In the early 2000s, Billy Eppler lived in Laguna Beach while he scouted for the Colorado Rockies—his first job in baseball after playing one year at the University of Connecticut before a shoulder injury ended his career on the field. Eventually, he began working in the Rockies’ front office in Denver, but promised himself that if he ever needed to live in Southern California again, he would make his way back to Laguna Beach.
Fast-forward to this past October, when Billy signed a four-year contract as the new general manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. After the past 11 seasons with the New York Yankees, including the last four as assistant general manager, the San Diego native made good on his vow—Billy says Laguna was a “very easy sell” to his wife, Catherine, to put down roots with their 1-year-old son, Xander. As he settles into our seaside city as well as his new position in Anaheim, we spoke with the Angels’ latest hire about his move to the West Coast and the upcoming 2016 season.
Laguna Beach Magazine: How has your transition been from New York to Anaheim?
Billy Eppler: The transition’s been exciting to learn a lot about the inner workings of an organization—considering the playing personnel, the coaching personnel, the scouting personnel, the front office personnel—understanding the processes and the protocols that had been in place before, and really understanding people’s philosophies is a very exciting aspect of the job.
We hear you’re an avid surfer. Any places around town you like to frequent?
BE: There are some spots in Laguna, but I wouldn’t be holding true to my surfing roots by disclosing the spots I surf. … I don’t get out as much now just because of this job. … [Maybe] after things have settled, maybe after the first year, but I’ve been out a decent amount of times so far early in the mornings or a weekend here and there.
How has the role of GM changed since you started in baseball?
BE: Speaking as somebody that’s been on the scouting side or the player development side—I’ve just been on the periphery, rather than in this role—I can tell you that the amount of information in our game has grown exponentially, and within that information is some knowledge and potentially a competitive advantage or two. But in the role of GM, you don’t have time to actually sit there and look through all of that information because you’re engaged in a marketplace—that’s the free agent marketplace or the trade marketplace.
The unique aspect about baseball is essentially you can acquire a player every single day of the year almost. Out of 365 days, I’m going to guess there’s 330 of those 365 days you could actually make a transaction and acquire a player because the marketplace has the “open 24 hours” sign lit. You have to have very strong lieutenants that are able to understand the information, and how you can utilize that information to improve your processes and be able to implement … and communicate those … in a simplified manner. It is very complex information that is coming through the door in every organization, and some organizations ascribe to it more than others.
As you step into this role, what is your vision for the Angels?
BE: To put the best team on the field that we can year in and year out; to play deep into October; to win. I’ve heard an expression other places that I’ve been: Winning is a great deodorant. It really is. If you win, everything tastes better, smells better, you sleep better—it’s just so fulfilling. We want to make sure we adhere to that objective here and put the best club we can on the field and make as thoughtful and mindful decisions as possible.
What is your outlook on this season?
BE: I think we’ll have a strong club. I think we’ll have a club that can do a lot of things on the baseball field both offensively and defensively. We’ll have a little bit more speed, a little bit more defense, a little bit more contact, probably be able to do things like hit-and-run or hit behind the runners; pitchers that throw a lot of strikes and command the zone pretty well; and, hopefully, a positive outlook.
—Written by Kristin Scharkey