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Growing pains

GM's are getting younger, but not necessarily wiser

Posted: Wednesday November 2, 2005 3:48PM; Updated: Wednesday November 2, 2005 9:10PM
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Theo Epstein
Theo Epstein became a legend in Boston after the Sox won the World Series, but his stay in Beantown was short lived.
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General managers are the new trophy wives. It's almost as if there's a competition going on among owners: Look how young my GM is.

When I was a kid I thought it would be cool to be a GM. Alas, it was pretty clear at an early age that I wasn't going to be a pro player, and without that pedigree, getting into a front office was pretty much impossible. Now, though, it's no problem. Get an Ivy League education, have a nose for business, know the game, show you can crunch numbers and you can get your foot in the door. If only I had been born 10 years later, all that time spent reading Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract might have paid off.

But the past week has shown us a few pitfalls of this new trend. Paul DePodesta, who was hired by the Dodgers two years ago when he was 31, got fired. Theo Epstein, who was given the keys to the Red Sox three years ago when he was 28, walked away from his job. The one who kept his job, Brian Cashman, was nonetheless on the verge of leaving the Yankees because their situation is so ridiculously messed up.

Inevitably, young GMs are going to be labeled "Moneyball guys," which completely oversimplifies things. But there is a kernel of truth to it. It's not that the kids are the only ones who look at OBP and OPS and how many pitches a guy takes per at bat; and it's not that any GM over 45 doesn't know how to turn on a computer. But there is a new way of thinking -- less emphasis on the hunches of scouts, more on parsing all the available data and running regressions to identify players who traditionally might be overlooked or undervalued. And that works well. Obviously, Billy Beane has gotten a lot done with that in Oakland.

But there is something to be said for certain traits that the book Moneyball either dismissed or didn't touch on, things that a 50-year-old exec with 30 years in the game is going to have: a knowledge of the Machiavellian doings that a GM is going to encounter, a grasp of front office and clubhouse politics. And those, I think, are what bit Epstein and DePodesta.

To wit:

• Epstein. Before we get into Theo's case, read this column Dan Shaughnessy wrote in Pravda -- er, the Boston Globe -- last Sunday.  It's about the power struggle between Epstein and Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. It's also obviously straight from Lucchino's mouth. It's a wee bit one-sided. Epstein (and I have loads of respect for him for doing this), apparently read the story and said, "Screw this. If that's the way it's going to be, I'm gone." And he left the one job he wanted more than any other.

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