying it.”

Those interested in the power of the statistics in picking players should see "Moneyball", a movie based on Michael Lewis's book of the same name. The movie features Brad Pitt playing Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane. Its focus is the team's analytical and evidence-based approach to assembling a competitive baseball team, despite Oakland's disadvantaged revenue situation.
The movie shows Beane letting his young Harvard-educated statistician Paul DePodesta choose players on his laptop.

Farhan Zaidi's new gig as GM of LA Dodgers is yet another sign that Pakistani-Americans are beginning to make their mark in sports and entertainment fields in America. Marvel Entertainment has recently introduced a new Ms. Marvel, a 16-year-old Pakistani-American superhero named Kamala Khan.  A Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani is starring in HBO comedy about Silicon Valley techies. Another name is triple-Oscar-winning CGI wizard Mir Zafar Ali. Shahid Khan, a Pakistani-American businessman, became the first non-white owner of an NFL team two years ago. It's good to see Pakistani-Americans entering occupations other than the more traditional professions like engineering and medicine.

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Riaz Haq said…
NY Times on Farhan Zaidi:

Farhan Zaidi’s résumé sounds almost as eclectic as his background.

He is a Muslim and Canadian of Pakistani descent who grew up in the Philippines. He has two degrees in economics: a bachelor’s degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley.

He has worked in consulting, in business development for a division of a sports magazine, and in the Oakland Athletics’ front office for the last 10 years as a forward-thinking, statistical-minded disciple of General Manager Billy Beane.

With the A’s, Zaidi was widely credited for his part in the signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban defector who became a star from the time he arrived in 2012.

“He’s absolutely brilliant,” Beane said of Zaidi in an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle this year. “He has a great qualitative mind, but also a creative mind. The ability to look at things both micro and macro is unique, and Farhan could do whatever he wants to do, not just in this game, but in any sport or any business. I’m more worried about losing him to Apple or Google than I am to another team.”
Riaz Haq said…
Disney+'s 'Ms. Marvel' Finds Star in Iman Vellani

Marvel Studios has found its Ms. Marvel.

Newcomer Iman Vellani has nabbed the role of the teenage superhero, who will headline her own Disney+ series before appearing on the big screen in Marvel films.

Marvel had been testing actors throughout the summer and had landed on Vellani by late August or early September, sources say. The Canadian actor hails from the Toronto area and a year ago took part in a Toronto International Film Festival committee that helped highlight films that speak to teenagers. She focused on Hala, a film centering on a Pakistani American teen pulled between her family and life in the West — themes that are echoed in the Ms. Marvel comics.

"We want stories from different genders and different countries and different people," Vellani said at the time.

Disney+'s Ms. Marvel centers on New Jersey teenager Kamala Khan, who broke ground in 2014 as Marvel's first Muslim character to star in her own comic book title. Her comics are known for exploring Kamala's identity as a Pakistani American living in a religious family while trying to find her own way.

Ms. Marvel is from head writer Bisha K. Ali and will be directed by Bad Boys for Life filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, as well as Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, a two-time Oscar winner in the documentary short category, and Meera Menon, who has directed episodes of The Walking Dead, The Punisher and Titans.

Actor Kumail Nanjiani, who stars in the upcoming Marvel film The Eternals and who was born in Pakistan, welcomed Vellani to the Marvel family Wednesday.

"I just saw they cast Ms. Marvel and legit got teary eyed. Congratulations Iman Vellani! Your work is going to mean so much to so many people, myself included. I can’t wait," Nanjiani wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Marvel is one of a number of shows Marvel Studios has lined up for Disney+, including WandaVision, starring Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which originally was set to bow this year and recently resumed production. Meanwhile, Tom Hiddleston's Loki was partially completed before the coronavirus shut it down.

Riaz Haq said…
Farhan Zaidi Addresses Giants’ Rotation, Posey, Belt

his morning, Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi addressed the club’s priorities ahead of what’s sure to be a busy offseason (via Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area and Andrew Baggarly of the Athletic). Zaidi made clear the team regards its starting rotation as its “number one priority.” The Giants’ president also effectively confirmed they intend to bring back Buster Posey (by at least exercising his $22MM club option) and hope to re-sign Brandon Belt for what would be his twelfth season in San Francisco.

That the Giants intend to focus their offseason attention on addressing their needs in the rotation comes as no surprise. Presuming they pay Johnny Cueto’s $5MM buyout rather than pick up his $22MM option, four of the five members of a group that led the club to a 3.44 rotation ERA (Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Cueto) are set to hit free agency. Only breakout star Logan Webb, who won’t reach free agency until at least 2026, remains under team control.

Zaidi made clear he hopes to bring back at least some of this year’s rotation, stating that “we want to keep as much of this group together as we can,” but he’ll face stiff competition for several of the arms in question. Gausman figures to be among the top starters on the market (alongside Max Scherzer, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Stroman) and won’t be eligible for the qualifying offer that might have scared off some suitors after he accepted the Giants’ QO last winter. DeSclafani (who made $6MM in 2021) and Wood ($3MM) are each in line to land much bigger salaries moving forward after each posted a bounceback year in his first season in the Golden City.

Zaidi’s confirmation that the club plans to keep Posey in the mix for 2022 is similarly unsurprising after the longtime Giants backstop put up a .304/.390/.499 line in 2021 after sitting out the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The club’s intention to either pick up Posey’s 2022 option or sign him to an extension had also already been reported in August by MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, but Zaidi’s comments reiterate the commitment of Giants’ brass to their franchise catcher. Still, as Posey will be entering his age-35 season, any extension is likely to be on the shorter side, perhaps similar to the two-year pact reached with shortstop Brandon Crawford in June.
Riaz Haq said…
Though he may have professional experience in the NFL with five different organizations and was named the 2006 NFL Europe MVP while playing for the Amsterdam Admirals, Hamdan made it clear that baseball was his first love.

"I was also a two-sport athlete at Indiana. I played first base for four years. Baseball was my first love -- way before football," Hamdan said on Twitter. "I'm letting you know that I accepted an invitation from the Pakistan National Baseball Team to play for them in the World Baseball [Classic] qualifiers coming up Sept. 30 in Panama City, Panama. Super excited to be playing ball again."

Though there's surely some rust to knock off, Hamdan's numbers at Indiana University speak for themselves. In his junior season, Hamdan posted an impressive .335/.389/.509 batting line with 6 home runs. This wouldn't be his first international baseball tournament, either: Hamdan played for Team USA's 15-and-unders in China and Japan in his youth.

"There are many American and Canadian Pakistanis who are good players and are playing baseball or American football in high school, colleges and universities, but few will reach [the highest level]. Having him [on] our team, he would be a role model for [players of] Pakistani heritage to play baseball," Syed Fakhar Ali Shah, the head of Pakistan's baseball federation, said in an email. "Also, parents with Pakistani heritage would [then] support their children in learning baseball and other games professionally."

It's an intriguing roster move for Team Pakistan. After reaching their first ever WBC qualifier in 2017, the No. 31 ranked team by the WBSC will be looking to cause some upsets when the Pool B qualifiers begin next month
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan has a vision for #baseball success. Pakistan plays at the #Panama City World Baseball Classic Qualifiers, hoping to be one of the two nations who will advance to the main international baseball tournament in March, 2023. via @mlb

Pakistan became beloved underdogs at the Brooklyn Qualifier in 2016 -- its first international tournament outside of Asia -- as they were the only team to field a club made up entirely of players who grew up and played baseball in their home country. Many of its best stars, like Zubair Nawaz, were cricket players who had recently converted to baseball for the tournament.


In a way, Syed Fakhar Ali Shah has been preparing for this his entire life. The current manager of Team Pakistan's Baseball Team and the head of its baseball federation, Shah was there as a young child at the first ever Pakistan Baseball Federation event in 1992.

"I'm 7 years old and I am sitting in the Federation's official meeting. I'm [there], attending as a founding member in 1993," Shah said. "Nobody in the world is going to believe that a person who is around seven-and-a-half was officially taking care of the meeting while baseball was being introduced!"

Shah's father, Syed Khawar Shah -- who passed away in 2018 -- assembled the group and gifted his son the baseball dream when Pakistan first fielded a team before the 1992 Olympics.

"Everyone who worked in sports was invited," Shah said. "There were 50 people -- educated, sports-related, people with a master's degree, who ever played for Pakistan in other sports was there. My father said, 'We're going to have baseball in Pakistan and you'll have a national championship in two months.' They were like, 'What's baseball?'"

Since then, Shah has devoted his life to baseball, helping get the program ranked as high as 23rd in the world despite lacking a single baseball-dedicated field in the country. Shah played catcher for Pakistan's National Team in 2003 -- taking the position no one else wanted and making sure that he was skilled enough that no one could accuse the team of nepotism.

"The first time I played, I was like, 'I have to be number one.' Because it's my father's dream," Shah said. "And if I play well, I help the team win. I don't want people to feel that it's because of his father that he's playing."

He even oversaw youth teams when he was just 16 years old. When it came time for them to travel to tournaments in Asia, another manager who was an actual adult had to step in. After all, how can you be taken seriously on the international circuit when you have a teenager at the helm?

Those decades of work have now led to this weekend, when Pakistan plays at the Panama City World Baseball Classic Qualifiers. They hope to be one of the two nations who will advance to the main tournament in March. It's a big stage to play on, as Pakistan's competition includes established baseball nations like Panama and Nicaragua and emerging programs like Argentina and Brazil.

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