CHARLESTON, S.C. — Tyler Tumminia is named after Ty Cobb, uses salty language, oversees the business operations of four minor league baseball teams, and co-owns a collegiate summer league team.
People in baseball say Ty is just one of the guys. Everybody, that is, except legendary comedian Bill Murray.
“No, she’s not one of the guys — she’s a girl,” says the Charleston RiverDogs Director of Fun, playfully berating a reporter.
“You’ve got to be able to tell the difference between boys and girls. You should really take some kind of community college class or something. You’ve got a camera, take some pictures and analyze them at home. There are differences.”
Actually, Ty Tumminia is a woman, and a powerful one at that.
Her background is unprecedented.
“I was raised by a scout, I married a scout,” says Tumminia. She also is a scout, having completed the Major League Scout Development Program in Phoenix in 2011.
Baseball pulses through her veins. Her father, John Tumminia, is a 30-year scout for the Chicago White Sox.
And her husband is Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington, although she’ll never volunteer that information.
“I don’t need to,” she says. “I’m very proud of my husband and very proud of what he does, but I’ve been doing this for 13 years.”
As a senior vice president at the Goldklang Group, a sports entertainment consulting and management firm, she has general oversight over the RiverDogs (a Yankees affiliate), the Fort Myers Miracle (Twins), the Hudson Valley Renegades (Rays), the Saint Paul Saints (Independent League), and the Pittsfield Suns (Futures Collegiate Baseball League).
In 2011, Tumminia was named Executive of the Year by New York University’s sports management program. She started the Professional Baseball Scout Hall of Fame at each ballpark she runs. Her innovative program, “Be Your Own Fan,” has garnered national attention. Her favorite song remains, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
“She was born into the game,” says Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who has known Tumminia since she was a tot.
Young Ty clocked pitchers with a radar gun and used a stopwatch to record batters’ home-to-first speeds.
“She’s very smart and loves the game,” says Reinsdorf. “She could be a president of a [major league] team, if not the owner. It takes a lot of money to be an owner.”
It’s Opening Day for the RiverDogs, and Tumminia has flown in on a private jet with Peter Freund, a Yankee minority owner.
“Truth be told, she’s my go-to person,” says Freund, who is also co-owner of the RiverDogs. “She’s honest, candid, and incredibly bright. She gets the big picture and I really trust her.”
But Tumminia, despite growing up on Long Island and running a Single A Yankees team, will not betray her husband or Red Sox Nation.
“I try all the time to get Red Sox secrets out of her,” says Freund. “I will try very hard, but she will not divulge. I texted her, ‘I heard Ben just talked to so-and-so,’ and she goes silent on me on text. It’s really frustrating.”
At the ballpark, Tumminia goes right to work. She praises the groundskeeper for the beautiful grass, then gently chides him for not repainting the logo. She plays catch with a coach, checks the beer taps for “Thirsty Thursday,” then sits in the box seats behind home plate, eschewing the luxury boxes. Just like a scout.
Her baseball DNA comes from her father.
“My father and I have a unique relationship,” she says. “We talk about things most father and daughter don’t talk about: We talk about an array of body parts of men.”
She picked up her father’s work ethic early. Besides scouting, he also worked all night for the New York Corrections Department. Her mother was a children’s program director at a local library.
Growing up, little Ty wasn’t allowed to watch TV. But she got to hang out with big league ballplayers.
Robin Ventura gave her his spring training jersey, Ozzie Guillen an autographed picture. She has had dinner with baseball royalty such as Earl Weaver, Rocky Colavito, Jim Palmer, and Bob Feller. She even got up the nerve to talk to Rapid Robert, telling him he had really big feet.
“He put them up next to mine and said, ‘Well, I guess, kid, I do,’ ” she says.
Tumminia yearned to play catch with her father, but he’d usually come home after dark. One night she cried after a ball clocked her in the face. Her father told her to suck it up.
“You want to be able to catch, you catch in the dark,” he said.
He launched another night fly ball, and she fearlessly squeezed it in her mitt.
“She caught that one ball in the dark and that was it,” says John Tumminia. “We’re connected. She’s a four-tool daughter.”
Tumminia believes the Clint Eastwood movie, “Trouble With the Curve,” is based on their story.
“I feel like somebody stole my life and put it on film,” she says. “My dad was tougher than Clint Eastwood, for sure. To this day, he’s still tough on me.”
‘I want to be different’
John Tumminia didn’t want his daughter to go into baseball because of the long hours and tough travel. It didn’t matter; there were no jobs available.
Kim Ng, senior vice president for baseball operations with Major League Baseball, gave her some advice: “Get some real-world business experience first.”
After college, Tumminia worked in public relations, media, and marketing. The money was good but she wasn’t happy. So she applied to the Single A Hudson Valley Renegades. “I begged for a $400-a-month internship,” she says.
The assistant general manager, a woman, rejected her because she was “overqualified.” Tumminia immediately called her back from a pizza parlor parking lot in Quincy and said, “I’m not going to take no for an answer.”
She quickly moved up to community relations director, and her career has fast-tracked since then.
“I don’t want to be the same,” she says. “I want to be different. I want to be challenging.”
For instance, she had a souvenir cup giveaway at Pittsfield with free beverages. But the cup was an athletic supporter.
“Oh, that was fun,” she says. “The nation as a whole, we’re all stressed out. We want people to escape from that when they come out here. If I can make you laugh, that’s all I care about.”
She encourages a collective philosophy of fun. In August, the RiverDogs will have a “Bobble Boobs” giveaway and free mammograms on Breast Cancer Awareness Night.
There might be some complaints, she says, but they won’t come from her boss.
Jeff Goldklang, president of the Goldklang Group, recalls the day of a sponsorship meeting with the largest client in their history.
“She gets into the car, literally covered with bloody bandages,” says Goldklang. “Apparently, she had to have emergency surgery that morning and was discharged with painkillers and bed rest instruction.
“She didn’t tell anyone, pulled the bandages off, and closed the deal that evening, then almost collapsed on the way back to the train station before begrudgingly taking a car service home. That’s Ty.”
Yankees GM Brian Cashman also is a big fan.
“I think she has done an amazing job,” says Cashman. “She is a burst of positive energy and has passion for the game and for her work. She will live on the edge to reach or create new markets. She’s capable of doing anything.”
When Tumminia first met Cherington, there were no sparks.
“I don’t remember meeting him,” she says. “We managed the Brockton Rox at one point. I was giving a speech honoring scouts at that ballpark and he happened to be there. Apparently I met him there.”
Cherington, a onetime scout who was there because Red Sox scout Buzz Bowers was being inducted, has another version.
“So they have a program, and I’m looking at it,” said Cherington. “Tyler Tumminia, I assumed that was a guy. So I was staring down at her; that’s not a guy.
“There was no conversation. I shook her hand. She doesn’t remember that. I said, ‘I appreciate you doing this for Buzz on behalf of the Red Sox,’ and that was it. But she doesn’t remember any of that. I made zero impression on her.”
Three years later, Tumminia was at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., when she waved at a man she thought was Cherington in the hotel lobby. “Hey, you know my father,” she said. When the man responded rudely, Tumminia shot Cherington a nasty e-mail.
“That wasn’t me,” he wrote back in protest.
“I felt bad,” says Tumminia. “So I said, ‘Want to get some coffee?’ ”
“So we got coffee,” says Cherington. “And the rest is history.” Both of them laugh.
But getting information from the couple is like getting Dustin Pedroia to keep his uniform clean. It’s very difficult because both are very private.
“There’s the personal and professional,” says Cashman. “She wants to be known as Tyler Tumminia professionally, and then privately . . . her private life is her private life.”
Tumminia says her husband is a lot of fun (“If he wasn’t, I would not have married him”) but the public hasn’t seen that side of businesslike Ben.
“What I see in him is probably what the general public doesn’t see in him,” says Tumminia. “A very caring and genuine husband and a phenomenal father and somebody who’s not private at home. I respect why he’s private.”
They have two girls, ages 2 and 9 months. Tumminia has two residences, one in a Boston suburb with Cherington, another in the New York metropolitan area, near work.
How do they handle everything?
“You handle it,” says Cherington. “You’ve got each other. You’ve got hard days. Our families are real important to us. We’re lucky to have some help.’’
Tumminia says they plan ahead. For example, when the Red Sox play the Minnesota Twins, she visits her Saint Paul team.
Do they argue about Wins Above Replacement? Cherington laughs.
“Maybe the best thing about Tyler being in baseball is she doesn’t have to ask a lot of questions about what happens on the field,” he says. “We spend more time talking about things that matter to us.”
And yes, hers was one of many opinions he sought before making the August 2012 blockbuster trade that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers.
The Sox GM doesn’t understand why there aren’t more women working in MLB operations.
“There’s nothing we do that a woman couldn’t do,” he says. “You need to process information, have a high level of intelligence, be able to work hard, make decisions, manage people; those are not gender-specific qualities.”
He also believes his wife would make a good major league owner.
“I don’t know where we’re going to get that kind of money, but yes,” he says. “She has the qualities and the skill to do it.”
The foulest question gets saved for last. Who changes the diapers?
“We both get our hands dirty,” says Cherington. “We both do what a parent does. That’s part of it. I can’t imagine it any other way.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.