An Interview With Former Minnesota Twins GM Bill Smith
Former Minnesota Twins General Manager Bill Smith recently took a new position within the Minor League Baseball headquarters and sat down with Call To The Pen’s Benjamin Chase.
On Monday, Minor League Baseball reported that former Minnesota Twins GM Bill Smith had been hired as the Assistant to the President & CEO Pat O’Conner.
I had a chance to talk with Mr. Smith on the phone, though, due to some technical issues, I did not end up getting a recording of the conversation, so the responses to my questions will be paraphrased from the notes I did take during the interview. He was very generous with his time, and we had a good chat about the game and family outside of the interview time as well, so before we get into the interview, I’d like to offer a public word of thanks to Bill Smith for being so generous with his time and being open for the interview!
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Before we get into the interview, for those who are not extremely familiar with who Bill Smith is, we’ll explore that aspect.
Smith was one of the first participants in Major League Baseball’s executive development program, and he came to baseball in an “odd” way in the 1980s, as he had never been a player before, which was typically the route most executives took.
Instead, Smith spent two seasons after his time in the development program as the assistant director of the Chicago White Sox minor league and scouting system. He then moved into a role with the minor league team in Appleton, Wisconsin, as the General Manager.
Smith joined the Minnesota Twins organization in 1986, and after 31 years with the organization, he announced in December that he was going to leave the Twins.
In that time, Smith has held multiple roles with the Minnesota Twins organization. He was the assistant general manager from 1994-2007 and the general manager of the team from 2007-2011.
Like I mentioned, I had a recorder working in the interview, but I lost the digital recording due to a bad app (my wife offered me a tape recorder – I should have taken her up on the offer), so these answers are NOT direct quotes from Bill, and should not be treated as such, but I will try to convey to the best of my notes and recollection how he addressed each question.
Benjamin Chase: What most attracted you to working in the minor league offices rather than pursuing another position with a team?
Bill Smith: The people, definitely the people. I have spent 20 years on the board of trustees for minor league baseball, so I have had the opportunity to get to know many of the people in the minor league baseball offices as well as many of the league presidents, team owners, and team officials of the various teams around the minors.
On a selfish note, I can fulfill the duties of my position without having to relocate, and that’s a very important piece for my wife and I where we are at in our lives.
BC: What do you believe your time working with a team front office will bring to your new position?
Smith: I spent the majority of my time working in a team setting having worked with the minor league side of the game, so I do have a healthy understanding and respect for how challenging it can be to run a minor league team. I also spent time early in my career as a GM with a minor league affiliate in Appleton (then part of the White Sox system), so I’ve had a chance to live that life as well as seeing things from the major league side along the way.
BC: In discussing affiliates, it is notable that many teams are directly owning their minor league affiliates than has been done previously. As an example, the two new teams in the Carolina League were both teams owned by their parent clubs, the Astros and Rangers. Is this team ownership good for the minor league affiliates and the communities they represent?
Smith: I certainly think it is a good thing for the communities as many major league teams have sunk significant money into their teams and communities to help build up those affiliates.
Teams owning their own affiliates allow teams to strategically place their minor league affiliates close in geographic location to the major league team. A great example of this is the Philadelphia Phillies, who have the majority of their affiliates in their market outside of their Florida State League team, who shares a facility with their Gulf Coast League team and the spring training site.
One thing that has been notable has been the effect that teams having direct hands-on work in their minor league affiliates has had on marketing efforts. Many of the best marketing efforts and game day activities in the major leagues began as promotions and game day activities in the minor leagues.
BC: The streaming service and digital media growth of the game has been substantial. While MiLB.tv has been a very positive product, what do you see as the growth areas for the digital media side of the minor league game?
Smith: To be quite honest, this is an area that is outside of my expertise, so the direction of the service is something I can’t speak to, but much like Baseball Advanced Media (BAM) has really taken the lead in all professional sports streaming, minor league’s Baseball Internet Rights Company (BIRCO) has been right in step in developing much of the same quality content.
Right now the teams do pay for their own content that is streamed, so you do see some variance in the quality as some teams have been broadcasting their games for a number of years and had a good setup in place already.
BC: More of a difficult discussion to approach, but one of the areas that has been getting a lot of online traction recently has been the pay of minor league players. Is pay something that your office would address, or is that something that major league teams are responsible for?
Smith: This is another area that is really outside of the purview of what my position will cover. I can say that the compensation for players is determined by major league teams and that right now co-operative efforts between MLB and Minor League Baseball are in place to address player compensation and benefits.
BC: Last question, as someone who worked his way up in the game, there has been a movement recently to see scouting voices begin to come from more non-traditional sources. For instance, Baseball Prospectus has seen former writers like Kevin Goldstein, Jason Parks, and Mauricio Rubio hired by major league clubs into various roles within the front office from writing for BP. How do you view this change in finding the talent to evaluate players for an organization?
Smith: I love it. Just look at how analytics has changed the game and how we look at the game. Bringing in bright minds who look at the game in a different way can only help the game be better in the long run.
Once again, I’d like to express my thanks to Bill Smith for his time in this interview and his candidness!