The GM Revolution
A young generation of general managers are testing conventional baseball wisdom as they make their marks in front offices around the Majors
From the Print Edition:
Antonio Banderas, Nov/Dec 2005
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At the start, though, he was simply an anomaly. For a time, he worked in the Orioles scouting department under Charlie Metro, an archetypal baseball man, who had set notions and his blue windbreaker and wondered what this erstwhile schoolteacher could possibly understand. Once, Schuerholz sent out minor-league requisition forms. Metro questioned the act. "What uniform did you ever wear?" he asked Schuerholz. "I was unaware that putting on a baseball uniform made you smarter," Schuerholz responded. So Metro fired him.
In 1981, the same year that Schuerholz was named the Royals' general manager, Sandy Alderson left a law practice to become team counsel of the Oakland A's. Alderson was a Dartmouth graduate with a Harvard Law degree who'd served in the Marines for four years, including a tour in Vietnam. "I went to the A's with the notion that I could always come back," says Alderson, who is now a CEO with the San Diego Padres.
Two years later, he was the A's general manager, working for a friend, owner and fellow attorney Roy Eisenhart, with baseball veterans Bill Rigney and Karl Kuehl at his side. "I really wasn't doing any player evaluation at the time, nor did I have any handle on how to do it," says Alderson. He kept his mouth shut, dressed down so as not to look like a lawyer, and fantasized that he might be the first of a new breed. "I thought maybe there could be a new prototype, people with law backgrounds who could be more proficient in business issues. That turned out not to be the case."
Alderson was proficient enough. From 1988 to 1990, his A's won three American League pennants. Beyond that, he brought a real-world perspective to the sometimes fantastical doings of the industry.
Others saw the value in this. When Edward Bennett Williams was running the National Football League's Washington Redskins for Jack Kent Cooke in the early 1970s, he'd brought in Larry Lucchino, an attorney specializing in sports law, to help. When Williams cashed out of the Redskins to buy the Baltimore Orioles in 1979, Lucchino, a graduate of Princeton and Yale Law School, moved with him. "Williams told me he'd rather reach into the pool of people who'd been selected by his law firm than use traditional baseball people," Lucchino says. "It was a different breed of cat, a better skill set."
By 1988, Lucchino was the Orioles' president, with equity in the team and a general manager below him. He'd hold the same position with the Padres—where he'd try to hire Beane to be his baseball man—and then with the Red Sox. He hasn't played baseball since helping Taylor Allderdice win Pittsburgh's high school championship, but that's fine. In Lucchino's case—and nearly every case—the line of demarcation remained firm into the 1990s. There were lawyers and businessmen to do the law and business, and baseball people to do the baseball.
If a Theo Epstein had come along then, carrying the same Yale degree and obvious intelligence, the existing schemata of Major League Baseball would have offered little hope. "He would have seen that the environment in the industry did not exist for an opportunity to succeed," says Schuerholz. "And he would have been smart enough to have gone to work in another industry."
But baseball was changing. For one thing, the men sitting across the table from Lucchino, Schuerholz and Alderson during contract negotiations were now the furthest thing from baseball men. In the 1980s, a new breed of professional agent had emerged. "Very few had the slightest bit of baseball experience, yet they were certainly evaluating talent," Lucchino says. "So it was getting more difficult to criticize the guy sitting on the other side of the table for having no baseball experience."
And the business of baseball was evolving. "As the franchise values went up, the stakes got higher," says Mark Shapiro, the Indians' general manager. "Some owners recognized that they should have people running this business that held themselves to the same standard as the people running their other businesses."
As a job applicant, Shapiro's only connection to baseball was tenuous, and as much negative as positive: his father, Ron, was one of those agents who'd helped blow player salaries sky-high. Shapiro had attended Princeton and played football as an undersized lineman. In 1992, he left a budding career as a property developer to work in the front office of the Indians, the worst team in baseball.
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