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Profile of a GM in 2010

03.14.10 at 9:50 pm ET
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It is a commonly held belief that the resume of baseball general managers is changing rapidly. An industry in which decisions were made on the basis of gut instincts and scouting reports now demands different sorts of information and, the thinking goes, personnel with different backgrounds than those who held the job in previous decades.

Thus, there is a belief that GMs are younger than ever before, drawn from a pool of graduates of elite, liberal arts colleges and universities where they learned to value the sort of interdisciplinary analysis that is now prevalent among GMs when they are making deals.

Yet there is a potential to exaggerate or misread the tendencies in the industry. Most notably, the idea that GMs are now younger and more educated than ever seems at least somewhat misleading.

In 2000, GMs were, on average, 46.8 years old. Of the 30 GMs in the game, 29 had some college education; 14 had played some pro ball. In 2010, GMs are almost the exact same age, averaging 46.6 years. Of the 30 current GMs, 28 had some college education, though fewer (8) have experience as pro ballplayers.

The influence of the Ivies has grown, though the degree of that increase can be exaggerated. There were two GMs in 2000 (Dave Dombrowski and Jim Beattie) with ties to Ivy League institutions 10 years ago; now, there are five.

It is unquestioned that GMs now must process different kinds of information than they did in the past. The variety of statistical data available when making transactions has evolved rapidly in the industry. So, too, have the expectations of owners when asking for explanations of multi-million dollar transactions.

“In some cases, these were smart ownership groups and they were taking gambles with money and saying, ‘I’m better off going to Vegas and betting on black. So why did you do this? You did it off your gut? I need a better answer than that. Why are you suggesting I invest X amount of millions of dollars in a certain direction?’” said Yankees GM Brian Cashman. “Owners, just like anything else, they want a business plan with reasoning behind it.

“So, when we acquired Nick Swisher from the Chicago White Sox, to take on the contract that he had, we were able to represent to ownership that we felt, for a lot of different reasons, that the year he had, its statistics were a little bit misleading. He was unlucky for the following reasons: his line drive percentage, his chase percentage, his take percentage were all similar to previous years, his BABIP was a certain number. This was bad luck more than anything else, and everything else was more like the same line and he was due for a bounceback. That was the same year that, for a lot of reasons, we came up with idea that if we buy low, we might – might – get the same player we tried to acquire in a trade from Oakland the previous year.”

Yet it is not just younger GMs with advanced diplomas who have thrived amid a different set of expectations and job demands. While the job description of a modern GM has no doubt changed, there are many who have been a part of the industry for decades — as players, coaches and executives — who have successfully adapted to different industry forces.

“You’ve got a broad range of guys. The common thread is that each of these people are highly intelligent and each are driven to be successful and to find advantages. Each of them in their own way has kind of upped the standards and expectations of talent bases across major league front offices,” said Indians GM Mark Shapiro. “When I say the quality, intelligence, aptitude and capability of front offices across the board has increased, it’s not just because some guys from Ivy League schools have become general managers. It’s because the standards have been raised, the competition is greater and people are adapting.”

(Disclaimer/shameless plug: I wrote about the changes that have (and have not) taken place in the job descriptions of GMs over the past decade for Baseball America’s season preview. To read that article, click here.)

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