I am a guest on many radio shows where the hosts are often critical of the moves made by general managers as well. They can't understand why the GM didn't realize that he needed more pitching. They can't understand why the team didn't spend more money in the offseason or make that big blockbuster deal. Talk show hosts promote spending the owners' money. They articulate trade ideas that anyone could see would improve the team.
What I have come to understand is that everybody believes they can be a general manager.
That makes me realize that NOBODY UNDERSTANDS WHAT THE GENERAL MANAGER'S JOB REALLY ENTAILS!
Most fans (I am including talk show hosts as fans) believe that the general manager's job is all about putting together the major league team. Certainly that is a major part of the job, but it is far from the entirety of it. There are many more responsibilities that a general manager has beyond just building the 25-man roster in the big leagues. Let's take a look at some of those duties and then we will look at the major league roster construction.
The general manager does a lot of reading. He reads the daily game reports for the six or seven minor-league teams under his guidance. He pays particular attention to the comments written by the respective minor league managers/coaches. Results are important but improvement isn't exclusively evaluated by results. In the minor leagues, the process is often as important as the results. What this means is that the GM needs to understand the development plan for each of his minor leaguers and monitor that plan. He may make calls to the minor-league director, minor-league field coordinator in addition to the minor-league managers or pitching coaches.
The GM is also keeping tabs on the amateur scouting department and their preparations for the Rule 4 draft in June. Who are the players being considered for the first-round selection? What do the scouting reports say about the players who could be available when they select? What is the signability of these players? Are the club's resources being spent appropriately? More time and money should be spent scouting the players who will get paid the most money. The GM has daily communication with the amateur scouting director and possibly with national crosscheckers who are seeing all of the top talent in the draft.
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The general manager has to manage the people below him on the organization chart, but he must also manage the people above him. In most organizations that means the owners, but it could also include a team president or a board of directors. The bosses need to know what the GM is doing and thinking. Some GMs choose to flood their owners with information while others keep their ideas close to the vest. Either way, communication with those who control the flow of money is critical and necessary.
The media gives baseball teams millions of dollars of free advertising every year. Between the Internet, newspapers, television and radio there are a multitude of ways for a club to get out its message. The general manager is the primary spokesman for the team. He communicates the personnel and business decisions of the organization. He can help market the team to the fans. He can humanize the players. The GM can educate the media and the fans about the game as well. There is rarely a day that goes by that a GM does not have contact with members of the media. Each interaction is an opportunity to deliver a message of hope to the fans.
Community relations is very important to major league teams. The individuals that represent the organization and the team itself are looked at as citizens within the local community. The general manager often takes the lead role in interacting with local groups: little league programs, schools, politicians, the chamber of commerce, etc.
As far as the 25-man roster is concerned there is a lot to manage on a daily basis.
The GM speaks with the team physician on a near daily basis getting updates on the health and well-being of the players.
The trainers are also part of the daily communication with the GM providing real-time updates on the status of players.
The general manager and manager speak on a daily basis. They discuss the pulse of the team. Performance matters far more at the major league level, so players who are underperforming are the bulk of the conversation. These conversations are a way for the general manager to ask strategic and tactical questions of the manager. They can discuss pitching decisions and the lineups. It is also an avenue for the manager to make personnel requests and state his needs for the roster.
The coaches are certainly available to the GM whenever he has questions about players on his team or other teams. These conversations help the general manager make decisions about player personnel moves. Trades or call-ups particularly hinge upon information that comes from these interactions.
Some general managers spend more time in the clubhouse than others. Interactions with the players are particularly interesting. Being around the players allows the general manager the ability to see and feel the environment in the clubhouse. He can see the eyes of the players and evaluate their preparation and work ethic. This information is invaluable in player and staff personnel decisions. It also allows a general manager to better know his players and what makes them tick, so that when the players struggle, the GM can be another resource to help get the them on track.
Building the 25-man roster is what most fans believe the GM job is all about. It certainly is the most visible aspect of the job, but I hope you see that the job is far more encompassing than just that.
In building the roster, the GM must evaluate his own personnel against that of his competition. How does his pitching stack up? Do we have the power and speed necessary to score runs in different ways? Does our lineup have the balance necessary to neutralize an opposing manager's in-game moves? Do we have a bullpen which affords the manager options to stifle an opponent's rally?
You get the point.
Those evaluations take a number of forms.
They can be scouting reports on players of other teams or his own team. One of the keys for the general manager when reading scouting reports is that he must also evaluate the evaluator. Some scouts or coaches are more conservative than others. Some are the opposite. It is imperative that the GM knows who is writing the report and what his predisposition is.
Statistical analysis is valuable as well. What does a player do well and where can he improve? Stats merely quantify patterns of behavior (performance). Defining which criteria are of the most value is the first step in the process. That might mean figuring out whether batting average or on-base percentage is more important to your evaluations, whether you are looking for power arms or pitchability.
Makeup and character are important factors in major league players because the mental aspect of the game is so critical. Due diligence is important. Gathering the opinions of scouts, coaches, other executives and former teammates of players is critical in player personnel decisions. This is the information not captured by statistics: Can a player play in a large market? What kind of teammate is he? How does he handle failure? What are his off-field habits?
An understanding of the business of baseball is critical for a GM as well even if he is exclusively a talent evaluator. How much money he has to spend is the driving force behind his decisions. There is not a day that goes by that a GM doesn't look at his money and wonder how he can make the team better while spending less.
Much of a general managers day is spent in communication with others. When it comes to building the 25-man roster, conversations with other GMs and agents are imperative. If conversations are critical to making deals, then relationships too are important. It takes time, effort and willingness to cultivate the relationships necessary to close big deals. This means that general managers have to make and receive call with other GMs and agents on a daily basis. The relationship has to be ready for the day when there is a match in needs and interests of the parties sitting on both ends of the phone or on opposite ends of the negotiating table. This cannot be overstated. The ability to trust the person on the other side of the table is very important to the outcome of a negotiation.
The reality is that being a general manager really isn't a job; it is a lifestyle. The GM usually arrives at the ballpark about 9 a.m. on weekdays, works all day, stays for the game, speaks to the manager after the game and gets home at about 1 a.m. only to do it all over again the next day. The GM is at the ballpark on weekends and holidays as well. The team plays 162 games and the GM is at every home game and about half the road games. The other half of the time when the team is on the road, the GM is watching his minor league teams play.
The most amazing part of it is that after a 162-game schedule finishes, the work really starts. That is when the GM and his staff are working to rebuild and reconstruct their team for the following season. There is no offseason for the front office. It is a grueling life that, in the end, only truly rewards one team per year.
So despite what you might believe know this -- not everyone can be a general manager.
In fact, there are very few that are capable.