Casual UCSB baseball fans may have caught a glimpse of Colorado Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs in the World Series last year and realized he was a former Gaucho, but the man they call Spilly was hardly the only UCSB alumnus making his presence felt. In fact, despite his .299 batting average and 11 home runs last season, Spilborghs wasn’t even the Gaucho who had the greatest influence on Colorado’s success. That honor goes to a man who traded in his bat and glove for a radar gun and laptop years ago, and now has an instrumental hand in almost every move the Rockies make.
Front office employees don’t ever get the same acclaim as the players on the field, but make no mistake about it, Rockies Assistant General Manager Bill Geivett has played an integral role in turning the franchise into the rising young team that it is today. An All-American during his years at UCSB, Geivett never made it to the big leagues, but now in his 22nd season in Major League Baseball, he’s achieved more success than almost anyone who’s ever worn a Gaucho uniform.
“Bill started down at the bottom but right now he’s one of the most respected and powerful men in major league baseball and if its his desire, some day he will be general manager of a major league organization,” former UCSB baseball Head Coach Al Ferrer said. “He’s earned everything, and you have to realize, he’s probably one of the fifty most powerful people in Major League Baseball.”
While Geivett is now reaching the pinnacle of his profession, the story of his success started many years ago, back when he was a highly touted third base recruit out of Sacramento City College. Despite UCSB’s lack of prominence at the time, Geivett fell in love with Isla Vista – a passion that he still holds to this day – and chose the Gauchos over many of the top programs in the nation.
“I was getting recruited by every school and it was surprising to a lot of people in baseball that I would go there instead of a lot of bigger baseball schools, but Isla Vista and the community there really felt like you could get the full college experience and that’s what I was looking to do,” Geivett said. “Education was always very important in my family so I was going to finish and go through school. It was really important to pick the right place and I just loved it in Santa Barbara and loved Isla Vista.”
At the time, UCSB’s baseball program only had 2.8 scholarships, and Ferrer took the unprecedented move of offering Geivett a full ride, assuring that he would account for over a third of the programs scholarship money. It was the first full-ride that Ferrer had ever offered a player, but the gamble proved to be a tremendous success.
“I knew he was a special player. We were honest and open with him and I think he saw some ethics and I think he believed,” Ferrer said. “Because of when he came and his ability, he was probably the most critical recruit we had in building this program.”
In two years as a Gaucho, Geivett more than earned his scholarship, leaving his mark on the direction of the program, and on the record books. A two-time Big West First Team honoree, he was a third-team All-American in 1985, coming through with a senior season that remains one of the greatest seasons that a Gaucho has ever had. Geivett hit a school-record .412 that year, and set new records for at-bats (243), hits (100), runs (74), triples (8), and total bases (146). Geivett reached base in over 60 percent of his at-bats that season, and while it’s been almost two decades since he was a senior, he remains first or second in six of the 12 single-season hitting categories in the Gaucho record books. In addition, his .402 career-batting average is 23 points higher than the next closest Gaucho, and he remains second all-time in triples with 13 in two seasons.
All of this success obviously drew the attention of Major League scouts, but Geivett repeatedly turned down pro offers, and didn’t sign a contract until he was drafted for a fourth time following his senior season. While he was determined to get his degree, Geivett readily admits that the atmosphere provided by the famous Hammerhead fans at UCSB games and the environment in Isla Vista in the mid-’80s played a role in his decision to stay in school.
“[The baseball stadium] just had bleachers, but it was intimate and cozy and the Hammerheads had a place to sit where they could wheel their couch in with their keg. After they tore the fence down you practically had to be a priest to get into our games” Geivett said. “I think at the time there were probably only 1,500 students who didn’t live either on campus or in I.V. which was very attractive to say the least. The baseball team was very close and I think I.V. was kind of that way. Even on Del Playa we all helped pick up the cups in the morning.”
After turning down a big offer from the Cubs following his junior season, Geivett finally signed on the dotted line with the Angels in 1985, and started the long process towards the big leagues. He worked his way up to AA, but in 1988 his playing career ended when he suffered a knee injury while running out a ground ball. With his playing days behind him, Geivett faced an earlier than expected start to a second career, but he proved to be extremely prepared for a move behind the scenes. Taking advantage of the fact that his spot at third base always positioned him next to the opposing head coach in the third base coach’s box, Geivett spent years soaking in knowledge and the intricacies of the game.
“I would ask hypothetical questions all the time with these guys and through that I think that helped my reputation as being a good coach or whatever some day and people kind of thought of me that way because I was very inquisitive about all the aspects of coaching,” Geivett said. “I don’t really know a lot about other sports but Ben Howland ran the technical analysis of coaching basketball class when I was [at UCSB]. I really liked trying to learn other sports but then I really could tell that I had no idea what was going on there. Growing up with baseball and always asking questions and really trying to understand the game and always having a curiosity for it really helped me in terms of my understanding of what was going on.”
After a couple of years of collegiate coaching, Geivett broke into the majors as a scout with the Yankees in 1991. From there he moved on to Montreal, before becoming a special assistant to the GM for the expansion Devil Rays, an experience he looks back on with fond memories.
“It was great because everything we did was the first time. I called Mark Shapiro who’s now the GM of Cleveland and said, ‘Hey Mark, let’s do this thing.’ He was farm director of the Indians and we traded a couple of minor league pitchers and he goes, ‘Hey, we made the first trade in the history of the Devil Rays.’ Every time we did anything they would collect it because it was the first time,” Geivett said. “There are a lot of people who go into other organizations and say, ‘Hey, this is like an expansion team.’ No, it’s not like an expansion team. When you’re an expansion team you’re starting from scratch.”
Longing for a return to California, Geivett took a job with the Dodgers and worked his way up to assistant general manager before joining the Rockies in November of 2000. In 2005 he was promoted to his current role as assistant general manager and vice president for baseball operations, where he’s worked with GM Dan O’Dowd to build an organization that was named Organization of the Year by Baseball America in 2007.
Despite his flourishing career in Colorado, Geivett still follows Gaucho athletics as much as he can, and he lists the soccer teams 2006 run to a National Championship as his proudest moment as a UCSB alumnus. While he openly talks about moving back to Santa Barbara with his wife when he retires, Geivett is doing what he can in his current position to propel the pro careers of the next generations of Santa Barbara baseball players, a role he takes great pride in.
“He’s been tremendously loyal and when he talks about being a Gaucho, it goes to a new level,” Ferrer said. “He has players in his organization like Spilborghs and [pitcher] Andy Graham who played here and when they do something well, he’ll turn to the general manager or the general manager of another team and just go, ‘He’s a Gaucho.’ Those people don’t even know what a Gaucho is but Bill has that kind of pride.”
When you combine his stature in professional sports, his love for anything Gaucho-related, and the fact that UCSB is currently searching for a new athletic director, the next question becomes obvious: Would Geivett consider replacing outgoing AD Gary Cunningham? Current members of the athletic department view him as an outstanding candidate, and Ferrer insists that he would be tremendous in the role, but Geivett – who can fill up a reporter’s notebook with the best of them – is coy when asked about his future.
“My job right now is here and working in baseball, but I would say that at some point I would like to have more of a connection to the university than I do presently,” Geivett said. “If I could plan my own life, which I don’t really get to do, I would definitely be a part of UCSB in the future and I think its something maybe for down the line. I really love the Rockies and I really love the Gauchos and besides my wife and children, those are the two loves of my life.”