While there’s many more jobs in sports that are involved with analytics, being a General Manager of an MLB team seems to be the most glamorized and desired (partly in due to the Hollywood portrayal in Moneyball). For those wanting to follow in the footsteps of today’s GMs, it helps to know where they’ve walked. You’ll find a combination of traditional paths and interesting starts, but the final result is the same – the GM’s office.
(If you’re short on time, there is a brief summary at the bottom of the article. If you’re specifically interested in a certain GM or team, scroll down to the respective division.)
The GMs of Atlanta, Washington, and Miami each played professionally in the minors before becoming a scout and working their way up in the organization (a common path that will come up several times). Ruben Amaro, Jr. (PHI) had a more successful playing career with 7 seasons in the MLB (1991-1998) and was immediately hired as the Phillies’ Assistant GM when he retired. Sandy Alderson (NYM), a Dartmouth and Harvard Law graduate, is the only GM in the division with no college or professional playing experience. Rather, Alderson began his path as an attorney for a San Francisco firm. When one of the firm’s partners became President of the Oakland A’s, Alderson joined him as the team’s General Counsel. Alderson eventually became the A’s GM before moving on to do work with the Commissioner’s office, the San Diego Padres, and now the New York Mets. On average, GMs in the NL East are the oldest at 52.4 years old (tied with NL West).
Whereas 4 of the 5 NL East GMs had prior professional playing experience, only one NL Central GM (Doug Melvin of Milwaukee) can say the same. All five started out in various entry-level positions (video scout, baseball operations assistant, scout) before working their way up the ladder. Jed Hoyer (CHC) also worked as an assistant baseball coach at Wesleyan University and as a tech management consultant before starting as a video intern in Boston under Theo Epstein. NL Central features 2 GMs at least 60 years old (CIN and MIL).
Nothing exciting out West. All 5 GMs started in entry-level positions (scouting and media relations) and worked their way up the ladder. On average, GMs in the NL West are the oldest at 52.4 years old (tied with NL East).
The AL East, with 3 GMs in their 30s, represents the youngest division at an average age of 42.2 years old. 2 teams (BOS and BAL) feature GMs that hail from Amherst College, a premier Boston liberal arts college with one of the top sports management graduate programs in the nation. 4 of the 5 GMs started as entry-level scouts while Andrew Friedman (TB) transitioned from corporate America. Friedman spent time at an investment bank and a private equity firm before he was hired as the Ray’s Director of Baseball Operations. (Friedman was eventually promoted to General Manager). The AL East is also the only division where no GMs played professionally.
4 of the 5 GMs started their careers with entry-level positions in the front office – as a scout or administrative assistant. 3 of the 5 also hold graduate degrees, with Rick Hahn of the Chicago White Sox graduating from both Harvard Law and Northwestern’s MBA program. Hahn is also the only GM whose career did not begin with an entry-level position. Hahn started as an agent for Steinberg Moorad & Dunn before transitioning to the baseball front office.
The AL West is home to arguably the most famous GM of all, Billy Beane. Beane is the inspiration for the "Moneyball" movement, a strategy that has fully influenced Major League Baseball and other sports as well. Beane’s career path, however, is one of the more traditional routes taken. Drafted out of high school, Beane skipped Stanford to play professionally before beginning his career in the front office. Jon Daniels (TEX) began as an intern with the Colorado Rockies. Following this, Daniels accepted a position as Assistant, Baseball Operations for the Rangers before working his way up to GM. Daniels became the General Manager at 28 years old, making him the youngest GM in baseball history. Jeff Luhnow (HOU) began working as a consultant for McKinsey and Company and as a tech entrepreneur. Luhnow joined the Cardinals in 2003 as Vice President of Baseball Development before being hired by Houston in 2011.
While there is no exact formula to become a MLB GM, it seems the “most travelled” path is through entry-level positions, such as scouting. Many of today’s GMs started their careers as an entry-level scout before working their way up the ladder. (It will be interesting to see how many GMs in 20 years started their careers in “Baseball Operations” with more of a focus on analytics.) Either way, the general theme is evident: get your foot in the door. Whether it be in scouting or media or analytics, find a way to break in and provide value to an organization.
24 (80%) of today’s GMs started in positions that would most appropriately be considered “entry-level positions”… 10 (33.33%) played professionally at some level … 8 (26.67%) have at least one graduate degree … Though some records are unavailable, the most prevalent undergraduate degree is in some specialty of Business … The average age of GMs in the National League is 51.33 … The average age of GMs in the American League is 46.22 … 5 GMs are at least 60 years old … 6 GMs are in their 30s.