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How I Did It
Three major league GMs recount their path to the top job
Compiled By Alan Schwarz
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
JIM HENDRY, Chicago Cubs
I didn’t take a very normal route to the GM job. I was the coach at Creighton University from 1984-91, and never had it on my radar screen. Originally I hadn’t even planned on being a coach--I wanted to be in television--but landed in coaching and loved it.
You can’t help but meet pro people as a Division I coach. I guess I left a good impression on three executives in Montreal, Dave Dombrowski, Gary Hughes and Orrin Freeman, because after they went to the Marlins in 1991 they approached me about joining the expansion team. It was a pay cut but this was maybe my only chance at pro ball, so I said yes.
I was everybody’s assistant at once, especially preparing for the expansion draft in November 1992. I had to learn every organization top to bottom. There was a ton of grunt work, but they treated me like I had a future. I figured I could be a farm director or something, maybe an assistant GM when I was 50. But after a few years, Dave told me one night, “You’ve got a chance to become a general manager someday.” I respected Dave a ton. I knew he wouldn’t say that lightly.
After another year or two I became the Cubs’ farm director, and things have grown from there. I started to get the confidence that I could be as successful in pro ball as I’d been in college. It was handling players, evaluating them, being organized with what they can do and can’t do. But you can’t start off in baseball thinking, “In two years I’m going to be this and five years the GM.” I’m very lucky--my path is not only unique but it was pretty fast. Tons of great people in this game don’t get those types of breaks.
I went from being a pretty prominent coach coming off Omaha to a 35-year-old stringing film for Gary for the draft and working Dave’s draft board at 11 o’clock at night after I’d scouted two amateur games that day. Why? I trusted the people I was doing it for.
TIM PURPURA, Houston Astros
A lot of people will tell you that Roland Hemond helped get them into the game. I’m one of those lucky ones.
In 1988, I was about 30 and a dean of students at a school in California. I liked going to baseball games, though, and loved watching early batting practice. I met Roland in the stands--he was there scouting--and I told him, “I love baseball and it means a lot to me. How do I get in? How do I make it a career?” Roland said, “Go to law school. Someday lawyers are going to run the game.” What a prophet!
While I was getting my degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. I kept in touch with Roland--maintaining relationships is what baseball is all about, I’ve learned--and he recommended I not wait until graduation to get some practical experience in the game. I volunteered at the All-Star Game in Anaheim in 1989, doing all sorts of miscellaneous tasks, and from 1990-92 I took time off of work and school to go to spring training with the Angels. I did a player-development internship with Bill Bavasi, I met Mike Port, and it was a great foundation for a career in player development.
When Mike left to start the Arizona Fall League, he hired me to help. I was able to see those players and sit with scouts and pick their brains about how to evaluate. After that the Astros hired me as assistant director of minor leagues, and I moved up from there.
Although I was in the door, I had to learn what it means to run a baseball department, beyond evaluation to dealing with coaches and managers and putting together teams. And if you’re lucky enough to become a general manager, you take on a whole new level of responsibility, to your owner and the whole finance and budget part of it. If I could re-do my academic career I would have taken many more courses in accounting and finance because there are some pretty lofty things you have to deal with in this job.
ALLARD BAIRD, Kansas City Royals
I was never somebody who considered baseball work. If you’re in baseball, whether it’s in baseball operations, on the field or on the business side, if you consider this work, you’re in trouble. You’re going to be expected to go the extra mile all day every day.
I learned that early, when I was a coach in the minor leagues. You don’t watch the clock. I was at the ballpark all the time, learning about players and helping them learn, too. Then I went into scouting, and any scout knows that’s no 9-to-5 job. Sometimes you have to watch three games in three different states on the same day. But believe me, when you have a chance to scout and sign a good prospect, it’s worth every bleary-eyed hour you put into it.
If you’re given the opportunity to work in baseball, I would definitely encourage you to start on the field somewhere, or in scouting, or at least be around the field as much as possible. I know that many people today get into baseball through internships and the analytical side of the game, and that is great. But traditional methods go hand-in-hand with new innovations to maximize your decision-making. What you gain from several seasons on the field cannot be learned in an office, especially if you wind up working for a smaller-revenue team where player development experience becomes paramount.
Either way, remember that the best-laid plans are great, but life occasionally
gets in the way. You have to have a backup plan, you have to have a
third plan. You can’t have only one way to go about a career in
baseball. A diversified skill set will allow you to execute whichever
plan you use. You have to have in the back of your mind other alternatives
because whatever road you’re offered might be the one you have