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2005 General Manager Roundtable
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
Here at Baseball America, we receive gaggles of e-mails every year from young people asking the same question: “How can I get a job in baseball?” Everyone in the industry regularly gets them, and to varying degrees struggles with how to respond.
We devoted seven pages in our last issue to the topic of breaking into a baseball front office, and capped that off at the recent Winter Meetings in Dallas by inviting four major league general managers--Larry Beinfest (Marlins), Jim Bowden (Nationals), Dave Dombrowski (Tigers) and Tim Purpura (Astros)--to participate in our annual Round Table by sitting down with Senior Writer Alan Schwarz to discuss their route to the game, proven strategies for scoring an internship, and advice for front-office wannabes.
ALAN SCHWARZ: What do you want to see from the wave of candidates that crashes on you guys every year?
JIM BOWDEN: We get hundreds of resumes every day, hundreds of phone calls every day. It’s almost absurdity. I want someone to bring to the table something that we never thought of or never knew before. When I got in to baseball, I was willing to do whatever it took, whether that was licking envelopes, making copies, or whatever. But I had to find a way of bringing something to the table they didn’t have. Well, back then there were no computers, so my opening door was saying, “Look, I’ll take all of the information you have in all these file folders, we’ll put them into databases, give you a computer system and network, and then the general manager can push one button to get his information instead of looking for it.” That was my way of getting in the door and opening it. We had a kid this summer come in from an Ivy League school and spend the entire summer just working on lineups and different formations of them, statistically and running things through the computers. He brought something to the table and now he’s a guy we would consider if we had an opening.
DAVE DOMBROWSKI: I would rather have somebody who comes across well, who works hard, who is focused on the task at hand, rather than worrying about five steps beyond of where they’re going to go in their career. I find too many people nowadays saying, “OK, I want to be a general manager today. I want to be the farm director today.” If you do the job at hand, people recognize that and you’ll be rewarded. I also tell people to be persistent, but not a pest. One year in Florida our trainer and physical fitness guy came to me and said, “I have somebody who speaks Japanese,” and we ended up hiring him because whenever we had anything in Japan going on we put him on the phone--he actually took some trips to Japan with our people when we went over there. Now I tell people, if I was looking for the edge, I would learn how to speak Chinese. Because that to me is a place where the game has a chance to grow.
SCHWARZ: We’ve talked about what’s attractive. What is the biggest turn-off, Larry?
LARRY BEINFEST: I think for me it’s the fantasy baseball people, when they know we should do this with this player and that with that player -- and it’s almost playing GM right off the bat. You need to be full-service today, and willing to do whatever it is you’re asked to do very well. I think you need to be able to do a lot of different things. And then whatever you are asked to do, do it well and then you can move on to the next thing. We have a couple of interns in our office--they weren’t hanging out with players, they weren’t making trades, they weren’t hanging out on the field. They did the things they were asked to do and they did them well, and then they got to do the next thing. I think the perception of, “Trade this guy,” or “Do this with this guy,” or “I’m going to do arbitration today” can be a turn-off because there is so much more to it.
TIM PURPURA: There are a lot of people who want to get into the game who don’t understand the team concept, because they have never played on a team and don’t understand that everybody’s got a different role, everybody’s got different strengths. The one thing I’ve seen partly in this day and age of get-a-GM-job-two-years-after-you-got-into-baseball, that it’s more an “I, I, Me, Me” approach instead of, “Hey, how do I add value to the organization so the organization moves ahead?” If the organization moves ahead, you’re going to move with it.
BOWDEN: You can’t walk into this game and have all the answers. It takes a long time to understand the game once you’re in it. When they’re starting out, the good ones always will have three ears and no mouth for the first few years, and are always looking and learning and trying to understand. They’ll ask the right question, they’ll try to take it to the next level. Those are the special ones.
SCHWARZ: What opportunities exist annually for entry-level positions?
DOMBROWSKI: We have about 25-30 interns nowadays who work for us in the summertime. We don’t have one in the major league baseball part of the operation--we don’t really need one because we have all the other supporting people who are there. Where interns help is player development or scouting or preparation for the draft during the summertime. Getting your foot in the door is the most important thing. If you get your foot in the door, you can show somebody that you can do the job. But it is almost next to impossible to get your foot in the door in the baseball end of the operation, because we don’t have many jobs that are available there.
BOWDEN: One of the best ways to get jobs is in the minor leagues, because if you get your foot in the door the responsibilities are so much larger than the big league level. You have a much larger chance to express yourself, you get exposed to the entire operation from the business perspective, if you are a go-getter. You are going to be on the field, in the clubhouse, learning from the baseball people there--the managers, the coaches, the pitching coaches, the trainers, etc. You are going to get exposed to everything. Plus you’re in an arena where all of the scouts come in, the GMs come in, the farm directors come in. If you’re good at networking and good with people, you have a chance at a lot of exposure.
PURPURA: I got my first experience as an intern in spring training in player development with the Angels, and to me, that was the best opportunity I could have had. I paid my dues, I made the copies, I ran and got the GM lunch, and did all the grunt work that you have to do. But I got to sit in on all the meetings. I got to be a fly on the wall. I got to hear how you evaluate players, how you set up teams, I got to sit with Jimmie Reese, with scouts, and absorb. That was the deal. That’s what we’ve tried to do in Houston--we bring in a couple of people a year to spring training, alternate them between the major league side and minor league side, they get to sit in on the player-development meetings. They don’t sit in on the major league meetings certainly, but they’re exposed to the major league operation, how the day-to-day works, how the GM’s office operates in the spring, how the scouts come through, that type of thing.
SCHWARZ: How does someone apply for an internship, say in scouting or player development? Do they talk to your assistant? Send an e-mail to some address?
BEINFEST: It can be word-of-mouth or through a connection, but generally resumes funnel through departments in concert with our human resources department. There will be a series of interviews this time of year because we’ll start in January with a new internship program. It is paid. It is very minimal pay.
SCHWARZ: What is it?
PLAYER: It’s less than $1,000 a month. We have two current full-time employees who were interns. They’re in the game and are working their way up, but they had to do the things that weren’t desirable for college graduates who had high aspirations, but they did them and did them well.
SCHWARZ: Are your internships in Detroit summer-long or full-year positions, Dave?
DOMBROWSKI: Most of them are in the summertime after people are done with their school year, until the next school year begins. Once a while we’ll have a longer one, or if this time of year someone has graduated at the mid-semester, they’re in a position where they can start in the winter and work through that period. Very rarely are they full-year. You know you’re not going to get paid well--the rewards are in the future. It’s a great experience, but because you are going to work long hours, you are not going to get a lot of sleep. You sacrifice some social life in all of it, because you are working on Friday or Saturday night at the ballpark for games and other people are out. That’s just the way it is, and you’re going to sacrifice it. If you’re going to be successful in this game, you are going to have a passion because the hours are very demanding, and you have to be high energy--there is no doubt about it.
SCHWARZ: What’s the worst task you were given starting out, Tim--the hazing process when you were low man on the totem pole?
PURPURA: This is a matter of some dispute. But the truth is that my first job as an intern was to go rent a baby crib for Bill Bavasi’s daughter. He disputes it, he denies it, but it’s absolutely the truth--and I’m going to find the receipt one of these days to prove it to him. That’s as bad as it got. I don’t think people realize--it’s not hazing, it’s do-what-you-have-to-do, and I was happy to do it. I was happy to pick up the meal money, I was happy to go get the sandwiches for Mike Port and Bill Bavasi.
BOWDEN: The worst thing was being asked to pick up Schottzie’s poop, and I refused to do it. Anything else in this game I did it. But not that. I said, “Go get the marketing director to do it.”
BEINFEST: I was an assistant in player development and scouting, and I was asked to drive released players to the airport when they got released. We have all-Americans in the back seat, all of these highly gifted guys, and here I am, driving them to the airport after they got released. It was really eye-opening.
DOMBROWSKI: In Chicago when I started, after the game all the baseball people would come into what they called “The Bard’s Room” at old Comiskey, and Bill Veeck would hold court in the corner. People would listen to him and they would have their beers. If I left that room before 2 a.m. on any night then was an early night. My normal responsibilities were to drive Bill Veeck home from there. I would then drive Roland Hemond home. I lived in the suburbs with my parents still, and by the time I took that route it would take me another extra hour and a half to two hours to come home. A lot of times I got home at 4 a.m., and was back in the office by 8. But I loved what I was doing.
SCHWARZ: We’ve been talking about applicants with the assumption that they have more academic backgrounds and haven’t played the game professionally or at a high college level. What qualifications do you look for in former players that might be different from so-called outsiders?
PURPURA: I think they have to have similar sets of skills, but playing is their extra piece -- a playing perspective. Just like any strength it could be a weakness, if you’re not far enough away from playing and you still think of yourself as a player -- you haven’t broken that bond between the playing experience and the non-playing experience. But I think it’s valuable to have people who have had playing experience, particularly at the professional level, to add a different piece to what I call my teamwork puzzle. I think they still have to be properly prepared in other ways, whether it be academically or experience in the workplace. I think it would be tough to walk right out of a playing career right into the front office without having done some other things and prepared yourself, whether it’s the economics or how to deal with agents, something like that.
BOWDEN: My personal opinion is that you always have an advantage if you played the game. There is some knowledge and wisdom that you can’t learn from studying the books or listening to people--you have to be there on the field. You can gain it in time if you’re there with the managers and players and coaches every day, but everyone brings something different to the table. If you look at our player-development department right now, you have two different people running it. One (Bob Boone) is a baseball person that played the game, won Gold Gloves, has managed and coached, and we have a phenomenal administrator (Andy Dunn). Between the two of them, it’s a tremendous department, and yet one lacks one skill and one lacks the other skill.
SCHWARZ: Are there any books you think people should read? Business books? Maybe “Lords of the Realm”?
BOWDEN: I think lawyer books, business books, accounting books. To run a baseball team today, you have to be a baseball expert, a business expert, legal expert, accounting expert. You have to be a statistical expert. The more knowledge you can have the better. You have to have certain qualities to run a corporation, and you have to have the same qualities to run a baseball team. At the same time you have to have an idea of what the game is all about, which can take years and years to learn. I recommend reading John Schuerholz’s book when it comes out in February.
DOMBROWSKI: From a scouting perspective, “Dollar Sign on the Muscle” was a great book.
PURPURA: When I was trying to get into the game, the internet explosion hadn’t occurred. I had an out-of-town newspaper stand in San Diego where I would buy the Boston Globe and the New York Times, every Sunday. The Chicago Tribune, L.A. Times. That’s where you got a lot of your information. Now people have so much more access to information and some of it is overkill, but to me, that’s where you pick up the patter of what happens in the game, the business. Any book on the business of baseball can give you an entrée into how it really works, but in reality, you have 30 different cultures--you can’t read one book that is going to tell you about what the culture of that club is all about. There are hundreds of books on the business of baseball--there are books from agents’ perspectives, from front-office perspectives.
SCHWARZ: What final pieces of advice do you have for these applicants, many of whom don’t realize that they’re one of maybe 150 or 200 applicants for each position?
DOMBROWKSI: When people come to the Winter Meetings to meet people for jobs, they should set their sights lower than (meeting) the general manager, because the reality is that most general managers simply don’t have the time. They should try to meet other people in the organization that they can make the impression on. They can send their letters and make their phone calls to that type of person. The chances of getting to Jim or Tim or Larry are going to be very remote, so don’t set your sights there. Make sure you’re setting your sights to a lower level where you might get some time with somebody.
PURPURA: People have to understand the volume of what we receive as far as inquiries, and the small number of jobs. If you really want to be in this business you have-to be persistent, but not aggressive and not obnoxious. I’ve got three-ring binders at home--I got advice from Dan O’Brien Sr., and he said to write to every farm director, scouting director, and GM three or four or five times a year. Don’t just send a form letter--write, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing. I’ve been scouting in San Diego, here are a couple reports that I’ve written. If you have any feedback . . . ” I would send them to Roland (Hemond), and he’d red-mark them for me and send them back to me. But after a while I would get the same form letters back from people but they’d have little notes at the bottom saying “Hey, keep it up, you’re doing the right thing.” I’ve got about five from Dave (Dombrowski) that I’ve kept, because that reminds me of how hard it is to get in. I remember a friend of mine worked at a gym in San Diego, and he called me up one day and said, “Hey, Joe McIlvaine is coming in tomorrow to work out in the morning. He’s going to be here at 6 a.m.” Well, I was there at 6 a.m. to meet Joe McIlvaine to get my name in front of him. I’m not saying that we all want people doing that, but you have to be persistent. You can’t send out one letter and expect an instantaneous response saying, “Hey, we’re going to hire you.”
DOMBROWSKI: One thing--when you’re at the Winter Meetings and Jim Bowden is there talking in very serious tones with Larry Beinfest, don’t go interrupt and say “Hi, I’d like to introduce myself. My name is . . . ”
BOWDEN: How about with a beer in the hand?
DOMBROWSKI: People actually do that! It’s not the best time, when people are in heavy discussions, to come over and interrupt.
BOWDEN: You can’t restrict yourself to one organization, major league or minor league. Anytime you see an opening anywhere, apply for it, try to get face-to-face. Don’t shoot to meet the GM to apply to get an internship. I think you’ve got to try to set your sights lower than the scouting director or farm director. Any place you can make contact and try to get an internship. I don’t care if it’s an A-ball team or Double-A team, Triple-A team. Get your foot in the door, get started, and from there you’ll meet people and have a shot.
BEINFEST: Sell your assets and admit your weaknesses. Present yourself as a willing person who is innovative and has a passion for the game, which are all catchwords that we’ve incorporated today. Don’t walk in and say, “I can do this, this, and this, and I’m a talent evaluator and I’m ready to go.” Consider yourself as, “I have a college degree, I have administrative skills, I can do this on the computer, and I speak Spanish. What I can’t do, but I would like to learn, is how to scout. I would like to learn contract administration. I would like to learn the rules. I would eventually like to get into arbitration. And then eventually when I’ve learned all of those things, hopefully I will have shown myself well enough that I can move up the ladder in the organization and ascend to the top.” I think you want a willingness from the candidate to say, “I am not a finished product.” With the Mariners I remember going to Roger Jongewaard, who was our scouting vice president, and asking him, “If I get all my work done, can I go to the game with you and sit with you during a game?” That was so I could learn the areas that I was purely deficient in, which was evaluation and other things. Get your work done, do it well, and then you get to do the next thing.