What it takes to be a GM

Torre more clueless than usual yesterday
Power outage affecting NYC subway service

RAB fave Keith Law sat down for an interview with Lion in Oil. He made a great comment about what a GM’s responsibilities really are:

LIO: With the explosion in fantasy sports, it seems like everyone thinks they could be a GM. Could you give us some insight into the things a GM has to do that the average fan might not know about?

KL: That’s a great question. I got an email a few months ago from a reader who said he thought he could do a much better job than (some GM I won’t name) if he could get the chance … and I didn’t respond, because I couldn’t think of a way of doing it without mincing him into tiny pieces. Seriously – give the average fan a GM job and by 5 pm of his first day, he’ll be crying for his mommy.

A GM’s job goes so much farther than just setting the major-league roster, but that’s the part the average fan thinks about. A GM also has to run the entire baseball operations department, with five or six direct reports including the manager (of course), assistant GM, scouting director, farm director, head trainer, and maybe some special assistants, and to do that job he has to constantly be on top of everything going on with the big-league club and all of his affiliate teams, which includes a lot of crap that you don’t hear about on the outside. A GM also has to deal with the media, which even in a soft media market like Toronto is still a big time sink. A GM also has to be the liaison between baseball ops and the rest of the company – marketing, sales, corporate sponsors (all of whom want his time), PR, the team’s charitable foundation, and so on. And he has to be accountable to his boss or bosses, which (if he’s any good) means managing upwards, regularly talking to or meeting the President or the owner or both.

To be good at the job, a GM also has to have a lot of characteristics other than the ability to make trades and write comments on message boards. He has to be a leader, has to be somewhat articulate (a rule I admit is often broken) to be able to deal with the press and to make a strong impression on people in finance or with corporate sponsors, has to have some financial sense, and should be able to evaluate players, whether it’s via stats or scouting or both. He has to be able to think strategically, to craft a long-term plan while dealing with short-term realities, and to ignore the media and fans who demand this move or that. And it doesn’t hurt to be just plain smart, because a good GM assimilates information from all kinds of sources, synthesizes it, and adjusts his long-term and short-term plans accordingly. Granted, not all GMs have all these traits, but they all have some of them, even the ones we all ridicule. What we see is when a GM doesn’t have good baseball skills, and ultimately that will get him fired because results on the field matter most, but there’s a lot more to the job than that.

Anyway, that’s just off the top of my head. It is a huge job, with lots of responsibilities and pressures and none of the boundaries of time that a typical office job has – if you’re a GM, your phone will sometimes ring at 11 pm, and you have to take it. You’re accountable to everyone.

That last little bit of emphasis is mine, because I think it really puts into perspective the amount of responsibility a GM really has. If I screw up at my job and the Pavano Account ends up costing the company $40 million bucks, I get fired. Relative to me, that’s a big deal, but no one outside the front door gives a shit. If a GM goofs and gets fired, he sees it in the paper, on the Web, and on TV. They say closers need to have a short term memory, bit GMs need an even shorter one.

Another thing Law mentioned that’s worth repeating is that the GM gets direct reports from his manager, scouting director, etc. - a GM is only going to be as good as the people he surrounds himself with. It’s a team on the field and a team in the front office.

(hat tip to Pinto)

Torre more clueless than usual yesterday
Power outage affecting NYC subway service
  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    In this interview, Law mentioned the blogs and sites he has in his RSS reader. I was saddened to see that River Ave. Blues didn’t make the cut.

  • Sherard

    The flaw in the thinking there, however, is that everyone on the internet, and tehrefore the email he refers to come from some 20 something fantasy sports geek. There are a LOT of fans of teams that are older, hold down real jobs with real responsibilities who see their ability to manage whatever company / department they have now as making them eminently more qualified to be a MLB GM than some of the people who currently hold those positions.

    It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a fan of any given MLB baseball team could go through that list and go check, check, check, check. Got ’em all. Where do I sign up ?

    It is certainly a lot of responsibility, but to think that there aren’t thousands of people out there with minimal formal sports or baseball backgrounds that could do the job is seriously delusional.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    I agree Sherard, but I think the point Law was trying to make is that it’s not the glamour filled cake walk that many casual fans think it is. I know I was guilty of thinking that at one point.

  • Sherard

    I don’t know. Relatively thinking, compared to managing X, being a MLB GM might just BE cake. The funny thing is, though, that you don’t get a GM job off the street, and since working in a sports front office is a desirable job, there isn’t any money in it. Kinda like being a sports journalist or ESPN anchor or play by play buy. All things most fans would enjoy doing and might be pretty good at. But most of those people would rather make the cash than struggle to get by and have a great job like second assistant to the traveling secretary or something.

    Of course those are things to think about when you are 20 and not 40.

  • Jon

    I’m not disagreeing with anything, but this begs the question: WHY does a GM have anything to do AT ALL with marketing, charities, corporate sponsors, etc. – it seems the job description itself, if what Law is saying is true, is broken.

    There’s no reason at all the same guy who’s responsible for talent evaluation/putting a good team on the field should be dealing with the rest of that stuff. Someone else should, and they both should be reporting the president/owner.

    This is like the CTO of a software company being responsible for the accounting. Doesn’t happen.

    Actually the more I think about it, I have doubts that Law is correct and that it’s like this in all teams. Maybe some, but even MLB owners are not stupid enough to set up their organizations like this as a whole.

  • yankz

    “They say closers need to have a short term memory, bit GMs need an even shorter one.”

    Explains a lot about Steve Phillips.

  • Barry

    I think any asshole with a minute knowledge of baseball could be a GM and probably do a better job than Brian. It’s a bullshit bureaucracy that’s evolved. All that business information mentioned is a four year degree at any tier 1 or tier 2 college/university, it’s called Business Administration.

  • Craig

    Hi Jon. I work in marketing and can tell you from personal experience that GM’s do interact with corporate sponsors on occasion. I’m sure it is a small part of the job. So Law isn’t off the mark on that front.

  • Craig

    Sorry — meant to type “But Law isn’t off the mark on that front.”

  • b/c

    Given that the most important job of the GM is to build a baseball team, it seems counterintuitive to put all these extra duties on the GM.

    Let the GM concentrate on talent evaluation and building a team.

    I cannot believe that most baseball educated people could not do a better job than certain GM’s in the game.

    Just a willingness to use stats properly would raise certain GM’s head and shoulders above the others.

    Sure charisma and other skills are needed, but the ability ti build a team should be paramount, and GM’s should be picked based on that.