Half his life ago, Bryan Stroh was a high school senior instrumental in helping Cedar Rapids Washington to the 1994 Class 4A state baseball championship.
Today at age 36, Stroh is in the major leagues.
Last December, Stroh became the vice president/general counsel of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Though his name isn’t known to most Pirates fans, Stroh became a hero of sorts for negotiating a six-year contract with Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutcheon, a young slugger.
“We’ve gone 20 years without a winning team here,” Stroh said last week from his PNC Park office in Pittsburgh. “The perception has been that the team does not hold on to key players, that we trade them for prospects or salary relief.
“That contract went a long way to showing the current owner and management is serious about building a winner in this town even though we’re challenged by being in a smaller market and not having the financial resources of our division rivals like the Chicago Cubs or St. Louis Cardinals.”
Stroh isn’t a baseball-lifer, but is a lifelong baseball fan. He was 10-4 as a pitcher and was an all-state player for Washington in 1994. He was the winning pitcher for the Warriors in the semifinals as a starter and in the title game as a reliever.
“He was a really good ballplayer,” said his Washington coach, Rick Netolicky. “He was an excellent pitcher and a good all-around player. He was motivated, very intelligent, and had great parents (Fred and Mimi Stroh of Cedar Rapids). You knew good things were going to happen to him.”
Stroh and Jeremy McMurrin were co-MVPs of that Washington team.
“Bryan was a lot like Greg Maddux,” said McMurrin, the boys’ soccer coach at Solon High School. “He didn’t throw the hardest, but he was ever so crafty. He got people out.
“He’s probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever come across. You just kind of knew that with the way he worked he was going to be something.”
Stroh was far more than an athlete at Wash. He was class president and a class valedictorian, and won several youth-leadership awards. He went on to Princeton University, where he lettered in baseball for four seasons and was the team’s top pitcher his senior year.
“Mimi and I are very proud of Bryan and always have been,” Fred Stroh said. “He’s always set his goals very high. And he’s had a lifelong love affair with baseball, so we’re delighted he’s back in the game.”
Stroh left baseball behind for a while after Princeton. He got his law degree from the University of Virginia. He then worked for nine years in Chicago law firm Katten Muchin Rosenman. There, he occasionally was hired to do legal work for the Chicago White Sox.
“I didn’t start thinking about working in baseball as a career,” Stroh said. “I kept my head down and kept working as an attorney.
“But my firm had a sabbatical program, that after five years you could take a month off and do what you wanted. I made some calls, and spent some time with the Cleveland Indians. I was sort of a fly in the wall in the front office. I learned about salary-arbitration, and how somebody like me could contribute to a baseball front office on the baseball side and the business side.”
Stroh also spent time working with Major League Baseball’s labor relations department, “and started thinking toward representing clubs in salary-arbitration as an outside practitioner. As I continued to learn more, I thought I might be able to contribute to a team.”
Then last year, Stroh got a call from Pirates President Frank Coonelly, whom Stroh had met years earlier when Coonelly was working for Major League Baseball as a senior vice president in the commissioner’s office.
“He decided to make a change of general counsel,” Stroh said, “and a few months later I was in Pittsburgh.”
In his first off-season, Stroh dealt with nine arbitration-eligible Pirates. Eight of the negotiations were settled by the team and players. The ninth went to arbitration, and the arbitrator sided with the Pirates over player Garrett Jones.
Stroh’s other duties are many, and include suite contracts, sponsorship agreements, media contracts, licensing arrangements, and all outside litigation.
“Something new pops up every day,” he said.
But at the end of the work day, if the Pirates are at home he stays at the ballpark and watches the game.
“Every inning, every game,” Stroh said. “It isn’t a strict requirement. I want to be here because I love baseball and I’m invested in these players. I’ve negotiated their contracts, and I’m rooting for them. I want them to bring championships to this city.”