Josh Rawitch rises from Dodgers intern to Hall of Fame President

The first choice a man must make before entering Cooperstown, New York is an airport: Albany or Syracuse. Last week, Josh Rawitch chose Albany. His new job ― his new life ― awaits 70 miles to the west, a remote and frigid place for a kid from the San Fernando Valley.

It’s a massive transition for Rawitch, 44, rife with many choices beyond the arriving airport. The newly appointed president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum has two months to sort it all out.

Shopping will be critical. Rawitch said he does not own winter clothing. Neither does his wife, Erin, or their two children. The couple met while attending Indiana University Bloomington. They relocated to Los Angeles, then Phoenix. Their definition of winter hasn’t involved snow since college.

In Cooperstown, snow was recorded in the region over 11 separate days in January.

“We’re buying entirely new wardrobes,” Rawitch said in a telephone interview from Albany.

The film industry routinely upcycles stories of small-town dreamers with big-city ambitions. Rawitch is taking the opposite path from Chatsworth to Cooperstown (population 2,032), a story seldom told.

His father, Bob, worked for the Los Angeles Times as a reporter and editor. His mother, Cynthia, is a retired professor and administrator at Cal State Northridge. They fostered Josh’s love for baseball as a child, taking him to his first game at Dodger Stadium late in the 1983 season.

The love never faltered. In 1995, a 17-year-old Rawitch landed an internship with the Dodgers. His first assignments were in advertising and special events ― “basically marketing before they called it marketing,” Rawitch said. He helped with a fan appreciation event called Think Blue Week. He wrote scripts for the public address announcer. Nobody made him fetch coffee that he could recall.

“Everybody who’s done this, it’s intoxicating,” Rawitch said. “You just can’t help but be smiling when you’re around (baseball). I remember Tommy Lasorda used to say all the time, ‘if you do what you love you never work a day in your life.’ There’s only a handful of days in almost 30 years that I feel like I was actually working.”

Early in his internship, Rawitch said he had designs of becoming a major league general manager. He even asked Dodgers’ GM at the time, Fred Claire, for 30 minutes to pick his brain. (Claire obliged.)

But Rawitch’s career did not follow that path. After college he covered the Dodgers for MLB.com. He transitioned to the team’s public relations department, eventually becoming vice president of communications. He took a similar job with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012 and has been there ever since. The Hall of Fame president’s job became available when Tim Mead, the Angels’ former VP of communications, resigned in April.

This job is more prestigious than that of a GM in many ways. The Hall of Fame has employed eight presidents in its 82-year history. There are 30 major league general managers, or their equivalent in title. Their average shelf life is far shorter than 10 years.

The Hall of Fame President does a lot of general managing too, albeit for a nonprofit educational institution with fewer than 100 full-time employees, in a bucolic setting more than an hour’s drive from the nearest major city. During Rawitch’s second interview in Cooperstown, he said, the uniqueness of the job crystallized.

“You recognize how much passion each person has not just for baseball but for Cooperstown ― the pride in living in the village and taking care of each other,” Rawitch said. “It’s the quintessential American town. A part of that is intriguing to me. Being able to stay in baseball with such a prestigious organization but not be tied to the baseball schedule like I have the last 27 years, being able to be home for dinner ― literally a 2-minute walk from the office to the house ― that’s really intriguing as well.”

There are others in baseball with Rawitch’s passion. Some even have a comparable resume. What makes him best suited for the task?

“His personality, his people skills, he is a solution guy, his positive attitude, his ability to articulate the correct way of doing it,” said Dan Evans, who worked with Rawitch as the Dodgers’ GM from 2001-04. “Being bilingual makes him more special because he’s able to communicate directly with 95 percent of the people in the game. He brings a consistent professionalism that’s above and beyond most other people. He combines it with a passion for people and for relationships. That’s a remarkable strand of DNA.”

Claire said he once received a stack of media guides from an 18-year-old Rawitch while eating breakfast at the Pie ‘N Burger in Pasadena. Those memories exist as a flash now, but they lasted long enough that Claire was not surprised by the news of Rawitch’s new title.

“I think it’s a perfect job for him,” Claire said. “I donated the 1988 World Series ball to the Hall of Fame a number of years ago. I’m sure Josh will keep a close eye on that.”