Future GMs may come from scouting ranks
After a short-lived minor-league career as a second baseman in the Chicago White Sox system, Jack Zduriencik tried his hand at coaching at the collegiate level, then embarked on a professional career, first as an area scout and then a scouting director.
Mike Rizzo spent three years in the lower minor leagues in the California Angels’ system, then embarked on a 25-year career in scouting, including seven years as the scouting director for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Now look at them. Zduriencik is entering his second year as general manager of the Seattle Mariners. Rizzo is beginning his first full season as general manager of the Washington Nationals.
And there are baseball lifers from coast to coast pulling for Zduriencik and Rizzo to enjoy success.
The hirings are just a ripple in the baseball waters, but they could be a turning of the tide away from the infatuation with Ivy League-educated general managers, who can rattle off the VORP and WISP and whatever statistical analysis is trendy today.
Baseball is a copycat business. A team starts to win and the other owners want to follow the same path. That’s why Zduriencik and Rizzo are carrying the banner not merely for themselves in the world of general managers, but also anyone with a strong scouting background.
"Maybe there will be a realization that there is a value into what the eyes see," said Zduriencik, who relies heavily on statistical evaluations but knows the importance of a feel that comes from experience of evaluating. It was the "feel" that led Zduriencik to ignore his critics when he was scouting director in Milwaukee and use first-round picks on Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.
They had been labeled DHs. And while they have reaffirmed they can hit, they also have done just fine defensively, Fielder settling in at first base and Braun adapting quickly to the move from third base to left field.
A scouting background requires decisions to be made — and accepting accountability for those decisions — and involves hiring and firing individuals, two key aspects to a general manager’s job that no slide rule can ever duplicate.
Here are 10 others awaiting the chance to follow in the footsteps of Zduriencik and Rizzo and prove themselves in a general manager role.
DAMON OPPENHEIMER, scouting director, New York Yankees. Oppenheimer went from catching Randy Johnson at USC to a year in the Milwaukee farm system to scouting at the age of 24. He worked with San Diego, where his mother was the longtime minor-league administrator, and Texas before joining the Yankees in 1993, becoming the director of player personnel in 2001 and assuming the scouting director role in 2005. He is part of the inner circle of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. He’s not much in terms of self-promoting, so his name rarely shows up in rumors.
LOGAN WHITE, scouting director, Los Angeles Dodgers. The son of a former professional calf roper, White pitched in Seattle’s minor-league system before becoming an associate scout with the Mariners in 1988-89. He handled area scouting chores for Baltimore 1990-92 and served as a West Coast supervisor with San Diego (1993-95) and Baltimore (1996-2002) before being hired by the Dodgers. He’s been rumored to be in line for the Dodgers GM job several times, which hasn’t helped his dealings with current GM Ned Colletti.
BILL GEIVETT, vice president, player operations, Colorado Rockies, and BILL SCHMIDT, scouting director, Colorado Rockies. Geivett and Schmidt have been an impressive tandem in building the Rockies farm system into a prime feeder of big-league talent. The Rockies were only team to feature an Opening Day lineup of nine home-growns a year ago, and in their postseason clinching victory in September, all 10 players were originally signed by the Rockies. Geivett, a former infielder in the Angels’ system, ran the farm departments in Montreal and Tampa Bay before becoming a special assistant to the GM in Los Angeles. Schmidt began his pro career as a minor-league coach. He scouted with the Major League Scouting Bureau, Cincinnati, the Yankees and Cleveland before joining the Rockies for the 2000 season.
TIM WILKEN, scouting director, Chicago Cubs. He’s a protégé of Pat Gillick, who spent 25 years in scouting with the Toronto Blue Jays, who have produced more big-league players than any other major-league franchise since the Jays’ creation in 1977. Between the Jays and Cubs, Wilken worked with Tampa Bay in its formative years.
DAN JENNINGS, vice president, player personnel, Florida Marlins. Former player in the Yankee farm system, Jennings got his first taste of scouting as a birddog for the Cincinnati Reds. He became a full-time scout with Seattle in 1988, and was scouting director for the expansion Tampa Bay franchise, where his first-round selections included Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton and Rocco Baldelli. He joined the Marlins in 2003.
BUDDY BLACK, manager, San Diego Padres. A former big-league pitcher who was part of Kansas City’s 1985 world championship team, Black began his post-playing career in a special assignment role with Cleveland, then became pitching coach of the California Angels, helping them claim the 2002 world championship. He is in his fourth year managing the Padres, but remains high on the list of many executives for front office consideration once he decides to hang up the uniform.
BRAD AUSMUS, catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dartmouth grad has built a long playing career around his strong defense and impressive knowledge of the game. He has a great insight to the game, although he will need to enhance that by working in the front office to get a better feel for what goes on behind the closed doors before he will be ready to step into the general manager’s role.
BOB ENGLE, director, international scouting, Seattle. A longtime confidant of Pat Gillick, Engle came to Seattle with Gillick from Toronto, where Engle’s duties include a six-year stint as scouting director during which he took both Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter with first-round selections. In fact, last fall was a special time for Engle, who not only drafted NL Cy Young winner Carpenter in Toronto, but was the key scout involved in signing of AL Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez for Seattle.
DICK TIDROW, vice president, player personnel, San Francisco. Former big-league pitcher initially worked as a special assignment scout with the Yankees from 1985-93. In 1994 he moved to San Francisco where former Yankee cohort Brian Sabean had become the general manager. The Giants’ American League scout initially, he became a special assistant to the general manager in 1996, and moved into his current role in 1997. He oversees the draft as well as player development.