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As the role of the general manager has transformed over the years, so too has the background of the general manager. With the amount of money at stake, the advent and escalation of free agency, and the increases in front office size and responsibility, it's not surprising that teams have dipped into the Wall Street hiring pool to find today's prototype GM. But just how much has the GM profile changed over the years?

Go back to the 1970s and guess the profile of the typical general manager. Maybe you're thinking about a former player turned scout turned front office executive, a hard-nosed traditional baseball type who probably had one (or two) of those Dogs Playing Poker paintings hanging in the old stadium office, and who probably looked like a slightly more athletic version of Jack Arnold from The Wonder Years. You're not totally wrong—if that's what you were thinking—but research has revealed that the '70s were a crazy time in baseball front offices. Perhaps not surprisingly, one overarching stereotype doesn't cover 'em all. Like, say, these guys:

  • Paul Owens, Phillies GM 1973-1982: St. Bonaventure graduate; low-level minor-league journeyman first baseman; manager; World War II veteran.
  • Frank Cashen, Orioles GM 1972-1975 (later Mets): Award-winning sportswriter; University of Maryland law school grad; director of publicity at Baltimore Raceway, a harness track owned by Jerry Hoffberger.
  • Stuart Holcomb, White Sox GM 1971-1973: Ohio State grad; college football and basketball coach at various schools, including Purdue; athletic director at Northwestern.
  • Eddie Robinson, Braves GM 1973-1976 (later Rangers): Paris Junior College grad; 13-year major-league career that included seven different teams and 172 home runs.
  • Roland Hemond, White Sox GM 1974-1985 (later Orioles): High school grad; Coast Guard; long-time Angels farm director.

The 1980s, too, provided a strange mix in contrasts, as Sandy Alderson (Dartmouth College/Harvard Law) was practicing early Moneyball techniques in Oakland while former player Whitey Herzog double-dipped as both manager and general manager in St. Louis—for two years, anyway. Even the '90s featured a good bit of diversity (ignoring the whole white-male thing, which … well, Megan has you covered there): There was Dan Duquette (Amherst College, no playing experience) and Bob Watson (a 19-year major-leaguer) and Randy Smith (no college or playing experience).

Now envision the modern-day general manager. You're probably not thinking about former players or former sportswriters or Waterloo and, instead, you're thinking about the Ivy League: David Stearns, Harvard; Matt Klentak, Dartmouth; A.J. Preller, Cornell. Suddenly Duquette's Amherst degree ranks like 14th on the Prestigious Former School Power Rankings released annually at the GM meetings.

What's it all mean? Well, that's the complicated part—but really, go back and read Megan's piece. For now, let's hold off on further analysis and just focus on some data. What exactly has changed over the years? To investigate, I looked at every new hire—that is, when a GM was hired for the first time—since 1970, tracking each GM's playing experience (minors and majors), whether he graduated from college, and the age at the time of his hire. Check out the following, which lists that information in tabular form:

Decade

#

Avg. Age

Reached Minors (%)

Reached Majors (%)

College Degree (%)

1970s

27

48.6

51.9

29.6

52.0

1980s

31

46.4

67.6

44.1

84.8

1990s

34

41.1

52.9

26.5

94.1

2000s

34

40.4

29.0

9.7

96.9

2010s

20

41.3

15.0

10.0

95.0

There are some broad, easy-to-spot trends: The '70s and '80s featured a significantly higher number of ex-players, as two-thirds of first-time general managers hired in the '80s played professional baseball, and a number of them—like Gene Michael and Jim Frey and Tom Haller—had lengthy on-field careers. Nowadays, GMs rarely even sniff rookie ball, as only three hires this decade—Dave Stewart, Jerry Dipoto, and Mike Hazen—played professionally. Then there's average age, which shifted down sharply in the '90s and has hovered at around 41 since. In the '70s, for instance, only 12 percent of first-timers were under 40 years old when hired; that figure has spiked to near 50 percent since the turn of the century, led by a trio of 28-year-olds (Theo Epstein, Jon Daniels, Andrew Friedman) who earned the keys to their respective organizations between 2002 and 2005.

Perhaps the most interesting column above is the last one. While the number of newly hired GMs with college degrees (or, in some cases, significant college experience) made a substantial jump from 52 percent to 85 percent from the '70s to the '80s, it's remained mostly stagnant since then, and at 95 percent, there isn't much room to go up. What might be more interesting, however, isn't the percentage of GMs with a college education on their resume but where those spiffy diplomas have come from.

Consider the following table, which shows the percentage of hires who graduated from an Ivy League school like Yale or Harvard, along with the average (present-day) acceptance rate of each GM's college:

Decade

Ivy League (%)

Avg. Acceptance Rate (%)

1970s

0

47.9

1980s

3.6

50.7

1990s

3.1

47.8

2000s

16.7

39.9

2010s

40

26.2

There were a grand total of two Ivy-educated GMs hired between 1970 and 1999 (Alderson and Jim Beattie), a figure that was doubled in a 35-day span this fall. Throwing in quasi-Ivy schools like MIT (Farhan Zaidi), Amherst (Ben Cherington), and Wesleyan (Jed Hoyer) only further drives home the point—owners these days like hiring their GMs out of ultraselective private schools, mostly ones located in the northeast.

Notice how GM's colleges have gradually shifted toward the northeast from the 1990s

to the 2000s (left) and 2010s (right)


***

Oh yeah, but what's it all mean?

Any controversy surrounding baseball's new front office hiring practices is often framed around scouting vs. analytics, an age-old debate that also serves as every writer's favorite clickbait standby. There's probably something there, but it's not like Jed Hoyer and David Forst and Farhan Zaidi and [insert Ivy League GM here] are anti-scout, and it's not like every analytically bent team has eliminated or even downsized their scouting departments. In fact, the Dodgers—the left coast version of "Moneyball with money"—actually beefed up their scouting corps after bringing Friedman and Zaidi aboard, while plenty of other organizations put a similarly heavy emphasis on scouting and player development. Many of these GMs even cut their teeth in scouting, including Cherington (area scout) and Hazen (advance scout). The truth is that just about every major-league team, in the year 2015, washes down their tacos with beer, and they're all reaching for some variation of the same goal: win as many baseball games as possible within an allotted budget.

Beyond the silliness of stats vs. scouts, the bigger issue might be whether MLB teams are eschewing qualified would-be GMs that are older than 40 or didn't graduate from a private, northeast college in pursuit of that goal. What will come of Gabe Kapler or Kim Ng or Logan White or the 20-year-old currently majoring in baseball at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho? It's fair to wonder whether MLB has trended too far in one direction too quickly, and if organizations that look outside the box for front office talent will be rewarded while other teams have significantly narrowed their candidate pool.

References and Resources

Baseball America's executive database
Baseball Reference
An in-depth paper by Glenn M. Wong and Chris Deubert analyzing the job and characteristics of GMs through the years (didn't find it until I was almost finished with this one)
Google Maps

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alvinfan
11/11
Who is the GM that went to Sul Ross in Alpine, Tx?
alvinfan
11/11
Wait, thats Uvalde. What school is there? A teaching college?
dutt22
11/11
That's Southwest Texas Junior College (Randy Smith).
jfranco77
11/11
First, let me just say that I love maps as a data visualization tool. Rarely works for baseball, but bravo! Second, what does the typical hiring pool look like at Wall Street these days? Are they still fishing in the same pool or have they moved on? Is MLB just lagging Wall Street by 30 years?
dutt22
11/12
On the first part, thanks; glad that worked. On the second part, my guess is that the usual prestigious colleges still stick out on a resume, but I could be off there. Maybe something to look into ...
mfrasca
11/12
Billy Beane spoke at my company's annual user conference this year, and he said that the effect of Moneyball that he was proudest of was that it had changed baseball front offices from a clubby network of former players into a meritocracy that was now hiring from the top universities in the country, competing with Wall Street and Silicon Valley. He said that in a few years he would not be qualified to interview for his own job anymore. My thought was that maybe that's not such a better world. Here's a young man who worked his way up from being a player, through scouting, to the GM's office, who despite having only a high school diploma showed a penchant for implementing bold ideas and taking on entrenched orthodoxies. I'm not sure it's a victory that that guy probably wouldn't make it far in baseball now, and I fear that front offices have merely traded one old boy's club or for a new one, moreover a club based on what school you got into when you were 17.
davinhbrown
11/12
Good points sir.
dutt22
11/12
Yeah, great points. Where were you when I was trying to finish this article?
jonjacoby
11/17
Given the recent increased focus on the growing lack of diversity in managerial hiring, I wonder if it's linked to shift in GM hiring? Black enrollment in the Ivies is at about 10% same as percentage in MLB.