- Major League Baseball General ManagersAn Analysis of Their Responsibilities, Qualifications, and Characteristics
I was not able to understand how it could be right to pay an actor, or a singer, or an instrumentalist for entertaining the public and wrong to pay a ball player for doing exactly the same thing.Albert Spalding
The 2008 World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays was a study in contrast for the two teams’ front offices. The eventual champion Phillies were led by General Manager (GM) Pat Gillick, who had forty-five years of experience in Major League Baseball (MLB) front offices. Gillick, seventy-one, had previously been GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles, and Seattle Mariners after having broken into the industry in the scouting departments of the Houston Colt .45s and Astros and the New York Yankees. The Phillies’ victory was Gillick’s third World Series title as a GM, having guided the Blue Jays to championships in 1992 and 1993. In his twenty-seven years a GM, Gillick’s teams made the playoffs eleven times.
On the other hand, the Rays’ GM was thirty-one-year-old Andrew Friedman, who was only in his fifth MLB year. Like Gillick, Friedman played college baseball. However, Friedman never made it to the minor leagues like Gillick. Instead, Friedman, who earned a BS in management with a concentration in finance from Tulane University, worked on Wall Street, first for Bear Stearns then for MidMark Capital. Friedman got into baseball after he had a chance to meet Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg, a fellow New Yorker who made his fortune on Wall Street.
Gillick and Friedman exemplify the increasingly divergent paths MLB GMs have taken to their positions. In any case, the obligations of a MLB GM are difficult and wide ranging. The first part of this article will examine some of the duties of a GM, including representing the organization at league meetings, [End Page 74] preparing for amateur player drafts, negotiating with agents, representing the club during salary arbitration, dealing with the media, managing the club’s payroll, ensuring compliance with MLB rules and the collective bargaining agreement, and of course creating and developing the club’s roster.
The second part of the article will examine the characteristics and experiences of MLB GMs, including playing experience, coaching experience, education, age, gender, race, family ties, and career path. In addition, the article will provide a longitudinal study, showing how these traits have changed over twenty years, comparing GMs from 1989, 1999, and 2009.
Major League Baseball GM: A Brief History and GMs in the Twenty-First Century
The Business of Baseball
Ever since the days of Albert Goodwill Spalding in the late-nineteenth century, baseball has been run like a business. Spalding, a team owner and prominent businessman, tried to export the game to other countries, realizing a great opportunity to sell his company’s bats and balls, thereby reaping tremendous profits.1 Spalding was one of the original pioneers and advocates for professional baseball and was the first owner to cry out in response to increasing salaries. “Professional Baseball is on the wane. . . . Salaries must come down or the interest of the public must be increased in some way. If one or the other does not happen, bankruptcy stares everyone in the face.”2 In 1879, excessive player turnover among ball clubs prompted the creation of the “reserve clause,” which allowed each team to “reserve” five players each year that could not sign with another team. Eventually the reserve list expanded to the entire roster and was a important piece of the way business was done in MLB for almost one hundred years.
In 1972, outfielder Curt Flood challenged the reserve system and lost in the Supreme Court of the United States,3 but his case paved the way for the Messersmith-McNally grievance, which allowed players to earn rights for free agency. The business of baseball was changed forever and became more complex. Baseball’s reserve clause gave teams a perpetual option, i.e. that at the end of each season the team had the right to exercise...