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In This Ballpark, HR Is the Name of the Game

September 1, 1997
Related Topics: Corporate Culture, The HR Profession, Featured Article
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Times have changed since 1958. This is especially true when it comes to human resources and major league baseball, and in particular, the Dodgers, a team which now has been playing in Los Angeles for 40 years. During that period, the total outlook of sports has changed. Showcasing players from all over the world, the Los Angeles Dodgers Organization -and sports in general-is attracting much more diverse audiences these days. Now it's pivotal that human resources helps reshape America's favorite pastime into what's fast becoming the world's favorite pastime.

Ever since the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn, New York, Irene Tanji, director of human resources, witnessed many changes. She has taken on all the challenges, from staffing a stadium that hosts more than 40,000 fans a night, to catering to the team's ethnically diverse customer base.

Over time, the fans have changed and the players have changed. But for 40 years, Tanji has been on the ball, making HR one of the Dodgers' most valuable players.

How did you land this particular job?
I've been with the Dodgers since April 1958. My daughter was eight months old when I told my husband I wanted to work and help out a bit. I made some calls to former colleagues. One of them asked me if I'd like to work for the Dodgers as a secretary. I happened to call at the right time. I got the job, and I've been here ever since. Later, I worked as an assistant treasurer. Then I handled payroll. Prior to that, the Dodgers never had a human resources department-just one person who took care of personnel matters. When the opportunity arose, my boss recommended establishing an HR department to Dodger President Peter O'Malley. Peter asked if I could be the Dodgers' first HR director. I was thrilled. I also became the Dodgers' first female director of any sort. We started out with nothing and had to build everything from scratch. I've seen a lot of changes, most have been good ones. It has been very rewarding.

What challenges do you think are universal to HR?
The main thing is keeping up with all the legal issues that pertain to employees' needs. It can get very complex. For instance, updating benefits, new medical insurance regulations and our 401(k) plan.

What's unique about HR in major league baseball?
Most people perceive sports as a male-oriented industry. It's changing, though. The sports industry is beginning to include more women. When it comes to the Dodgers, we try to look for qualified minority or female applicants. We try to target all groups. Here, we have female directors in ticket operations and community affairs, as well as in HR. Two of the female directors are minorities. We also have many women in different kinds of managerial positions. In terms of dealing with the players, it's a challenge to make them -especially the young ones-aware of their benefits and their future.

The players on the current Dodger team are pretty ethnically diverse. How has that impacted recruitment of your seasonal employees?
We cater more to our minority clientele. We have Japanese-speaking attendants answering phones and Koreans working here as well. We have a very large Asian fan base now, thanks to Dodger pitchers Hideo Nomo, who is Japanese, and Chan Ho Park, who is Korean. We have a lot of interaction with ethnic newspapers, also. Now it's similar to the time when Fernando Valenzuela was playing for the Dodgers. Mexicans loved to come and see him. He was their idol. Now with Nomo, it's the same thing.
Focusing on Nomo and Park, we've set up tables with translators at the games to help fans who don't speak English understand the game. Mostly, we try to have a lot of people on hand who can speak different languages to help our clientele.

Do you emphasize training when it comes to your seasonal employees?
We've been doing a lot of training: surveys, office training and so on. We're always looking to improve our service for our fans. Our service can never be good enough. Although the Dodgers doesn't employ concession workers, it does staff security and other operational positions at the stadium. Dodger Stadium isn't like other businesses or attractions. We get a lot of people coming through the gates every night the team is in town.
Over the years, we've had pretty good interaction with our fans, but we're always looking for improvement.

When it comes to hiring, do you get a lot of applicants who are baseball fans?
We do get a lot of baseball fans. Sometimes they come in and simply say, "I love baseball." But if that's their only focus, they won't concentrate on their work. So just liking baseball isn't a selling point with me. They've got to be qualified in other ways-in the ways we expect them to be qualified for the job they're applying for. Sure, it helps to know the product, but we expect more.

I get between 30 and 50 unsolicited resumes a week. We don't accept unsolicited resumes; it's best not to. Once you accept a resume, you've got to track it. However, we do place blind ads for jobs. Those ads never say "Dodgers," because we'll end up getting a flood of applicants. With a blind ad, we can have a controlled flow of applicants. We send letters only to those we want to interview.

In what context does HR interact with the team's players?
Other than the paperwork and the processing of it, HR also gets somewhat involved in player transactions. When a player is signed on or moved to a different team, everything is filtered through HR to speed the payroll system. Unless we get the right paperwork prior to the scheduled time, our hands are tied. We also try to keep the players up-to-date when it comes to their benefits.

During your 40-year career, have you seen many changes in the relationship between HR and the players?
Right now, everybody will tell you that the players these days have changed. In the old days, the players would come up to the office if they had a question about payroll, benefits or anything else. Or they would just come in to say hello to everybody. But now, they all have agents. So everything is done with them. I don't know many of the players now. I think I could probably count the ones I know all on one hand. They're friendly and all, but they just don't know me by name. So I really only deal with their agents now.
But when it comes to the old days, I have my favorites. Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale-they were really great. I used to have a great relationship with a lot of the players. Players were more accessible in those days.

What are some of the best things about working for the Dodgers?
We have little perks here for employees. Sometimes if it rains, we let them go home early. We have casual days on Fridays when the team is on the road. Today for instance, we get cookies because we had a sellout here last night. If we were in first place, we'd get ice cream. We'll get ice cream every day we're in first place. In 1988, when we won the World Series, everybody got so fat!

Workforce, September 1997, Vol. 76, No. 9, pp. 31-32.

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