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October 17, 2008 at 9:46 AM

Intelligence gathering

Saw a discussion on another blog about the relative intelligence of the remaining four Mariners GM candidates and felt this was a topic worth addressing. The opinion of one commenter was that Kim Ng had some kind of intelligence advantage over the field because of her university education.
As a university graduate who also taught journalism at the university level for three years in the 1990s, I feel qualified to say that a degree at the collegiate level does not automatically equate to supreme intelligence, or make a person smarter than someone lacking a degree. I’ve seen folks with Harvard degrees outsmarted in my business by others with degrees from community colleges. We touched on this discussion in a previous blog in which we compared Ryan Rowland-Smith’s career path to that of Brandon Morrow’s. What a degree from a more prestigious institution can do is get you a leg up on your career. But it guarantees nothing. It most certainly does not guarantee that you will be “smarter” than the next person, especially since family money and influence can often dictate who gets to go to the best schools.
So, when we’re talking about intelligence and the merits of who will be doing the GM job, having a university education should be of minimal importance. On-the-job experience does matter. It matters more than anything else, as long as that experience is applied correctly. Read that line again, please: As long as it’s applied correctly. Doing something awfully for 25 years does not constitute a proper accumulation of experience. But doing something well and improving upon your personal body of work for a number of years? That’s invaluable. I used to feel differently back when I was still 21 and a hotshot coming into my profession out of university. But the difference in the mental mind-set between then, back in the early 1990s, and now is night and day. In fact, it’s night and day from back when I turned 30. The human mind, unlike the body, does not stop getting stronger as you head towards middle age. In fact, it grows stronger than ever as long as you’re willing to let it, by being an open-minded person.
There has been an interesting development in baseball’s copycat environment over the past decade or so in which young GMs with Ivy League degrees have become the de rigeur choice of those who favor teams undergoing a fresh transformation. And this isn’t meant to knock Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Jon Daniels or others. They are all, from appearances, highly intelligent and — for me, the most important key — unafraid of taking chances in trying to make things better.
Sometimes, that works for you. Other times, it does not. Randy Smith and Paul DePodesta are two examples of young, relatively inexperienced GMs who ultimately crashed and burned at their jobs. We can argue that DePodesta was a victim of politics within his own organization. But we can also argue that someone like Friedman survived a handful of last-place finishes in Tampa Bay before striking gold this year because he had “protectors” in his organization’s ownership who believed in him. Who saw his vision and believed in the talent he was accumulating. Where losing ways might have torpedoed Friedman in New York or Boston, or Los Angeles, he had the needed time to turn things around in Tampa Bay.
In the above cases, all of the successful GMs had less experience than the candidates now being interviewed by the Mariners. My first reaction to that is that this all bodes very well for the M’s. After all, if you can give the team a “fresh” look with folks who have experience to match, why not do it?
It’s not as if the M’s are hiring a 71-year-old Pat Gillick. The oldest candidate remaining is 57-year-old Jack Zduriencik. And frankly, given what Gillick has accomplished in baseball, getting four different teams into the postseason, I’d hire him at age 85.
But in this case, in a contest between Zduriencik, Kim Ng, Tony LaCava and Jerry DiPoto, the eventual GM is not going to be chosen based on any university pedigree. And it’s safe to say that all possess the kind of hands-on experience you want a candidate to have — the good kind, not the 25 x zero kind. I’d say that, in this case, energy and perception will have a lot to do with the final choice. The team might not make its choice based on who ultimately has the most experience. All candidates have a pretty heavy base. This instead might come down to who can outwardly sell their experience the best and inspire the most confidence — in the team and in the public.
That’s my take.
And for the record, here are the university backgrounds of all four candidates.
Zduriencik: bachelor’s degree in education from California University of Pennsylvania; master’s degree in physical education from Austin Peay State University
LaCava: associate degree from Gulf Coast Community College; transferred to University of Pittsburgh, but left after two years to pursue a pro baseball career
DiPoto: attended Virginia Commonwealth University before being drafted by the Cleveland Indians
Ng: bachelor’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago



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