Friday, September 17, 2010

Who WANTS That Job?

  • No, I'm not talking about the Mets:

Not really.

The Mets are folded into the question be necessity, but the question isn't specifically about them.

The question is about being a big league GM.

It seems that everyone who hasn't got the ability to play baseball professionally wants to find a way to stat/intern/claw their way up to being a big league general manager; it's the pinnacle; the opportunity to build; to create; to mold; and to garner credit, fame and most importantly, money.

Since Moneyball, the number of "outsiders" who've had an opportunity to garner jobs in baseball based on an impressive degree from a respected school or familiarity with the way teams are constructed today is multiplying. Sometimes it's worked and sometimes it hasn't. What I'm wondering is whether the new GMs, once they reach their goal, start to think that the job isn't worth the aggravation.

It's not a simple matter of plugging in numbers and acquiring players. Every team has access to the same statistical analysis as every other team----there's no shortage of people who can explain WAR, VORP, OPS+ and whatever; nor is there an absence of would-be "experts" to latch onto any and all decisions as a basis for Tweets, blog postings, essays and books.

Real life baseball executive work is not an exercise in fantasy; in fact, for many, it degenerates into a nightmare.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why a prospective and ambitious person wouldn't want to be a GM.


In his sleep, Yankees GM Brian Cashman famously used to grind his teeth to the point where it disturbed his wife. This is a byproduct from having worked under George Steinbrenner, but it can be almost as bad in other venues. At the very least, the Yankees had the cash and willingness to pay to cover up mistakes.

It's not only the Yankees that had a meddlesome owner to keep at bay in trying to run a team. The Rangers, Blue Jays, Astros, Orioles, Dodgers, Mets, Cardinals, Padres----many others----have had owners who felt they knew more than their designated organizational baseball boss and haven't been shy about interfering in club machinations.

For every GM who's felt he was going to run things his way and had a plan of attack----by whatever methodology they utilized to come to their decisions----the number of teams who trust their employee and have a relationship which allows them the freedom to implement their plan (the Rays for example), there are ten teams who don't run things that way.

In certain cases, the owner has actually been right. Steinbrenner never let Cashman forget that he'd told him to sign David Ortiz after Ortiz was non-tendered by the Twins; Peter Angelos of the Orioles didn't let Pat Gillick and Davey Johnson dump underperforming veterans in 1996 and they made it all the way to the ALCS; Drayton McLane drove off several qualified GMs, but in most cases, he's been right about not allowing housecleanings to commence.

If I owned a team, I'd want a say in how the team is constructed too, but truth be told, most of these owners don't have the ability to assess players that they think they do. If a GM believes he's going to saunter in and say, "it's gonna be this, that, this, that and the other" and have everything he wants immediately, then he has no idea what he's in for as he works for a super-wealthy person who may own the team because he grew bored with traveling and being a billionaire and wanted to see his name in the papers (see Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys).

Do you think former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi wanted to give that load of money (that's now one of the most awful contracts in the history of baseball) to Vernon Wells? That former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi wanted to acquiesce to the petulant whims of Ichiro Suzuki and force out manager Mike Hargrove? That former Padres GM Kevin Towers wanted Bruce Bochy to leave the club?

No rational mind could believe they did.

Years ago, when I used to listen to the Howard Stern Show, Stern told the story of how he approached his rise in the radio industry; people thought he stormed into his bosses and screamed, "Listen jerk!!! This is how I'm gonna do things!!!" and he didn't; he walked in as a businessman and laid out his plan for everyone to get what they wanted----ratings, advertising revenue and money. It's the same thing for a GM. He has to be able to massage the ego of his (predominately) megalomaniacal club owner and skillfully manipulate the circumstances into his plan.

The media:

The job of being a GM is so much more difficult today than it was 20 years ago. The proliferation of "experts" with a forum and whatever tenets they use----be it stat-related, "inside" information, or just plain skillfully presented nonsense----has put any and all GMs into the crosshairs of someone for one mistake.

A GM has to be able to delegate authority to trusted staff; sift through information; deal with his players as people rather than chattel; and placate the media. Omar Minaya is a prime example of a nice man with a solid acumen in scouting who plainly and simply does not handle the media well enough when crises occur. He's fine when he's announcing a trade for Johan Santana or the signings of Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez, but when he needs to fire someone or speak in circles to give the media what they need without sounding repetitive and nervous, he comes apart.

As bloggers and information at the click of a button has exploded, you can find anyone to say something positively or negatively about anyone. Some of it is accurate and evenhanded; some of it is agenda-laden; some is idiotic. But it's there. Anyone can write anything at any time and this has to be accounted for when hiring a GM----can he deal with the rampant criticism?

I've often ranted about Moneyball and how the protagonist, Billy Beane, took advantage of his newfound fame to make himself a lot of money while absolving himself from blame for that which didn't work. Moneyball is starting to look like one of those creations that is of the "be careful what you wish for" variety. There was no way for anyone to live up to that book no matter what they did. If Beane won four World Series, it would've been said, "well, what did you expect?"; if he faltered (as he has) it's "Haha!!".

Beane made a lot of enemies due to his own participation in the book and the way Michael Lewis made him look like a condescending and arrogant jerk. More than a few people are happy with the way Beane has fallen and it's only going to get worse if and when the Moneyball movie comes out. Paul DePodesta has already removed his likeness from the film and I would tend to think that Beane would love to do the same.

It's amazing how those that prop up the newfound "genius" abandon their totem when it all goes wrong. I preached caution with Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik as the accolades poured in for his scouting/stat-based skills; now he's considered to be tenuously holding onto his job after the way the team has fallen apart, he's fired the manager and his underhanded way of doing things exemplified by the Cliff Lee trade and his apparent dishonesty in the acquisition of Josh Lueke have made him look, at best, self-justifying and at worst, sleazy.

While I understood what he did with Lee and backing out on the Yankees supposedly agreed-upon deal for the Stone Cold Killer (and used it to hammer away at the likes of Joel Sherman), I wouldn't have done it that way----it just looked bad----and this led directly to the other embarrassment that has marred his "genius" the acquisition of the questionable character, Lueke. How much did the pressure of living up to the veneer of "genius" and having to rapidly turn the Mariners around affect Zduriencik's behavior? Was it a circular entity? It's possible.

Who wants to hear a pompous and unaccountable entity like Mike Francesa giving ridiculous advice and calling for people's firings day-after-day? To have talk show callers give solutions to every single ill that affects a team while not having the faintest clue as to all the aspects of being a GM----financial, logistical and personal?


It's easily forgotten when we're watching a press conference; a TV show; a news program or whatever that people are people and things happen. They may have had a fight with their significant other; their child may be sick; they may be having car trouble----real world issues that lead them to not want to be getting into charachter as the strong "boss" for public consumption. They're human beings.

Would a GM know how to handle that which Minaya dealt with in Tony Bernazard? In Francisco Rodriguez? In Johan Santana? These off-field incidents and personalities have to be handled with nuance. The incident with Rodriguez beating up his girlfriend's father in the team family room at Citi Field was folded in as a part of the perceived disarray of the Mets, but what precisely was Minaya supposed to do about that? The Johan Santana rape allegation? It was after the 2009 season; Santana's a grown man and a star player; were the Mets supposed to shadow him in a paranoid, dictatorial way?

Eventually, as the knives are directed at an embattled executive, it's understandable that he would want to be surrounded by people he feels he can trust; Bernazard was universally reviled, but if he was loyal to Minaya, is it a shock that Minaya wanted to keep him around and lashed out at chroncilers of his downfall?

Not only is a GM sometimes working with an irrational and interfering owner, he's got a load of men, 20-40-years-old who are not accustomed to people saying no to them or telling them what to do; they're extremely wealthy, ridiculously self-centered and uninterested in listening to anyone and anything. Then there are circumstances like the "big name manager" who can be arrogant and abusive in his own right.

Does John Mozeliak need to deal with Tony La Russa? Especially when the team is floundering under the "great" manager. (And La Russa is a great manager.) Andy MacPhail is now at the whim of Buck Showalter based on Showalter's reputation; that MacPhail's moves for veteran players and his managerial choices didn't work; and that the Orioles have looked like a different team under Showalter.

Then there are the tragedies of human events.

Do you want to be the one to identify the body of Nick Adenhart after his tragic accident? To hold a press conference after Cory Lidle's plane crash? To have to be the strong linchpin after such an awful occurrence? Perhaps you or I could handle it (I think I could), but do you want to? By choice? Is it worth it?

I don't know if I'd want to. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not that much of an egomaniac that I need to see and hear my name everywhere. If the right people gave me credit (and I was paid well), I'd be fine as a background voice.

The job:

It's a war of attrition to be a GM. Look at Jon Daniels of the Rangers and Andrew Friedman of the Rays. Daniels had to work with Tom Hicks forcing him to do certain things he may not have wanted to do; then he had Nolan Ryan and his Texas swagger come in and exert his will. Daniels was very young when he took the GM reins from John Hart and made what could be considered one of the worst trades in the history of the sport sending Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka; that he held onto his job through all of the turmoil of the Rangers and the fall of Hicks's financial empire and turn the Rangers into a blueprint of how to build a club from the ground up is a testament to Daniels's intelligence and handling of the job.

Friedman was frightened and overwhelmed when he first took the job of running the Rays, but he's taken advantage of a few factors to become a top GM. When the new ownership arrived, the Rays had a strong foundation stemming from the high draft picks that came from years and years of losing; he listens to his assistant Gerry Hunsicker; he has a knowledge of stats; there's an agreement from owner Stuart Sternberg on through the front office that they'll do what's best for the club rather than what's popular; they don't have the deranged fan base that a team like the Mets have to demand movement when it may not be wise; they're constrained by finances which lets them dispatch players they can no longer afford and they're able to deploy their players as necessary without concern of keeping and paying them long term.

There's no question that Friedman is smart, but he's also in an advantageous situation.

Is it that way with the Pirates? Can you blame Neal Huntington for the way that the 2010 Pirates are one of the worst teams I've ever seen. Ever? Partially, you can, but not totally.

Look at Astros GM Ed Wade. Not only does he have McLane hanging over him, but one of his players once started beating him (Shawn Chacon); he was alleged to have allowed his ties to the Phillies influence the trades of Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt to his former team; and he wasn't even given public credit aside from a few knowledgeable people for his part in building the current Phillies club. In fact, he went from being a dunderhead in the Oswalt trade to hearing, "oh, that's not too bad a deal" when he spun one of the prospects he got from the Phillies for Brett Wallace.

Is it possible to go from being an idiot to being smart in the span of a few hours?

If you're a big league GM it is.

Kevin Towers is the hot name for several open or soon-to-be open GM opportunities; but it wasn't long ago that he was on the outs in San Diego for a few mistakes and that he had a new boss in Sandy Alderson who didn't care whether Towers stayed or left. Towers is a strong candidate for the Diamondbacks GM job and he was considered the frontrunner in 2005 when Josh Byrnes was hired instead; Towers had a choice after he lost out on that job----either get with the Alderson bus or be under the bus----he did what needed to be done and still held things together to a remarkable degree. Now, with the Padres in contention mostly due to players acquired by Towers, he's going to get a GM job again.

These men are similar to football coaches. They hate it while they're doing it; hate the hours; hate the media; wish they could rest or take a vacation, but when they have that opportunity after a firing or retirement (see Pat Gillick), they can't stay away.

It's the rush; it's addictive; it's the chance to be the main man and see their name in bright lights as the one who was responsible for the success. They can't escape it, but it's not as easy as people think. Not anywhere close.

  • Okay, this is funny:

The one question I have is why people pay so much attention to the Mets. There was a quote in Skip Bayless's book about the Cowboys in the Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson years ago that the Philadelphia fans have such a complex from so many years of losing that they need the attention even when they're good.

Why do Phillies fans care about the Mets? Wouldn't ignoring them as irrelevant be more appropriate if they're such a non-competitor? Don't they have better things to do?

  • Interviewing the Prince:

Daily reader and frequent commenter Max Stevens posted an online interview with yours truly on his blog, The Lonely One. It's about the Mets and the Angels. Here's the link.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz yesterday. Go to Sal's site to download it on I-Tunes or click it directly here.

Also, Sal managed to get an interview with Len Berman about his new book. And check out SportsFan Buzz on Facebook.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


mike.BTB said...

I caught that vid yesterday; hilarious. Tom Seaver on the wFAN yesterday morning sounded bitter as ever towards M. Donald Grant.

Jeff, Son of Pon, thinks he's a Baseball man. Good Grief.

Jeff said...

Nice interview with Max. And that vid is hilarious.

As far as wanting to be a GM goes, I guess there's a reason why there are only 30 jobs like that in existence. Seems pretty infinitesimal that I'll ever have to worry about any of that myself.

Those guys deserve to get paid... unless the name is DePodesta.

She-Fan said...

I can't imagine the pressures of being a GM. Much easier being a fan and second guessing them all!

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