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GM History Lesson
A future general manager has long been a student of the game -- and we have proof
By Dave Dombrowski
2005 General Manager Package:
• General Manager Roundtable
• Ten Tips For Getting Into The Game
• Three Major League GMs Recount Their Path
• Fighting To Get In: Getting To The Top Isn't Easy
• GM History Lesson: Dave Dombrowski's College Thesis
• Minor League GMs Focus On Customers
• Indy GMs Find Added Worries
• The Baseball America Executive Database
In 1978, a senior at Western Michigan University wrote an honors thesis called, “The General Manager, The Man in the Middle.” That student? None other than the current Tigers president and GM, Dave Dombrowski.
Part of Dombrowski’s paper was devoted to the history of baseball’s GM position, which in some ways began with former umpire Billy Evans being hired as Cleveland’s “general manager” in 1927. Few of us would allow any of our college work to become publicly available, so we thank Dombrowski for letting others read what he wrote back then:
Before 1927, there were other men who ran ball clubs for absentee owners in the 1920s, although they were not called General Managers. William Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs, had Bill Veeck Sr., President of the Cubs, run the club, and operate like today’s General Manager. Tom Yawkey, multimillionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox, had Eddie Collins and Bucky Harris run his team . . .
As more absentee owners bought baseball franchises, the need for a day-to-day leader of their clubs was apparent. The General Manager became a man who ran the team and directed all club operations. He was the overseer of the smallest detail, or the most complicated trade. The General Manager ran stadium operations, headed the farm system, constantly checked with minor league managers, kept current progress of every player in baseball, checked ticket sales, and performed many other functions . . .
Before the invention of lights (in the 1940s), and playing of night games, baseball’s front office personnel, led by the General Manager, worked a normal day. The General Manager would arrive at the park at about nine o’clock in the morning, hold his meetings, and make as many decisions as possible before attending the 1:30 game. At the game, the General Manager would closely observe the team’s showing, while evaluating and judging player performance. This duty was mixed in with some public relations work, which meant meeting and talking with club supporters while at the game. This was done until the game was over, at about 4:00 or 4:30, and was followed by about an hour of post game tidying up, allowing the General Manager to return home at about 6:00 at night.
This nine-to-six schedule was quickly erased by the night game. A (GM) still had to be at the park early enough to take care of morning business, but now his afternoon schedule was pushed back until night time. His goodwill and public relations work would still have to be done at the game, as would his player critiques. This permitted the General Manager to increase his work load in the afternoon, taking on more tasks, and increasing his authority . . . More and more decisions were thrust upon him, and often a club’s success depended on the knowledge and performance of the General Manager.
This added responsibility and expanded work load quickly professionalized the General Manager’s position. All clubs were soon run by interested and dedicated men. Working a 12-to-14-hour day was too much for a non-baseball man. General Managers soon became men with not only baseball interest and knowledge, but devotion to the game as well. Then, television entered the game and proved to be just as influential on the General Manager as night baseball had been . . .
Once radio and television were fully adopted by baseball, they were very consequential for the General Manager. It became the General Manager’s responsibility to see that stations were found to broadcast and telecast the games. Once that was completed, announcers had to be hired. When radio and television were first introduced, baseball teams had complete control over the announcers employed. Teams could not be too careful in finding the right commentators that could contribute to the team’s public relations, and make the ball players and team’s performance as exciting as possible. General Managers were given this task of hiring and firing broadcasters. Sponsors were needed for broadcasting time, and contracts had to be written involving commercial time and expense.
By the late 1940s, another new feature, air travel, impacted upon baseball and the realm of responsibility of the General Manager.
Before air travel entered the baseball world, teams journeyed from city to city by train, with trips often lasting the whole day or night. Ball players, writers, broadcasters, and the General Manager moved freely throughout the train, as card playing, eating, and socializing occupied the travelers’ free time. A feeling of camaraderie developed among these men . . . However, when air travel was introduced into baseball in the 1940s, this sense of community disappeared. With trips no longer lasting the whole day, but only a few hours, the socializing quickly narrowed down. Smaller groups of friends were formed, and the “baseball family” rapidly dwindled in size. The General Manager no longer had spare time on trips to gossip with the writers and broadcasters, and his closeness with them vanished . . .
The American League increased to ten teams in 1961, followed by a similar increase of the National League in 1962. At the same time, (corporate) ownership came into the game . . . Television revenues and gate attendance increased, indicating the intensified interest in the game. Other traditions of baseball also began to change. Spring training, previously confined to Florida, expanded to the West. Winter baseball became increasingly popular in South American countries because of the growing number of Latins in the game, and in turn, aided in the development of young players . . .
(Baseball) was big business, and with the increased burden on the General Manager, baseball front office staffs had to be expanded. Previously there were five to ten members on a front office staff, now there are at least twenty-five or thirty.
The General Manager began to delegate more and more authority--he just
could not perform all the functions by himself. The General Manager,
although still sitting on top of the organization, had to entrust a
greater amount of his responsibility to fellow workers. However, another
factor loomed even more important in the future of baseball, as the
players suddenly became aware of the business aspects of the game.