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  • Greatest general managers of all time?

    There are lots of discussions about the greatest players and managers of all time, but what about general managers? These guys play a big role in the successes of their teams, yet there seems to be little consensus about the all-time greats after Branch Rickey and Ed Barrow. George Weiss and Larry MacPhail are both in the Hall of Fame, and both were primarily known as GM's, but it seems like I hear them criticized more often than praised. Were they then, truly among the best of the best?

    I hesitate to ask anyone to rank their all-time top five GM's, or anything along that line, because I doubt many people have thought out the question that carefully (I know I haven't). So here's what I will ask: Which GM's throughout baseball history do you think did the job well enough that they could be considered "great"?

    Modern-day guys like Billy Beane, Andrew Friedman and Theo Epstein are all highly-regarded, but when their careers are over will they be seen as important historical figures? Are successful GM's from the previous generation like John Schuerholz and Pat Gillick among the best ever? What about guys with brief-but-bright GM careers like Cedric Tallis? I'd like to hear your opinions.
    Baseball Junk Drawer

  • #2
    Anybody with a name like Andrew Freedman -- and I mean anyone whose name remotely resembles "Andrew Freedman" -- is automatically disqualified from consideration in my book.

    Bill Veeck, who really disliked George Weiss personally, describes him as an excellent organizer but says his weak point was an inability to judge talent. He could hire good scouts, but he couldn't distinguish between a good and bad player himself. Writing in the early '60's, Veeck observes that Weiss had been successful at trading prospects for pennant insurance when he was with the Yankees but Veeck says this is an easy way to operate. He says time will tell how Weiss does with the Mets, where he lacks the advantages he had with the Yanks, and adds that the early returns (at the point he was writing Hustler's Handbook) were not encouraging.

    Well, I don't know. When the Mets organization was first putting together their team, they made a decision to go with a lot of veteran players, especially former New York and Brooklyn stars like Duke Snider and Gil Hodges. For that matter, they even took over the hill Dodger bench warmers like Don Zimmer and Joe Pignatano. The conventional wisdom at the time was that Houston had done better to concentrate on younger prospects. The Mets had their reasons, of course: they had a reservoir of former Dodger and Giant fans to appeal to, and they feared they could not compete against the Yankees at the gate with a team of unknowns. The Astros finished a relatively respectably eighth of ten in their first season of 1962 while the Mets became famous losers, but the fact is that in spite of the has-beens they shackled themselves with at the start, the Mets became a winning team before the Astros did. I don't know how much credit Weiss deserves for that, but he was there and he would have gotten some of the blame if the team had gone on failing.

    Now that I look at it, actually, the 1962 Astros don't really look that young, and in fact they had their share of Dodger and Giants discards: Norm Larker, Joey Amalfitano, Bob Lillis, Jim Golden. Maybe that's just where the lion's share of the excess talent was.
    “Money, money, money; that is the article I am looking after now more than anything else. It is the only thing that will shape my course (‘religion is nowhere’).” - Ross Barnes

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    • #3
      The man Babe came to see as his adversary in contract talks. Yankees' GM, Ed Barrow.

      Edward Grant Barrow
      Born: May 10, 1868, Springfield, IL
      Died: December 15, 1953, Port Chester, NY, age 85, buried at Kensico Cemetery, Vallalla, NY

      Baseball Executive;
      Detroit Tigers' manager, 1903-04,
      Boston Red Sox' manager, December 13, 1917-October 29, 1920
      New York Yankees' GM/Business Manager, October 19, 1920 - 1939
      New York Yankees' President, January 17, 1939 - February, 1945.

      Wife: Frances Elizabeth (Fannie Taylor), born Toronto, Canada around 1882, died October 28, 1957 at White Plains, NY.

      At Harry Hooper's pressure, converted star pitcher Babe Ruth to OF (1918-19). While GM of the New York Yankees', they won 14 pennants, 10 World Series wins, had decisive influence over Yankee owner Jake Ruppert. In his 1951 autobiography, stressed he'd never even considered offering Babe Ruth a job with the Yankees after his playing days ended due to Babe's past misbehavior towards Huggins & McCarthy, whose job Babe coveted.

      ------------------------------------------------------------------------1933 Who's Who in Major League Baseball, edited by Harold (Speed) Johnson.




      1923: L-R: Miller Huggins, Jake Ruppert, Ed Barrow.



      1940.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------March 4, 1927: Babe Ruth, Ed Barrow (standing), Colonel Jake Ruppert. Babe signed for a $210,000. package for 3 yrs.



      -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Wesley Branch Rickey:

      Born: December 20, 1881, Portsmouth, Ohio
      Died: December 9, 1965, Columbia, Missouri, age 83

      Baseball Executive;
      Attended Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, OH), (Law Degree from University of Michigan)
      ML player, 1905 - 1907
      St. Louis Browns, manager, 1913 - 1915
      US Army (chemical unit, France)
      St. Louis Cardinals, manager, 1919 - 1925
      St. Louis Cardinals, general manager, 1926 - 1942
      Brooklyn Dodgers, President / General Manager, 1942 - 1950
      Pittsburgh Pirates, General Manager, 1951 - 1955

      wikipedia article--Below is the wikipedia article.
      Wesley Branch Rickey was an innovative Major League Baseball executive best known for two things: breaking baseball's color barrier by signing the African-American player Jackie Robinson, and later drafting the first Hispanic superstar, Roberto Clemente; and creating the framework to the modern minor league farm system. His many achievements, and somewhat theatrical religiosity, earned him the nickname "The Mahatma".

      Rickey was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, USA, the son of Frank W. and Emily Thompson Rickey. He was a catcher on the baseball team at Ohio Wesleyan and, in 1903, signed a professional contract with Terre Haute, Indiana of the Class B Central League, making his professional debut on June 20. However, Rickey was not ready for the rigors of the tough Central League and was assigned to Le Mars, Iowa of the Class D Iowa-South Dakota League. Later, he spent two seasons in the major leagues, debuting as a St. Louis Brown in 1905. He hit fairly well, hitting two home runs in the same game on August 6, but fielded poorly, a fatal flaw for a catcher. Sold to the New York Highlanders in 1907, Rickey could neither hit nor field while with the club, and his batting average dropped below .200. One opposing team stole 13 bases while Rickey was behind the plate, setting a record which still stands a century later. Rickey also injured his throwing arm and retired as a player after just one year. (During this period, Rickey also spent two seasons--1904 and 1905--coaching baseball and football and teaching at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.)

      For his undergraduate degree, he attended Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, Ohio. He received his law degree from the University of Michigan, where he worked as the baseball coach while going to school.

      He returned to the big leagues in 1913, as a front office executive with the Browns. He was responsible for signing young George Sisler. Rickey became the team's manager for the final 12 games of the season, and managed the team for 2 more full seasons. But the Browns finished under .500 both years and no one was surprised when Rickey was fired in 1916 when new ownership took over the club.

      Rickey served as an oficer in the US Army in France during the war. He commanded a chemical training unit that included Ty Cobb and Christy Matheson. He then returned to St. Louis in 1919, this time with the Cardinals, to become team president and manager. In 1920, Rickey gave up the team presidency to the Cards' new majority owner, Sam Breadon. He then led the Cardinals on the field for another five seasons, before his firing early in the 1925 season.

      His 6+ years as a manager were relatively mediocre, although the team posted winning records from 1921-23 and Rickey wisely invested in several minor league baseball clubs, using them to develop future talent for the Cardinals major league roster. He was 43 years old, had been a player, manager and executive in the Major Leagues and had shown no indication whatsoever that he would ever deserve to belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But even though he was not the first general manager in Major League Baseball history — his title was business manager — Rickey (as inventor of the farm system) would come to embody the position of the baseball operations executive who mastered scouting, player acquisition and development and business affairs — the definition of the modern GM.

      Rogers Hornsby replaced Rickey to become a player-manager, and in 1926, his first full year as manager, he led the Cardinals to their first World Series championship.

      Farm system and other innovations
      By 1930, Rickey's Cardinals, known as the "Gashouse Gang", were the class of the National League. They won 101 games in 1931 and won the World Series in seven games. The star of the Series that year was rookie Pepper Martin, one of the first Cardinal stars that came from Branch's minor league system. Soon, other minor league graduates joined the team, among them future hall of famers Dizzy Dean and Joe Medwick, and Dean's brother Paul. The Deans and Medwick were integral parts of the 1934 Cardinals, who won the franchise's third World Series title.

      Commissioner of Baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis was concerned that Rickey's minor league system was going to ruin the game of baseball by destroying most existing minor league teams, and he twice released over 70 Cardinal minor leaguers in attempts to stop what he perceived to be a cover-up. Despite Judge Landis' best efforts, however, Rickey's minor league system stayed in existence, and similar systems were adopted by every major league team within a few years. Arguably, the farm system saved the minor leagues, by keeping them necessary after the television age began and minor league attendance figures declined.

      Rickey continued to develop the Cardinals up until the early 1940s. In his final year at St. Louis, 1942, the Cardinals had their best season in franchise history, winning 106 games and the World Series title. The team was led by a new crop of players developed by the Cardinals, two of whom, Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial, became Hall of Famers; and several others, among them future MVP Marty Marion, who were among the best at their position during their eras. Even their manager Billy Southworth was a product of their farm system.

      Rickey was a good friend of Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Larry MacPhail, himself a sound baseball man. MacPhail was drafted into the army to serve in World War II after the 1942 season, and the Dodgers hired Branch Rickey to replace him as President and GM, ending a tenure of over two decades with the Cardinals.

      Branch continued being an innovator in his time with Brooklyn. He was responsible for the first full time spring training facility, in Vero Beach, Florida, and encouraged the use of now-commonplace tools such as the batting cage, pitching machines, and batting helmets. He also pioneered the use of statistical analysis in baseball (what is now known as sabermetrics), when he hired statistician Allan Roth as a full-time analyst for the Dodgers in 1947. After viewing Roth's evidence, Rickey promoted the idea that on-base percentage was a more important hitting statistic than batting average. [1] While working under Rickey, Roth was also the first person to provide statistical evidence that platoon effects were real and quantifiable.

      While with the Dodgers, his son, Branch Jr., was the team's farm director.

      Breaking the color barrier
      Rickey's most memorable act with the Dodgers, however, involved breaking baseball's color barrier, which had been in place since the mid-1880s, not as a written rule, but merely a policy. This policy had continued under a succession of baseball leaders, including Landis, who was openly opposed to integrating Major League Baseball for what he regarded as legitimate reasons. Landis died in 1944, and that fact along with changing public attitudes presented an opportunity. On August 28, 1945, Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to a minor league contract. On October 23, 1945, it was announced that Robinson would join the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers' International League affiliate, for the 1946 season. He would end up as the league's batting champion, and led the Royals to a dominant league championship.

      Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson for the Brooklyn DodgersPeople noted that Rickey's determination to desegregate Major League Baseball was born out of a combination of idealism and astute business sense. The idealism was at least partially rooted in an incident involving a team for which Rickey worked early on. An African-American player was extremely upset at being refused accommodation at the hotel where the team stayed because of his race. The business element was based on the fact that the Negro Leagues had numerous star athletes, and logically, the first Major League team to hire them would get first pick of the players at a reasonable price. At the time, Mexican brewery czar Jorge Pasquel was raiding the US for black talent (eg: Satchel Paige) as well as disgruntled white players, for the Mexican League with the idea of creating an integrated league that could compete on a talent level with the US major leagues.

      Five days before the start of the 1947 season, Rickey purchased Jackie Robinson's contract from the minor leagues. Amid much fanfare, Jackie debuted for the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, becoming the first African-American to play in modern major league baseball. Rickey's "Great Experiment", as it was termed, turned out to be a fantastic success. Robinson was baseball's first rookie of the year, and while he was often jeered by opposing baseball players, managers, and fans, he became extremely popular with the American public. His success became the crowning achievement of Rickey's illustrious career. His Dodgers would make the Series that year, losing in 7 games to the New York Yankees. But Rickey's vision and action had set the stage for the previously mediocre Dodgers to be contenders for decades to come. And it opened the door for other innovative leaders like Bill Veeck of the Cleveland Indians, who integrated the American League soon thereafter.

      It should be noted that Branch Rickey did not pay the Kansas City Monarchs for Robinson's services, unlike Bill Veeck who paid Effa Manley for Larry Doby.

      Later career
      Rickey continued to run the Dodgers until he resigned in 1950, with owner Walter O'Malley, in some ways, forcing him out. He was not out of a job long, however, as he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates to become their general manager in 1951. Unlike his years with St. Louis and with Brooklyn, his tenure with the Pirates was fairly uneventful. The Pirates were a struggling organization that lost 100 games in 3 consecutive years during his tenure, and he stepped down from the team in 1955, but not before drafting and signing Roberto Clemente. It would only be after he left that the Pirates would become contenders again. During his tenure, Rickey, along with three Pittsburgh-area businessmen, funded the incorporation of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which is now the largest interdenominational school-based Christian sports organization in the United States.

      Rickey returned to baseball in 1959, this time as president of a proposed third major league, the Continental League. Major League Baseball was forced to intervene, and made an agreement with Rickey to disband the league in exchange for expansion of the existing leagues.

      In the early 1960's, Rickey tried to make one more attempt with major league baseball, returning to the Cardinals as an unofficial "assistant" to owner Gussie Busch. This last attempt proved to be a failure, as Rickey was seen by the team and management as an aging, meddling outsider who was more concerned with his own advancement than the team's success. His sole year as Busch's confidante (where he misguidedly pushed Busch to fire manager Johnny Keane and replace him with Leo Durocher, which backfired when Keane led the Cardinals to the 1964 world championship) proved to be his last in major league baseball--a sad end to a tremendously influential career.

      Death
      Rickey became a public speaker in his later years. He collapsed in the middle of a speech in Columbia, Missouri as he was being elected to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. He died a month later on December 9, 1965.

      Honors
      Rickey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1967. In 1997 he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame.

      Legacy
      Branch Rickey is attributed with the famous quotation: "Luck is the residue of opportunity and design." (Quoted by Larry King 7/12/2006.) His descendents also became involved in baseball: his son, Branch Jr., who died four years before his father, and Branch Rickey III, currently president of the Pacific Coast League.
      Last edited by Bill Burgess; 09-07-2011, 01:34 PM.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by Bill Burgess View Post
        Another great baseball GM, all but forgotten today, was John B. Foster, who was the business manager for the New York Giants from 1912-19. He did all the books and signed all the players.
        He's so forgotten that I've never even heard of him. The Giants were certainly a strong team back then, but they didn't win a World Series during that period. What, in your opinion, made Foster great rather than merely good?
        Baseball Junk Drawer

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        • #5
          I don't know a great deal about Foster, but he was a newspaperman of pro-management views who went to work for the Giants in a capacity that I would guess was probably exactly as advertised by the job title, business manager. I don't have positive information, but it's hard to imagine anybody had much responsibility for the Giants' player personnel except McGraw.

          There was a biography of Ed Barrow some years back whose early pages contain an interesting discussion of how the modern general manager's position evolved in the early '20's out of an earlier system in which the manager generally had primary responsibility for player personnel as well as running the team on the field, while a business manager handled the paperwork.

          Last spring I had the opportunity to go to the Hall of Fame where, among other things I looked at the papers of A.G. Mills the president of the National League in the early 1880's and instrumental in the creation of the reserve clause. Some time in the 1910's -- maybe around the time Dave Fultz was organizing his players union -- John B. Foster wrote Mills to ask if it wasn't true that in the early days of the reserve, players actually wanted to be reserved because it assured them of a position the next year, and I believe Foster even suggested this had been the purpose of creating the reserve clause in the first place, because the players wanted it.

          Mills was a management man all his life, but he was neither stupid nor naive nor dishonest. He told Foster that wasn't at all the way he remembered it, and it most certainly not been the reason the reserve was invented. He didn't call Foster an idiot, but Mills was a courteous man.
          “Money, money, money; that is the article I am looking after now more than anything else. It is the only thing that will shape my course (‘religion is nowhere’).” - Ross Barnes

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by ian2813 View Post
            He's so forgotten that I've never even heard of him. The Giants were certainly a strong team back then, but they didn't win a World Series during that period. What, in your opinion, made Foster great rather than merely good?
            He was primarily a sports writer, whose main claim to fame was that he was the editor of the Spalding Guide from 1908 - his death in 1941.

            Here is a link to his profile I did in Meet the Sports Writers---John B. Foster.

            He served as the New York Giants' Secretary & business manager from January 6, 1913 -December 4, 1919. He was also an expert on baseball rules.

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            • #7
              Never heard of Barrow but his resume is the best i ever seen for a GM. Having guys like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Rizzuto pass through during his career is just amazing.

              Branch Rickey i would put as 2nd now because even though he won world series he also sold some big names after they were still in their primes so he could have been a better GM then he was.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Beady View Post
                I don't know a great deal about Foster, but he was a newspaperman of pro-management views who went to work for the Giants in a capacity that I would guess was probably exactly as advertised by the job title, business manager. I don't have positive information, but it's hard to imagine anybody had much responsibility for the Giants' player personnel except McGraw.

                There was a biography of Ed Barrow some years back whose early pages contain an interesting discussion of how the modern general manager's position evolved in the early '20's out of an earlier system in which the manager generally had primary responsibility for player personnel as well as running the team on the field, while a business manager handled the paperwork.
                That was sort of my thought originally. Today you almost never hear mention of the "business managers" or "secretaries" before Barrow and Rickey, and I had been under the impression that that was because they were more like clerical workers than team-builders. When I asked about the greatest general managers I was thinking more along the lines of who the greatest team-builders were.

                Regarding your earlier comments on George Weiss: That's interesting information. I suppose that raises another question: How much credit for a team's success should go to a GM and how much should go to scouts and such? Should we focus mainly on trades, free agent signings and managerial hires in evaluating a GM?
                Baseball Junk Drawer

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by JessePopHaines16 View Post
                  Never heard of Barrow but his resume is the best i ever seen for a GM. Having guys like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Rizzuto pass through during his career is just amazing.

                  Branch Rickey i would put as 2nd now because even though he won world series he also sold some big names after they were still in their primes so he could have been a better GM then he was.
                  Barrow also "discovered" a certain Dutch shortstop named J.P. Wagner.
                  Dave Bill Tom George Mark Bob Ernie Soupy Dick Alex Sparky
                  Joe Gary MCA Emanuel Sonny Dave Earl Stan
                  Jonathan Neil Roger Anthony Ray Thomas Art Don
                  Gates Philip John Warrior Rik Casey Tony Horace
                  Robin Bill Ernie JEDI

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by JessePopHaines16 View Post
                    Never heard of Barrow but his resume is the best i ever seen for a GM. Having guys like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Rizzuto pass through during his career is just amazing.

                    Branch Rickey i would put as 2nd now because even though he won world series he also sold some big names after they were still in their primes so he could have been a better GM then he was.
                    Barrow also discovered one Johannes Peter Wagner as well.
                    Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.-Crash Davis

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by JessePopHaines16 View Post

                      Branch Rickey i would put as 2nd now because even though he won world series he also sold some big names after they were still in their primes so he could have been a better GM then he was.
                      Rickey did this because the veterans made more than less experienced players did. He also got a cut of the money saved by ownership on reducing the teams payroll.

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                      • #12
                        Ed Barrow was also the manager of the 1918 Red Sox who helped launch Babe Ruth as an everyday player. Barrow didn't seem to want to play Ruth everyday but he had a truncated roster because of the draft.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Honus Wagner Rules View Post
                          Barrow also discovered one Johannes Peter Wagner as well.
                          You don't say?
                          Dave Bill Tom George Mark Bob Ernie Soupy Dick Alex Sparky
                          Joe Gary MCA Emanuel Sonny Dave Earl Stan
                          Jonathan Neil Roger Anthony Ray Thomas Art Don
                          Gates Philip John Warrior Rik Casey Tony Horace
                          Robin Bill Ernie JEDI

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                          • #14
                            Didnt know that he discovered Honus Wagner who i believe is the greatest shortstop ever. To bad he didnt stay on the tigers longer or else he would of had discovered Ty Cobb also.

                            Imagine that being the guy who discovered Ruth, Wagner, and Cobb. What a resume that would have been.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by EdTarbusz View Post
                              Rickey did this because the veterans made more than less experienced players did. He also got a cut of the money saved by ownership on reducing the teams payroll.
                              Yeah i know. He didnt want to do that at first because of the Hornsby deal with Breadon but after he made the series in 28 and 30 and won it in 31 and 34 i guess he felt pretty confident in those types of decisions.

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