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So You Want To Work In Baseball?
There's no magic formula for getting into the game, but here are 10 tips
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
The math isn’t difficult. With more than 1,000 young people vying for maybe 50 open positions in baseball front offices every year, landing one of them is baseball’s version of winning the lottery. But unlike the Pick 6, this isn’t blind luck. Sense and strategy can put you at the top of any team’s list.
As Braves assistant general manager Frank Wren puts it, no “magic elixir” will impress an organization and get you that first opportunity. But everyone in the business has his or her two cents about starting out properly. Here are the 10 best pieces of advice we've heard:
1. Show Work Ethic And Passion
Will you make airport runs to pick up minor leaguers? “Of course.” Will you photocopy and collate scouting reports while manning the office phone? “You betcha.” Will you make a McDonald’s run at 2 a.m. during draft all-nighters? “Can I supersize that for you?” Nothing can be beneath an entry-level baseball employee, so embrace it all--now. “Nothing can take the place of passion for the game--that’s the main requirement,” Royals general manager Allard Baird says. Almost every GM agrees, but that’s only the first step.
2. Make The Calls
Going to the Winter Meetings job fair is great one-stop shopping, but call every team’s human resources department every three months to inquire about internships. Each club typically has a position open somewhere once a year. “We bring in an intern every summer to help with scouting and major league operations,” A’s assistant GM David Forst says. When you learn of a position, immediately apply, preferably with something in your letter and resume specifically geared toward that team and what they’re looking for. In that regard . . .
3. Be Different
Ten years ago, someone with an MBA, law degree or internship with the NHL would stand out from the pack and grab insiders’ eyes. Now there are dozens of excellent candidates applying for every position across professional baseball. So demonstrate that there’s something unique about your candidacy and qualifications. “Give me something no one else has done,” Nationals GM Jim Bowden says. “Show that you’re innovative--something that separates yourself from the 300 other resumes I get.” You can bet that being fluent in Spanish and perhaps another language--scoutspeak doesn’t count--will vault you up the list.
4. Network, Baby
Almost every person in baseball has a story about meeting someone who helped them break in. (Usually, it’s Roland Hemond.) When you go to a game, talk with scouts before first pitch, ask about how they do their jobs, get their business cards, follow up with a thank-you note, take them to lunch. “Everybody likes to talk about themselves,” Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng jokes, “and every once in a while you get a guy who just thinks you’re the greatest.” When an entry-level spot opens at their next organization meetings, they’ll remember this eager, hard-working kid they met at the ballpark. As with many industries, it’s not just who you know, but who knows you. One other tactic: Scour clubs for people who attended the same college you did. Almost everyone is predisposed to helping a fellow alum.
5. Don't Play Favorites
Even if you prefer the business side to the baseball side, the majors to the minors, administrative to on-field scouting, don’t limit yourself at the start. First, there aren’t enough positions around to be picky. Second, versatility is what will make you an attractive candidate to move up in your organization or another. “We’re a small enough industry where you get in, show what you can do,” Mets assistant GM John Ricco says. “We’re small enough where people move around early.”
6. Be Humble
You don’t know anything. Get used to it. Even if you have grand plans for streamlining player development or scouting Chinese shortstops, nothing turns off an executive more than a know-it-all. Profess a willingness to learn what you don’t know before professing what you do. Beyond that, sharp executives call smell frauds instantly. “It’s true knowledge versus fan knowledge,” Wren says. “When I detect that someone has true knowledge and a passion, then we can start going down that path. When you realize it’s just fan knowledge . . . ”
7. Forget The Great Debate
Raising the torch for either traditional scouting or new statistical methods is for bar rooms, not interview rooms. And a contemptuous smirk at either side will show you the other side of the door almost instantly. Even if you have a predisposition toward one camp or the other, demonstrate that you can play nice with others. If you’re a former player, show you want to learn about the administrative side. If you’re an MBA, say you want to dive into on-field scouting. Or better yet, show that you already have started either process on your own. Arguments can be healthy--but only after you earn respect, not demand it.
8. Advance Scout
Study the background of every baseball person you might come into contact with. Know where they played, who their managers were. Know the scout who signed them. Know what route they took into their current position. Ask unprompted questions like, “What did you learn working for the Indians under Hank Peters?” This will help you on two levels: One, you’ll appear knowledgeable with an appreciation for the game’s history, and two, it’s a subtle stroke of the ego that works.
9. Be Persistent
Jobs open up so infrequently that you need to follow up with your contacts to reaffirm your interest and make sure nothing slips past you. But also remember you’re one of hundreds of candidates, and current executives have far more pressing matters to worry about than whether you’re the person for a far-off entry-level opening. “Be persistent, but not a pest,” Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski says. “Use common sense.” One or two memorable conversations will always go further than 10 just-checking-ins.
10. Get Beyond Passion
Nothing will kill your candidacy more than the oft-used line, “I
just want to work in baseball.” It sounds humble, earnest and
passionate--but betrays a misunderstanding of what teams truly value.
They aren’t hiring people who want to be in baseball--they’re
hiring people who can do the job. Will you be an important part of their
operation? Can you do things no one else can? Will you make it easier
for your higher-ups to get their own jobs done? That is what they’ll
pay you for. If you’re lucky.