Saturday, November 7, 2015

Hey Buddy, I Need A Job!

The buddy system. We've all benefitted from it at some point in our life. Or perhaps hampered by it. It happens in all aspects of business from Wall Street to Main street. From retail to professional sports.
Baseball management is built on the buddy system. It's been this way for many years. You play ball, then you retire. If you're fortunate, you can coach, scout, manage or become a front office executive after your playing days are over. How are these jobs filled? The buddy system.
It goes like this. One either makes the phone calls and hires his buddies or one picks up the phone and calls a buddy and says, "Hey buddy! I need a job."
As I've said, this happens all the time in baseball, or any other sport for that matter.
But the times are a changing. It's not the lifelong baseball man hiring his friends to help run a team. It's a new breed of individual hiring his buddies. An outsider.
Now we have people who've never played the sport running teams. They're Ivy Leaguers who can crunch numbers. These Ivy Leaguers used to work on Wall Street. Since the Great Recession, the money doesn't flow freely on Wall Street anymore. Corporate America is tightening the wallet, watching the bottom line. So where are these guys going. They're lining up to work in professional baseball. 
Thanks to Billy Beane, who embraced sabermetrics, stat nerds are working the numbers to reveal a hidden game in baseball. These guys created new stats such as WHIP, VORP, WAR, OBPS, etc.
I like base statistics, but not to this extreme. (Math was always my worst subject.) It's information overload. It's overkill. It's too much!!!
Let's take the poster child for Mr. Ivy Leaguer working his way up the baseball ladder.....Theo Epstein.
A very young Theo Epstein was hired by the San Diego Padres as a intern in the scouting department in the early 90's. He caught the eye of Larry Lucchino, who then made him an assistant in the scouting department. Mr. Lucchino moved on to the Baltimore Orioles and took young Mr. Epstein with him.
Mr. Epstein made a name for himself. He eventually moved on to the Boston Red Sox and helped create the environment of winning and built a champion.
Now, back in the day, a baseball outsider would have been just that. An outsider looking in. It would have been the baseball lifer building and running a team.
I tried to get into professional baseball as a scout in the early 90's and I was rejected. I was told no professional experience, no job waiting for me. I was willing to work for free as a bird dog scout. "Thanks, but no thanks" is what I heard.
I didn't have professional playing experience, no Ivy League degree. No golden ticket into baseball.
I eventually got into professional baseball as a clubhouse manager for the Solano Steelheads of the old Western Baseball League. It wasn't glamorous, but without trying I got in. (I'll write more about that in a future post.)
Now professional is infested with outsiders running teams. Hiring their buddies to help out. I read something that baseball is the new Wall Street. One gets paid a handsome salary, brings in his buddies who also get paid handsomely. There was a joke about Theo Epstein bringing in Jed Hoyer as GM of the Cubs so Mr. Hoyer can decide which steakhouse they'll be eating at for dinner.
Why was it a joke? Because the buck starts and stops with Mr. Epstein. Why does he need a GM for? He makes all the decisions. Kinda reminds me of what hockey legend Gordie Howe referred to himself when he was named a vice president of the Detroit Red Wings.....he said he was the vice president of paperclips.
Similar situation in Los Angeles. Team president Andrew Friedman is THE decision maker. He had a great track record as the GM in Tampa Bay.
So what does he do? He names a GM who basically sits around and does nothing and makes millions doing it. His name is Farhan Zaidi. This is one interesting man. He admitted to knowing nothing about baseball about ten years ago. He was hired as an assistant in the Oakland Athletics front office. Being linked to Billy Beane made him a sought after commodity. This is a numbers cruncher. He learned how to scout as an outsider. He learned how to run a Major League organization as an outsider.
Now he's GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers. I tweeted a Dodgers beat writer and asked what does Farhan Zaidi do all day since Andrew Friedman makes all the decisions. His answer? He sits around and yawns all day. He tweeted the answer in jest, but I'm sure he was half serious too.
Again, I'm stumping for the baseball lifer to run a team. There's a poster child for the baseball outsider who has destroyed teams everywhere he goes. His name is Josh Byrnes. He's been GM of two teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the San Diego Padres. He simply doesn't know how to run a team. He left the Padres farm system in ruins and made bad decisions in Arizona. The thing is, his name keeps coming up for GM jobs. He's currently in the Dodgers front office as an assistant.
The baseball winter meetings are coming up. A lot of people will be looking for work. If I was running an organization I would throw away the sign that says,"No experience necessary, apply within."
I would be on the lookout for the baseball lifer. Someone who played the game. Knows situations. Knows how to coach and scout. Someone who can talk baseball. Real baseball talk. Someone who's been there done that and willing to do it again.