Yale grad Epstein shifted thinking for front-office hires
By Mike Bauman
It is not true that all the current Major League general managers went to Harvard.
Some went to Princeton. Or to Dartmouth. Or to Cornell. Or to Penn.
This has been one of the most striking transformations in the contemporary game -- baseball operations, which were once the home of a network of organizational baseball lifers, are now the province of Ivy Leaguers.
Of the 30 general managers or GM equivalents in the Majors today, 12, or fully 40 percent, have Ivy League backgrounds. Harvard leads the way with five. Princeton has two, as do Cornell and Dartmouth. Penn has one. No other collegiate group remotely approaches this number.
And this does not include the man whose success started the trend. Theo Epstein is a Yale man who was in a leadership role for the two teams that broke the most storied World Series championship droughts in history -- the Red Sox and the Cubs.
Epstein, as the Cubs' president of baseball operations, has risen above the general manager category. But he is a big reason that Ivy League grads are in demand at the Major League decision-making level.
Imitation remains the sincerest form of flattery, and Epstein, armed with the latest advanced metrics, has become the man of the new millennium in contemporary baseball management.
In addition to the Ivy League grads, five current general managers went to private Eastern institutions of higher education that could fairly be termed exclusive. Two GMs with Ivy League degrees went on to earn graduate management degrees at Northwestern University, which has all the traits of an exclusive Eastern school, except for its location in Illinois.
How are we to view all of this? Many of us imagine the GM of olden times as the cigar-chompin' baseball executive, surrounded by his advisors -- tobacco-chewin' scouts. That image was probably overdone in the first place.
But today, we are at the other end of the cultural continuum. The image is of a convention of brains in the executive suites, with the contemporary GM surrounded by his aides, who are armed primarily with the latest algorithms.
So why wouldn't the game recruit the brightest and the best?
So maybe baseball is much better for the presence of the Ivy Leaguers at the helm of baseball operations. But maybe the game has also succumbed to a bit of cultural elitism. Perhaps the clubs without an Ivy League presence in the front office will suffer from low self-esteem.
In the interest of truth, I admit to a public-school bias. I have a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from the University of Wisconsin.
But this is not, at the end of the day, an old-school/new-age argument. Baseball decision-making today contains more advanced knowledge, more data, more varied empirical options than ever before. Computer programs have come to the fore. The human hunch is no longer paramount. The amount of information is the Himalayas, compared to what used to be an ant hill.
With all of these circumstances in play, the Ivy League general manager, as the top-shelf interpreter of all the relevant data, follows a certain logical path.
This wouldn't have happened without Epstein's successes, both initial and eventual. If the guy from the Ivy League can get one team its first championship in 86 years -- and then another one in three years -- and then encore by busting the 108-year drought in Chicago, you can understand why other teams follow that lead.
This represents a fundamental shift in baseball. Today's baseball operations staff is not your father's front office, unless, of course, your father has an Ivy League degree.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.