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For those whose dreams of playing professional baseball died when the fastballs got too fast and the curveballs really started to curve, a career in a baseball front office might seem like the next best thing. Becoming a baseball general manager definitely requires a love of the game, because the hours are long and the steps on that career path aren’t always high paying. It also requires skills that are as much about running a business as it is handling a sports team.
Start at the Bottom
The first step toward becoming a general manager is getting a job in baseball. This serves as a good test for your love of the game, since that will have to sustain you in an arena where the pay often is low and the in-season hours are long. You might have to start in an area outside what you consider to involve your main skills at first. If the only position available is an entry-level sales job, for example, be prepared to start there and work your way up. The more narrowly you focus your search, the less likely you'll get that initial look.
Business Skills Key in Minors
Because there are far more minor league teams than there are major league ones, getting a job as a minor league GM may seem like the more realistic goal. Be aware, however, that the skills required to succeed here don't much resemble what it takes to handle the job at the major league level. Minor league general managers don’t have tasks of managing the roster or making trades as those duties are performed by the major league front office. Owners of minor league teams aren't looking for a talent evaluator. Instead, they're looking for someone who can manage their business effectively. Getting a GM position will require you to show your prospective employer that you have that ability.
Path to Minor League Jobs
The minor league general manager is both the director of club operations and the head salesman, promoting tickets sales to individuals and sponsorships to businesses. Because of that, jobs in sales or business development can be stepping stones to a GM position, if you excel in those roles and contribute to the team's bottom line. The GM may be called upon to solve a crisis in the food services operations on a Tuesday night, oversee a promotional event on Wednesday and make sure that everyone on the team has meal money in advance of a weekend road trip. Being able to juggle multiple tasks is an essential job requirement, and showing the ability to do so can help you rise to the top of a minor league organization.
Reaching the Majors
If your heart’s set on being a Major League Baseball general manager, your career path is very different -- and far more challenging. Unlike players, general managers rarely work their way up from the minors to the majors, because the skills required are so different. Most major league GMs first occupy talent evaluation positions, such as advance scouting or keeping tabs on internal prospects, since player evaluation and roster management is the main part of their job. Most also work for multiple teams before finally ascending to their first GM position, so be prepared to move across the country as you work your way up the ladder.
Right Place, Right Time
Because there are only 30 general manager positions in the major leagues, getting to that level is as much about putting yourself in position to meet an individual owner's vision for how the franchise should be run as it is about your resume. With so few slots and so many coveting the positions, your best chance is to put yourself in a position where your particular skills are in demand. This involves staying on top of current trends and being able to articulate how they'll help build a better team. For example, Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman and Jeff Luhnow, all of whom have served as general managers, excelled in using statistical analysis to discover better ways of valuing players, which led to them rising quickly through the ranks. Epstein was just 28 when he got his first shot at being a general manager with the Boston Red Sox, as was Jon Daniels when he took over that role for Texas. Other GMs have had a much longer road to their initial jobs; Jack Zduriencik, for example, was 57 when he was hired by Seattle in 2008.
Like many other leadership positions, becoming a Major League Baseball general manager also requires relationship-building skills. Networking events such as the baseball Winter Meetings give prospective GMs a chance to get in front of baseball officials and present their case. Practice your pitch before going, and make sure that 30-second description of your abilities carries with it a strong call to action of why you deserve a spot in a front office. Current front office officials will want to know what you bring to the table that can help their team win games. Whether it's a groundbreaking work of analytics or a minor-league player evaluation blog that's won praise from major league scouts, come to the winter meetings with a story compelling enough to win their interest.