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'It's not the same': Friendship between Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi strained by Dodgers-Giants rivalry

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 10/8/2021 Bob Nightengale, USA TODAY
Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman. © USA TODAY Sports Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman.

SAN FRANCISCO — They will forever be friends, and nothing will erase their great memories, and the powerful team they built together.

But these days, Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, presidents of baseball operations for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, respectively, aren’t speaking.

Oh, they’ll see each other, and certainly are cordial, but the days of talking, laughing, texting, debating and challenging one another, New Year’s Day to New Year’s Eve, are over.

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This fiery Giants-Dodgers rivalry, going on for the last 131 years, has changed everything.

The moment Farhan Zaidi walked out of the door three years ago as GM of the Dodgers, packing his belongings and heading north, those close-knit relationships waned.

Maybe if Zaidi left for any other team, it would be different.

At least, if he headed to another division.Another league.

Certainly, another sport.

But the Giants?

The freakin' San Francisco Giants.

“To be honest, I didn’t really think about it and the ramifications from it,’’ Zaidi told USA TODAY Sports. “Look, from a personal standpoint, those are the guys I spent four years in the foxhole with. We got very close, the families got close.

“It’s just so hard to be close with a lot of that group now, and that hurts.’’

Friedman, who hired Zaidi from the Oakland Athletics in 2014, knows they will always be friends.

But now with the Dodgers and Giants meeting for the first time in the postseason, they are pitted against each other. 

If the Dodgers lose, would Friedman at least take comfort knowing that his good friend will be going onto the playoffs?

“No, hell no,’’ Friedman said.

If the Giants lose, would Zaidi at least feel proud that he helped build the foundation of the Dodgers’ powerful franchise.

“No, no, not at all,’’ Zaidi says. “That feeling's mutual.’’

Are they going to watch any of the historic best-of-five series together?

“No. No. No.’’ Friedman said. “No chance.’’

Why?

“We tried it before, and hung out some at the beginnings of games,’’ Friedman says, “but neither of us are that well-behaved in games. When we have conflicted rooting interest, it’s probably not the best.’’

'The personal side of this'

Even when the Giants and Dodgers engaged in one of the greatest division races of all time – combining for 213 victories with the Giants emerging atop the final day of the regular season with their franchise-record 107th victory – never were there any text messages teasing, playfully taunting or bantering with one another.

“We operate in an industry that unfortunately is very zero sum,’’ Zaidi says. “This series is an example of it. The winner goes on, the loser goes home.

“It’s just so hard. Andrew is somebody I happen to be friends for life with, spending four years together spending 12-13 hours a day, calling and texting at all hours of the night.

“We just don’t talk that much anymore. We still have text exchanges, and see each other, but it’s not the same.’’

Really, not even close.

“That’s the personal side of this,’’ Zaidi says. “Look, nobody is going to feel sorry for us – we’re really fortunate to have the jobs that we have –but it stinks. These are people that have been really important in your life, and suddenly you’re not in a position to express it the same way.’’

The Giants-Dodgers rivalry has truly strained the friendship. Really, how could it not?

They play one another 19 times during the season. They battle for the same players in the winter. They have the same trade targets during the summer. And they are always trying to get an edge on the other in two of baseball's biggest markets.

Baseball executives certainly understand the stress it puts on friendships but try to make sure they don’t inadvertently offend Friedman or Zaidi.

Just last week a GM sent a group text message to the two of them, saying, “Look, I don’t know how this season winds up with you guys. You both had great seasons. I want to congratulate you both.’’

Friedman wrote back: “Thanks, I really appreciate it.’’

Zaidi: “Thanks, really appreciate it, Andrew and I never talk anymore, so it’s nice when somebody brings us together like this.’’

Silence.

“I was just kidding,’’ Zaidi says. “I just wanted to make it as awkward as possible. That’s sort of how it is.’’

Just like the days when Zaidi and Friedman played in the Dodgers’ fantasy football league. Zaidi won three championships in a row. He lost in the title game his final year. But now that he’s the enemy, is no longer permitted to be in their league.

“He cheated anyways,’’ Friedman says. “Farhan takes the credit, but his brother, Jaffer, ran the league. So, it’s his brother that deserves it.’’

Well, maybe Friedman is onto something. Zaidi has yet to win the Giants’ fantasy league in his three years.

“No one in our league cares about winning,’’ says Giants scouting director Zack Minasian. “We just try not to let Farhan win. He’s the Al Davis of our league.’’

Friedman and Zaidi in 2017. © Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports Friedman and Zaidi in 2017.

'Fearless'

The Giants became the first National League team to produce at least a .600 winning percentage every month of the season since the 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers and captured their first division title since 2012.

“He’s just really bright, and more than that, virtually everything that comes out of his mouth is really thoughtful,’’ Friedman says. “You saw him challenge the staff a lot. And to couple that intellect with that kind of feel for the game, is unique.

“I knew he’d be great, but what they’ve done this year, winning 107 games well, no one saw that coming.

“It’s shocking what they did, but when you watch how they did it, you get it.’’

Then again, as everyone who knows Zaidi, 44, will attest, it was only a matter of time before he returned the Giants to greatness. You don’t attend MIT, receive your doctorate in behavioral economics from California-Berkeley, get your undergrad baseball degree working under Billy Beane of the Athletics, get your postgrad education from Friedman, and not become one of the game’s finest executives.

“There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be going to the Hall of Fame one day,’’ says one Dodgers executive. “He’s that good, that smart, and has that good of a feel for the game. I mean, he could go to any other sport and make that franchise a winner. I’ve never seen anyone like him. He’ll challenge you on anything.

“Most of all, he’s fearless.’’

'No front office is going to bat 1.000'

Oh, sure, Zaidi can be quirky, too. Instead of carrying a briefcase or backpack, you’ll occasionally see him carrying a trash bag full of the essentials he needs for that day. There’s no such thing as a dress code. And if the entire front office staff all agrees on a decision, you better be able to back it up and prove it, because Zaidi will challenge you.

“When Farhan and Andrew were together, it was like the perfect combination,’’ says Atlanta GM Alex Anthopoulos, who was the Dodgers vice president of player development for two years. “You couldn’t have a better tandem. They are brilliant. Their intellect and feel for the game is off the charts. They’re both funny and charismatic.

“And they would definitely go back and forth with a healthy debate.’’

Zaidi, Dodgers front office officials will tell you, was never afraid of being confrontational.

“Andrew likes to avoid conflict,’’ one Dodger official said. “Farhan, he just doesn’t give a damn.’’

Zaidi laughs, saying he is different now that he’s in charge, and understands the need for everyone to be part of the final decision process, whether they all agree or not.

“It was easier to be strong with my opinions and challenge people and sort of get people to speak up in my role in LA,’’ Zaidi says. “I’m a pretty opinionated person, and I like to be contrarian, so I have to kind of hold parts of my personality back being in a position to make the final call on things.

“I understand the importance of being more collaborative, learning to build consensus, and making sure that people feel good; not only about your decision, but your process. It’s really important culturally.

“Andrew is exceptional at that, and just has an incredible ability to involve people, engage people and make people invested in these decisions.’’

While Zaidi may have fewer fears than his peers, he knows they can always play a factor 

“I have fears, I definitely have fears,’’ Zaidi says. “It kind if goes back to my days with Billy and reinforced with Andrew that no front office is going to bat 1.000.

“No matter how good your process is, your scouts are, your analytic department is, not every move you make is going to work out. Every time you make a move, there’s a little dude on your shoulder saying, 'Yeah, this guy may not play as well for you, and the guy you’re trading away may burn you.’ But you can’t punt on making deals that you feel are the right moves, just for fear that it might look bad a year or five years from now.

“In that sense, I think it’s important not to operate with those fears.’’

Really, it’s no different than this series, featuring the two winningest teams in baseball, with Friedman and Zaidi setting the standards from the start. They expect their organizations to live up to them. And nothing short of a World Series championship is good enough.

When this series is over, Friedman and Zaidi surely will exchange pleasantries, with one offering congratulations, the other condolences. One will be euphoric, the other heartbroken and bitter.

There will be a time in the offseason when they’ll catch up and talk, just not about their teams or what transpired in this historic series.

“It just may take a while,’’ Friedman says. “It’s the nature of our business.’’

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'It's not the same': Friendship between Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi strained by Dodgers-Giants rivalry

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