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Why aren’t more MLB general managers former MLB players?

Mar 14, 2011, 4:16 PM EDT

ruben amaro jr. baseball card

As a follow-up to Ruben Amaro Jr.’s recent four-year contract extension with the Phillies, Jayson Stark of ESPN.com has an interesting article about how only three of the 30 current general managers played in the big leagues.

Amaro is one, along with Kenny Williams of the White Sox and Billy Beane of the A’s. And together they had a total of 536 career hits. Amaro, Williams, and Beane have all had considerably more success as GMs, so why aren’t more former players getting the gig?

I think one big reason is that being a GM is about far more than just signing players and making trades. Back when Terry Ryan stepped down as GM of the Twins in late 2007 he talked about still loving the player-evaluation part of the job, but no longer wanting to have the other responsibilities that came along with it. And his replacement, Bill Smith, has focused more on those “other” aspects of being a GM while his top assistant, Rob Antony, and various other front office members take on a bigger role in player evaluation.

Minnesota is just one example, of course, but my sense is that applies to many and perhaps even most teams across MLB. When fans think of a GM they may imagine a guy making phone calls to other teams, sitting down with agents to hammer out contract details, and talking to scouts about which players they ought to target. In reality there’s a lot more “general” managing going on, and while many former big leaguers are no doubt very good at evaluating players they may not be quite as good at running the day-to-day or business side of things. Or at least not as good as the increasing number of Ivy League-educated GMs.

Obviously some GMs thrive at both aspects of the job, and it’s probably not a coincidence that Amaro and Williams both attended Stanford University and Beane was headed to Stanford prior to signing with the Mets out of high school. In many ways they’re extremely smart guys who just happen to be former players. I’m sure there are many more than three guys capable of hitting a curveball and being the face of a huge organization, but the modern GM job calls for a lot more than just deciding who to sign or trade and playing baseball at the highest level isn’t necessarily the best way to prepare for those other responsibilities.

  1. proudlycanadian - Mar 14, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    Speaking of former players! To the surprise of nobody in Toronto, Greg Zaun has agreed to become a full time analyst for the Canadian Sports Network “Sportsnet”. Sportsnet was the first to report his retirement this spring. He has worked as a playoff analyst for them before and was quite good.

  2. fquaye149 - Mar 14, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    Not to mention GM’s really have to pay their dues in the organization working their way up the operations ladder. That basically eliminates anyone whose baseball career has made them independently wealthy unless they have an undying passion for being a GM (and really…why would they?). Certainly someone like Greg Maddux or Mike Mussina probably has the mental acumen to be a GM, but why on earth would they invest five years of their life in the low levels of a system just for the potential of one day getting a GM job if something opens up and they excel at low level management?

    • proudlycanadian - Mar 14, 2011 at 7:46 PM

      agreed.

  3. Utley's Hair - Mar 14, 2011 at 11:14 PM

    What are the numbers on former players in the manager ranks? My guess is that they’re more prevalent there, with the players, rather than in the suit upstairs, away from them.

  4. reospeedwagon916 - Mar 15, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    Because most of them aren’t intelligent and the ones that are don’t have quant backgrounds from Ivy League schools.

  5. tungping - Mar 15, 2011 at 12:09 PM

    Quant’s background is usually math, statistics, or physics. Guy good at sabermetrics usually works for GM, not the other way around. Epstein’s major at Yale is American Studies. Sandy Alderson was a ROTC at Dartmouth, then a marine at Vietnam, before went to Harvard Law School.

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