Minor League General Manager Moves Are Significant Too

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With good reason, the comings and goings of major league general managers like Theo Epstein grab all the headlines as we head into the baseball offseason.

Epstein is on his way to the Cubs. In addition to the Red Sox promoting a new general manager, then, you also have the Angels and Orioles in the market for new GMs as well. Those moves affect thousands of fans in some of the nation's most passionate baseball markets, so they're going to garner a lot of attention.

But don't sleep on the minor leagues either. While those moves don't affect as many people, they're just as important in the life of your favorite franchise. A minor league GM doesn't have anything to say about the makeup of his team's roster, but he has much more to say about your ballpark experience as a minor league fan.

Much more than a major league GM ever could, just because major league operations are so large, a minor league GM exerts considerable influence over what goes on with his or her team, from what is sold in the concession stands to when you might be able to see fireworks. The influence increases the smaller a franchise's front office is.

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So the changes at the top of a minor league franchise may not be as earth-shaking, but they're still worth watching. And just as October signals the beginning of tweaks or outright makeovers in the majors, the same thing is happening in the minors. The most notable is longtime Norfolk GM Dave Rosenfield stepping back from those duties, while remaining with the club as a senior adviser, and getting replaced by Joe Gregory, who at 32 becomes the youngest GM in the International League.

Orderly transitions usually signal good health for a franchise. In the Midwest League, for example, Beloit Snappers GM Jeff Vohs stepped down after 11 seasons with the club, including seven as GM, to go work for a local bank.

The Snappers said in a release that Vohs had posted six straight "positive financial years" with the team, so they stayed the course in naming his replacement, promoting assistant GM Matt Bosen. Bosen became the 10th GM in the club's 30-year history.

Snappers chairman Dennis Conerton has worked with the team for more than 20 years and worked with eight of the nine GMs who previously led the staff, and he directed the process of replacing Vohs.

"In all the years I've been involved with the Snappers, Jeff has been the best general manager I've ever worked with," Conerton said in a release.

Bosen started his baseball career in 2007 with the Nashville Sounds (Pacific Coast) as an intern. Beloit hired him in 2008 as director of ticket operations and merchandise, and he was promoted to assistant GM in 2011.

Less smooth was the departure of Auburn Doubledays (New York-Penn) GM Kyle Schoonover, who was forced out in September. Though the team's original release went with the classic "resigned to pursue other interests" routine, it was clear the parting wasn't amicable when the local newspaper reported in October that Schoonover was considering legal action to make sure he gets the money he says he is owed.

The Doubledays have been through a year of upheaval. In addition to a new affiliation with the Nationals, Schoonover was in his first year as GM, coming in after a year with the Mobile BayBears (Southern). Longtime Auburn CEO Tom Ganey, who had worked with the team for six decades, stepped aside in July. The team and Ganey couldn't even agree on whether he had resigned or retired, but Schoonover's departure seemed to indicate overall unrest in the team's leadership.

The team sought stability by hiring local native Adam Winslow, who had been working in minor league hockey with the nearby Rochester Americans, to replace Schoonover. Winslow told The Citizen newspaper of Auburn that one of his goals when he graduated from high school was to be part of the senior management of a sports franchise by the time he was 30. He not only accomplished that goal, but did it in his hometown.

"As corny as it sounds, it's definitely a dream come true," Winslow told The Citizen.

Shortly after that announcement, an attorney representing Schoonover sent the team a letter requesting 60 days pay, as required to terminate Schoonover's contract (he was in the first year of a two-year deal). Schoonover told The Citizen he was fired before end-of-season bonuses would have been paid, getting forced out when he refused to resign.

"The whole time I was in Auburn I didn't receive the support I was told I would get," he told the paper. "I'll be the first to admit, not everything went right in 2011, but some of the problems that came up, we had solutions to."

We'll leave it to the people in Auburn to sort out who's right and who's wrong, but it's clear that your franchise's outlook is much brighter when replacing your GM doesn't involve hiring lawyers.