Ivy League's latest crop
April 18, 2006, 5:00 am·
Theo Epstein is known among many Red Sox faithful as Boston's Prodigal Son. Just 28 years old when the Red Sox hired him as the team's general manager in 2002, the Yale graduate assembled the team that won the World Series in 2004 -- Boston's first World Series title in 86 years.
But Epstein is not alone as a young Ivy League alumnus who is now working in the front office of a major league baseball franchise.
The Texas Rangers one-upped the Red Sox last October when they hired Jon Daniels, a Cornell grad who, at 28 years, 41 days, was about 10 months younger than Epstein was at the time of the Boston GM's hiring.
Paul DePodesta is another former Ivy Leaguer -- who graduated from Harvard in 1995 -- with front-office experience. Hired by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004 when he was 31 years old, DePodesta was the third-youngest general manager to be hired at the time.
So why is it that baseball operations seem to be increasingly placed in the hands of young guns from the Ancient Eight?
Mark Shapiro, a Princeton grad who now works as the GM of the Cleveland Indians, says the quality of the student body found at Ivy League schools plays a big factor.
"The environment and culture around me was such that it helped me internalize very high standards," said Shapiro, who was only 34 when he was named the GM of the Indians.
The recent trend of younger people running baseball teams also reflects a change in baseball itself. The average age of all major-league general managers is just 44, and three of the five general managers hired since the end of last season were under 35.
And these new-age GMs are bringing with them a good amount of knowledge of statistics and economics, as well as of pure baseball.
"Over the past ten years or so, baseball as an industry has opened itself up to hiring people with 'non-traditional' backgrounds, said Rick Hahn, assistant general manager of the Chicago White Sox and a graduate of Harvard Law School. "Like any business, having employees with diverse backgrounds and skill sets only makes you stronger."
Degrees from prestigious colleges, along with an emphasis on statistical analysis to evaluate player talent, appear to be supplanting years of experience as the primary criteria to land a job in the front office of a major-league franchise.
"I tend to take a common-sense approach to problem-solving, and oftentimes that involves the use of quantitative analysis," says Matt Silverman, Harvard grad and president of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "I do have an appreciation for the collection, analysis and application of information, both as it relates to our business operations and to our baseball operations."
However, many have been quick to point out that baseball is not being taken over by number crunchers who think America's pastime can be played based on information that a computer spits out.
"I consider myself someone who attempts to balance both traditional and newer methods of player evaluation," Hahn said. "I feel like objective analysis has a very important place in the decision, but it's only one part of the process."
A number of these young GMs also have backgrounds in business.
Silverman worked with Goldman Sachs before signing on with the Devil Rays, and Jeff Luhnow, a Penn grad who now works as the vice president of player procurement for the St. Louis Cardinals, previously worked for McKinsey.
"Decision-making in baseball is not too different than decision-making in business," Luhnow said. "You ultimately have to make decisions with less than perfect information, and you may end up being wrong because there are always variables that are impossible to account for completely in advance."
Nonetheless, owners and fans alike are relying on younger people armed with prestigious degrees to do their best to calculate success.