The question I’m most frequently asked by college students studying Sports Management, high schools students, elementary school students, my daughter’s preschool frenemy, and everyone I know with a Fantasy Football team, is “how does one become the General Manager of a pro sports team”? The answer I most frequently give is “I’m not exactly sure”. So recently, when presented with someone who’s been there, done that, I asked. The answer was not what I expected, and may not be what you expect. Akin to the old adage ‘You can’t bake a cake without splitting a few atoms’. But it’s real, it’s relevant, and you should know.
The been there, done that guy is Jerry Weinstein, manager of the Hartford Yard Goats. Your run-of-the-mill professional baseball manager with post-graduate degrees, experience that ranges Little League to the Major Leagues, an Olympic Bronze medal, moniker of “Hero Coach of the World Baseball Classic”, and published author. Jerry’s also in the Sacramento City College Athletic Hall of Fame. Because, well, kitchen sink. He’s been there. He’s done that.
Jerry would describe himself as a mentor, before describing himself as a coach. Sure he stands on the top steps of the dugout in a baseball jacket, stirrups proudly displayed above cleats, with 2-3 toothpicks in his mouth at all times… but there’s not much bark there, and no visible bite. So it was no surprise when he volunteered to speak to a class of high school students visiting the ballpark, on a day when the kids wanted to know how to get his job. So here it is.
If you want to go to work in professional sports, in this day and age when numbers mean everything and science means even more, you want to study statistics. That’s right, statistics. You know… kurtosis, variance, scatterplot. Statistics. And that’s kind of new. Not super new, but kind of new. Everyone’s seen Moneyball… the movie that revealed that laptops were the new notebooks and OBP was the new AVG. I saw it. In fact, I actually read the book. In hardcover. That I got at a bookstore. Next to a Blockbuster. But I digress.
“If you want to go to work in professional sports, you want to study statistics.”
Some of the important things you’ll want to study? Regression analysis, logistic regression, Monte Carlo simulation, classification, hierarchical regression. The good stuff. A solid understanding of statistics, with a correlation to sports, provides you as much an inroad to the GM seat as a degree in Sports Management. More, if we’re being honest. It’s a numbers game.
BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE! A solid understanding of data management is also important. BA: R and SQL are useful. Hey, you have to keep all those statistics somewhere, right? If a lefty-specialist comes out of the bullpen in the eighth inning in a one-run game and your guy pulls to the right against lefties when you need him to pop over to the left you’re going to have to figure out if you need a pinch hitter and you’re going to need to do it in 30 seconds. Exhausting, I know.
BUT WAIT… THERE’S MORE! How about sports physical therapy? With the investment you’re making in that #1 draft pick you’re going to want to understand that shoulder tweak. ‘Em I right or ‘em I right? How about psychology? With the investment you’re making in that #1 draft pick you’re going to want to understand the disappointment he feels over being pulled from his start after tweaking his shoulder. Not to mention that psychological warfare that takes place at the negotiation table when you’re #1 draft pick breaks out of his psychological slump, shoulder repaired, leads the league in wins and ERA, and is ready for a new contract.
Different, right? But interesting. And important. The landscape is changing, and you’re going to need to change with it if you want to be a Big League General Manager.
Mike Abramson is the Assistant General Manager for the Hartford Yard Goats MiLB team, Double-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. You can follow him on Twitter at @YardGoatsAGM.