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Former Katten Partner to Run Baseball Ops for Pittsburgh Pirates

July 27, 2020, 9:08 AM

Bryan Stroh, a former general counsel of the Pittsburgh Pirates is wearing a new cap for the Major League Baseball team as the long-awaited 2020 season gets underway.

After eight years as the top lawyer for the MLB franchise, the Pirates have named Stroh, a former partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman, as senior vice president of baseball operations. The promotion came amid the U.S. onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, which scuttled the minor league baseball season and put MLB on a months-long hiatus.

In June, MLB and the league’s players’ union agreed on the framework for a 60-game season that began July 23 with the World Series-winning Washington Nationals playing the New York Yankees, a game cut short by rain.

Stroh, 44, was busy preparing for the Pirates’ first game Friday night against the St. Louis Cardinals and unavailable for an interview to discuss his new role, which he and a team spokesman confirmed. In an email, Stroh outlined a Pirates promotion that makes him a key cog in the club’s new management structure.

In November, the team hired former Toronto Blue Jays vice president of baseball operations Ben Cherington to be its general manager. Cherington, who was general manager for the Boston Red Sox when they won the 2013 World Series, tapped Stroh to be one of his top lieutenants as the Pirates seek to rebound from a last place finish in the National League’s Central Division.

Stroh praised Cherington and new Pirates manager Derek Shelton for having “a number of bigger picture initiatives in mind where I hope to provide leadership and strategic thinking.” He declined to discuss the Pirates’ long-term strategy but said he’s fortunate to be able to work and learn from “two people with long and successful baseball careers.”

Stroh’s new job responsibilities are full-time on the baseball operations side, requiring him to relinquish the general counsel role. Francis “Frankie” Garland, a former labor and employment associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius—the same firm where current MLB commissioner Robert Manfred Jr. used to work—was promoted to replace Stroh as the team’s head legal counsel.

Garland, who initially joined the Pirates’ legal staff in 2017, is now the team’s primary in-house lawyer, handling everything from litigation to player contracts. Stroh will still lean on his legal experience and training in his new position, particularly while continuing to take the lead in contract negotiations, but the bulk of his work will now involve pairing his business background with his baseball instincts.

Path to Pittsburgh

In late 2011, Stroh left the partnership at Katten in Chicago to join the Pirates as general counsel, gaining the additional role of senior vice president of business affairs in 2015.

Stroh oversaw matters ranging from licensing and sponsorship agreements to media and player contracts, including a six-year, $51.5 million deal in 2012 with former Pirates star Andrew McCutchen, whom Stroh called one of his favorite players, along with former Pirates pitchers Charlie Morton and Tony Watson.

If the Pirates are home, Stroh will watch the team play at 39,000-seat PNC Park. The club was poised to have extra company this year in the Toronto Blue Jays, who due to Covid-19 are barred from playing in Canada. Pennsylvania public health officials blocked a proposal to have the Blue Jays play in Pittsburgh, and on Friday the team finalized a deal to play their home games this year in Buffalo, N.Y.

Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Ia., Stroh was a standout high school baseball player who went on to pitch at Princeton University, where he graduated in 1998. He spent the next three years at the University of Virginia School of Law and joined Katten as an associate in 2002.

Stroh, a litigator, worked closely at the law firm with partner Sheldon Zenner, a former co-chair of Katten’s white-collar criminal and civil litigation practice. Zenner and Stroh frequently did legal work for the Chicago White Sox. The ties between the team and Katten run deep.

Jerry Reinsdorf, the team’s primary owner, is a former Katten tax lawyer. Katten co-founder and of counsel Allan Muchin is one of several smaller investors in the club. Another ex-Katten lawyer, Howard Pizer, is a senior executive vice president for the White Sox.

Stroh made partner at Katten in June 2011 but by year’s end made a career change when the Pirates came calling.

Frank Coonelly, a former labor litigator at Morgan Lewis in Washington then serving as president of the Pirates, recruited Stroh as general counsel. Coonelly, who had previously been general counsel for labor in MLB’s central office, left the Pirates in October 2019, shortly before the club hired Cherington and new team president Travis Williams.

New YES Man

Stroh isn’t the only Big Law alum to land a new gig recently in the wider world of professional baseball.

Derek Heuzey, a former associate at Proskauer Rose in New York, earlier this year became general counsel for the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network LLC. He took over from Mark Bienstock, who has returned to an in-house counsel role with the New York Yankees.

Heuzey’s hire, which was confirmed by a YES spokesman, comes on the heels of a consortium agreeing to take control of the New York-based network last year from the Walt Disney Co. in a $3.5 billion deal. Heuzey most recently served as senior counsel for acquisitions at NBCUniversal Media LLC’s Peacock streaming television service in Stamford, Conn.

The Yankees, whose games are broadcast by YES, now own 26% of the network. Other stakeholders include Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. with 20%, Amazon.com Inc. at 15%, and 13% stakes apiece for The Blackstone Group LLC, RedBird Capital Partners LLC, and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Co.

Neither Heuzey nor Bienstock responded to requests for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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