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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

October 15, 2008 at 11:44 AM

Qualities to look for

I’ve heard and read plenty of things about what the Mariners should be looking for in their GM candidates. Things like “a vision” and “a plan” get mentioned a lot. But then again, I’ve yet to see a GM in the last decade get hired without some type of plan. So, that’s pretty vague. The ability to work with others? Ah, yes. Now, we’re getting someplace, although that’s still a rather vague concept. And besides, plenty of folks can get along with others until they really have to do something they don’t like. You never really know until you start to squeeze the vise.
But make no mistake. The new Mariners GM will have to get along with staffers.
How about statistical analysis? Yes, that will be important. But then again, almost every front office in baseball employs some form of statistical analysis these days. I’d say a little more advanced use of it will help. But in the end, it’s still all about identifying talent. So, a candidate who is, say, an expert on talent evaluation — like 71-year-old Pat Gillick in Philadelphia — can still trump the computer-toting, 29-year-old stats whiz under the right circumstances. Where the computer prowess really comes in handy is with a candidate who may lack the hands-on, player development and scouting success of other candidates.
No two candidates are completely alike. And all will bring their own specialties to the table. But just because a candidate may have fewer hands-on player development skills doesn’t necessarily knock them off the board. If that candidate is known to be an excellent statistical evaluator, for instance, that can help them overcome the lack of hands-on scouting experience relative to other hopefuls.
But it works both ways. Someone less proficient with a laptop but a whiz in the scouting world can also make an excellent GM. In that case, the hands-on work can overcome the lack of spreadsheet wisdom.
And in both cases, the ability to surround themselves with assistants who are proficient in the areas the GMs themselves are weaker in will be key. Better yet, the ability to get along with and actually listen to these assistants — and for a GM to go against his or her own thinking at times — will be crucial.
So, really, what we’re talking about is ego. For me, this will be the one critical component that could decide who gets this Mariners job and who does not.
But wait. Before you all start rushing off and typing responses, let’s identify what I mean by ego. Everyone likes to say “Ah, that person’s great because they have no ego!”
Well, that person might be great. But lacking an ego isn’t necessarily the reason why.
For me, a successful GM will be one who can control their ego. There is a difference between that and a person who has no ego at all.
Confused? I’ll go into this deeper, since we like to get beyond mere black and white on this blog.
Having no ego can be a great thing. Under certain conditions. What you don’t want in a GM is an egoless person who will bow down to every external suggestion and be so fearful of upsetting others that they fail to implement their own vision.
That’s where being able to control one’s ego is important. Gillick has an ego, believe you me. Plenty of excellent GMs have egos to match.
But in this Mariners situation, there will be a first-time GM getting hired. That GM will be subject to more scrutiny from above than an established GM would be. It’s only natural. Happened with Theo Epstein in Boston, whose previous handlers in San Diego oversaw plenty of what he did in the early going with the Red Sox. It happened, believe it or not, with Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay, whose bosses hired a glorified “babysitter” of sorts in former GM Gerry Hunsicker to serve as an “adviser” or “overseer” or “educator” if you will, when he first got the job.
It happened big-time with Brian Cashman in New York, who had similar advisers looking over his shoulder at all times in the 1990s. When Randy Smith was made a first-time GM at age 29 with San Diego in 1993, he was given strict marching orders to unload certain players and didn’t get a chance to start implementing his own vision until a couple of years down the road.
There will be no 20-somethings hired in Seattle. But the same principles will apply. The first-time GM will be scrutinized more carefully than a veteran one would be. No use howling about it, that’s the way baseball works. And that GM will have to have their ego under control and be able to work with Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln. The last thing this organization needs is any Lane Kiffin-Al Davis style showdowns a year or two down the road. So, the ego will have to be controlled to the point where a positive working relationship is fostered.
But that doesn’t mean caving in to Armstrong’s every whim. It does not mean being weak. It’s about knowing when to push and when to ease up. About knowing how to make your boss feel that every great suggestion was his idea to begin with. That takes mental strength. The Mariners don’t need a people-pleaser. They need a GM who keeps people feeling pleased while having the mental strength to carry out the job that needs to be done.
Sounds difficult, right? That’s because it is.
But the Mariners are off to a good start in the candidates they’ve interviewed. When I spoke of “experience” yesterday, I was referring to the working knowledge the candidates I feel are in the top three or four have gained from working with multiple teams. There is more than one way to succeed in baseball and the candidates I feel are the strongest in this case have lived through scenarios with a plethora of teams and gained the skills needed to survive under a multitude of conditions. Whether it’s Kim Ng working under George Steinbrenner in New York and Jerry Reinsdorf in Chicago, or Tony LaCava doing things the “Cleveland way” before moving on to a more controlled situation in Toronto (no, I’m not going to mention Jerry DiPoto or Peter Woodfork examples here — I think you all get the point I’m aiming toward) each new team brings a new set of internal challenges to be overcome.
And the more experiences gained in those situations will help the candidates learn how to adapt to the obstacles awaiting them in Seattle. It will help them learn how to adjust to the Lincoln-Armstrong way of doing things while maintaining the internal, mental strength to carry out their vision. This M’s situation is not comparable to what Epstein, or Friedman faced. Both of those GMs had their personal champions in the ownership ranks who had known them up-close for years prior to them being hired. In the M’s case, the new GM will not be known to the same extent by the Lincoln-Armstrong duo. So, there will be some growing pains that the new GM will have to overcome.
No cowboys needed here. It won’t work out.
But no wimps are needed either. No “good soldiers” who march right into oblivion.
It will take a strong individual to do what needs to be done in Seattle. And that requires self confidence that goes far beyond being the man or woman everybody likes. It will take a man or woman everyone respects. There is a huge difference. And the Mariners, when they make their call, had better have that difference figured out beforehand.

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