In the corporate world, the title GM, or general manager, refers to a person in charge of overall business operations. In the world of professional baseball, however, it refers to the person who controls the rights to player personnel and is in charge of building the team. To get a real-life understanding of the job in Major League Baseball, the birthplace of the position, Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels agreed to be interviewed.
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"A new challenge at age 25, it's exciting," said 34-year-old Texas Ranger General Manager Jon Daniels. Talking under clear blue skies and a dazzling sun at the team's spring training camp in Surprise, Arizona, Daniels was expressing his expectations for Japanese pitching ace Yu Darvish.
Daniels became the Rangers' GM in the fall of 2005. Just 28 years and 41 days old at the time, he was the youngest general manager in the history of Major League Baseball. In 2010 and 2011 the long-slumping Rangers made consecutive appearances in the World Series, and this year they acquired Darvish, making Daniels one of the most talked about GMs in the game.
FIVE-YEAR PLAN TO ACQUIRE DARVISH
As a player, Daniels' career extended only as far as Little League. Rising up the ranks to GM, a degree in applied economics and management from prestigious Cornell University made up for his lack of playing experience.
"He (Daniels) is a hard worker, willing to labor late into the night," said John Blake, 56, Rangers executive vice president of communications. Evan Grant, 46, a reporter who has covered the Rangers for 16 years for The Dallas Morning News, a local newspaper, said, "He drives forward and is not afraid of making a mistake. He is especially adept at considering matters from a long-term perspective." Daniels amply demonstrated this forte last winter in the drama surrounding the acquisition of Darvish.
It is said that the signing of Darvish was the crystallization of a five-year plan started in 2007. Due to the slumping performance of Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, opinions of Japanese players were turning negative. Daniels' greatest challenge initially was figuring out a way to convince the team's skeptical owners to bid for the player. "We squashed all their doubts with our scouting, which was extremely thorough."
Jim Colborn, who was involved in the Seattle Mariners' acquisition of Ichiro, was welcomed onto the team as director for Pacific Rim Operations and began researching the Japanese market in earnest. In 2010, Colby Lewis, 32, joined the team from the Hiroshima Carp, and in 2011, Yoshinori Tateyama, 36, came over from the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters, where he was teammates with Darvish. That both pitchers contributed to the team winning consecutive American League Championship Series helped shore up the argument for acquiring Darvish and led to the Rangers making a total investment of approximately $110 million (8.82 billion yen) for the pitcher. One of the team's joint owners told the U.S. media, "He has an electric presence; my thinking (about him) has changed 180 degrees."
During training camp, Daniels was hustling about all the time. On the field he was making the rounds talking with coaches and the field manager, constantly gathering information. He could be found making good use of any spare moment deep in conversation on his cellphone. It is said that he works no less than 100 hours a week.
When asked where he gets the energy, his answer was simple, "I want to have the Rangers be number one in the world every year." Having a combination of both passion and intelligence, the young GM is running at the front of the pack.
TOUGH NEGOTIATIONS WITH SPORTS AGENTS
A GM keeps an eye on about 200 players, coaches and other personnel, including those in the team's minor leagues, and also manages trade negotiations. In the case of Brian Cashman, 44, the New York Yankees' GM, he has had to quarrel with intense and demanding owners such as the quick-to-fire-a-manager former owner George Steinbrenner.
The GM job and the innate qualities required by the role are changing with the times. Looking at the position from 1989 onward reveals a job characterized by a declining emphasis on playing experience and a greater focus on youthfulness and higher education.
"The job has become much more complex than in the past," said Daniels. It is thought that the title of GM originated in the first half of the 20th century. However, during that time, the primary responsibilities of the job were discovering and developing talent; negotiating contracts was less difficult. Since the introduction of the free agency system in the 1970s, however, agents well-versed in business have inserted themselves between the players and the ballclubs, complicating negotiations.
For a GM unstudied in management, negotiating with an agent such as Scott Boras (Matsuzaka's agent) is difficult. That business acumen is a requisite is evidenced by the appearance of GMs such as the Tampa Bay Rays' Andrew Friedman, 35, who transitioned over from a job on Wall Street.
Chris Deubert, an attorney with in-depth knowledge of the sports business in the United States, pointed out, "In the past 30 years the size of the pro sports market in the U.S. has grown dramatically. It's necessary for a GM to also have a good understanding of finance and law." Gender is irrelevant if a person fulfills the requirements. Currently two teams have women serving as assistant GMs who are possible "candidates" for the top spot.
The increased amount of data resulting from rapidly progressing computerization and digitization is also a reason business and analytical skills are needed for the job. The use of "sabermetrics," the baseball statistical theory highlighted in "Moneyball," the film about Billy Beane, 50-year-old GM for the Oakland Athletics, exemplifies this need.
Proposed in the 1970s, sabermetrics emphasizes on-base percentage and slugging percentage over batting averages. Base stealing and sacrifice bunts produce easy outs and are thus not considered good moves. Though it was a theory initially ignored because it went against traditional baseball values, it is something Beane, leader of one of the best "poor" small-market teams in the majors, has relied on (since becoming GM in 1997).
"It (sabermetrics) is the final conclusion (one comes to) after thinking about how to make a team with limited funds strong." Beane, who is a high school graduate, has surrounded himself with Harvard grads as assistants. Ignoring scouts who use traditional methods to evaluate player potential, Beane successively acquires low-salaried players who correspond to his theories, such as someone with numerous faults but a good eye for hitting. The team fought its way up and, entering the 2000s, was frequently battling for the division title.
"We're in an age where differences in analytical capability separate the winners from the losers," said Beane. Using the opportunity provided by his success, GMs with a talent for statistical analysis are increasing in numbers.
Theo Epstein, 38, who until last season was the GM for the Boston Red Sox, exemplifies this new breed of general managers. He is a Yale grad who led the Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 2004, their first in 86 years, and was at the helm when they won again in 2007. This season he was lured away to the Chicago Cubs, where he serves as president of Baseball Operations on a five-year contract reported to be worth $15 million. Epstein is on a mission as the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. He braces himself saying, "I can hear the voices of the fans saying 'hurry up.' "
(Kaoru Ishiguro and Morgan Glennon from the New York Bureau contributed to this report.)
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