BASEBALL TRENDS – FRONT OFFICE ALTERATIONS

By: Holly Horning:

In the first installment of this series, when I wrote that baseball had changed recently in so many ways, I meant it. Every nook and cranny, except maybe for the bat boys. We examined the players, analysts, fans, and those who run MLB. Batting cleanup now, are the Front Offices.

The executives that each team hires tells a lot about the character and philosophy of the team’s owner. And believe it or not, the change in direction here is the most obvious and distinct trend out of the five groups.

Like many sports, baseball has presented itself as entertainment – trying to hide the business aspect from the fans for the most part. But now, things are different. The culture and people who inhabit these Front Offices has changed dramatically.

Not too long ago, the top executives rose up into the highest ranks primarily from baseball backgrounds. Now, we’re seeing an influx of executives coming in with degrees from Harvard and MIT in sports management, economics and statistics. They’re also coming from big law firms and Wall Street with experience in dealing with corporate issues and big money. Many of them are in their thirties – the age of many ballplayers instead of the guys much older and retired from playing and managing. Some in the media have tagged this trend with the nickname of “Brains vs. Brawn.” Out of the current 30 GMs, 12 of them hail from Ivy, Little Ivy or Top 10 private colleges. Only three of them have no college degree.

A number of top colleges are sending their grads out as analysts who decipher performance in relation to future contracts. Many of these teams now boast about their young “think tanks.” But there is a growing number of more and more young top executives who are being hired for the most senior positions – VP and President of Baseball Operations as well as GMs.

The average age of GMs has also dropped significantly with more and more of them being hired in their 30’s. Check out the age categories below:

30’s – 7 teams
40’s – 9 teams
50’s – 9 teams
60’s – 5 teams

Average GM Age: 49

Dave Dombrowski ranks as the 6th oldest GM at age 58. Only Terry Ryan of the Twins is older in the AL Central. Surprisingly, the other three teams have focused on hiring much younger GMs who bring in new backgrounds and ideas.

While the faces, ages and work experience are changing, so are the titles. Just three years ago, no one deviated from “President”, “CEO” and “GM.” Now, there are VP, Sr. VP and President of Baseball Operations, as well as Chief Baseball Officer. And surprisingly, there is no standard hierarchy or job description universal to these titles. You need to contact each team to figure out each executive’s job responsibility and place in the executive flow chart. The only standard, for now, is that “President” tops everyone.

The Tigers still subscribe to the old school method of executives. They have not developed new, specialized positions or introduced these new titles that almost half of today’s teams employ. Dombrowski joins only two other GMs who are also Presidents of their organizations. But he is also the only baseball executive who holds three titles – including CEO.

So what does this say about the Tigers? That they are conservative and still traditional in their baseball structure, especially when you add in other aspects such as the single part-time analyst and lack of branding.

But what is truly disconcerting is the issue surrounding Dave’s three jobs – a Herculean task for anyone but especially now when teams are hiring specialists for each job. Can he really do a thorough job in each? Do other teams now have an advantage as they hire additional Front Office execs who can work with more detail? Dave’s contract expires after this year so it will be interesting to see if the Tigers decide to modernize.

5 thoughts on “BASEBALL TRENDS – FRONT OFFICE ALTERATIONS

  1. Thank you, Holly…. I did not realize how young the top baseball execs are. But what is the motivation for these young men — profit or victories? Not only am I a life long fan of the Detroit Tigers, but I have also become a real fan of Dave Dombrowski. He puts a winning product on the field. Four consecutive division titles and two trips to the World Series. Been a long time since Detroit fans have enjoyed such a run of success. The Tigers ownership needs to keep Mr. Dombrowski with the club. Give him whatever job title(s) he wants.

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    • Hi, Eddie – I’m assuming that when you mean “profit” you’re referring to team financials. I think teams are oriented to both. They are not mutually-exclusive of each other. I think that they are trying to bring in the most advanced methods to enhance profits (the guys with money backgrounds) and performance (the stats guys).

      As for Dave, there’s lots to be said. Expect him to be covered much more in our blogs.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. You talk about “branding” al lot In your posts, Holly. Is branding something that comes from an owner or from front office staff. Maybe it starts with the players? Remember the Bad Boys? The fans gave them that name because of the way they played and they were winners. That was their “brand” of ball playing. Is that the kind of branding you reference?

    As long as Mr. I is the owner, we probably can’t expect too many front office changes. Sometimes, the old saying “too many cooks in the kitchen ruin the broth” might be their position at this point in time. Someone or something always thinks they/it can do better. Pretty sure Mr D is aware of that, too.

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    • Hi, Kathy – Good point about Mr. I potentially not changing a lot. I have also found from my work that older, traditional heads of organizations are harder to motivate re accepting change. New concepts are tough for anyone to explore.

      As for branding, it generally comes from higher up. Sometimes the owner, sometimes a Sr. VP, sometimes even a manager who has an ear up in corporate. It is the development of a clear strategy and vision about how you present and sell your company while distinguishing it from all competition. It envelops all aspects of the organization – the name, logo, company behavior, office (stadium) decor, how you communicate orally and in written form, pr, media, the attitude you present to the public, the accessibility of the executives and staff, how you promote your products (players – old and new) and so much more. As a branding consultant, I’ll be covering these aspects in the future but suffice it to say that I think the Tigers have so much going for them, but they don’t have a branding division and don’t actively promote much of it. They’re being passed by other teams who are more modern and savvy.

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