Armour and Levitt: The best 25 GMs in baseball history

From SABR members Mark Armour and Dan Levitt at In Pursuit of Pennants on January 9, 2015:

Over the next several weeks we will be counting down the top 25 general managers in baseball history—as we see them anyway.  Because of the disparity in resources and opportunities available among the various front offices over the years, and the evolving nature of the job itself, evaluating general managers is largely a subjective exercise.

The most common approach to assess general managers objectively has largely been based on wins per payroll dollar. This is interesting and can be informative, but the goal is to win, not necessarily to win cheaply.  Moreover, regardless of the money available, the challenge of building a team is highly dependent on what kind of team you start with.  Brian Cashman (Yankees) and Joe Garagiola, Jr. (Diamondbacks) each had their first GM season in 1998.  Cashman was handed one of history’s greatest teams, while Garagiola had a first year expansion team.  Comparing their performances is not easy.  How should we apportion credit (or blame) for teams that have the stamp of previous GMs?  Gene Michael collected most of the players Cashman built around—how much credit should he receive for the Yankees success after he was no longer in charge?

So what did we look at in our rankings?  First and foremost obviously is winning: how successful were the general manager’s teams and how consistently were they good.  Constraints and resources need to be taken into account: how much freedom and authority did ownership give the GM to make decisions, build a front office, and select his on-field staff, and what were his financial restrictions?  Context, too, is important.  The challenge of staying on top is very different than building or rebuilding a struggling franchise.  Specific direction from ownership also matters.  Was the GM given a win now directive? If so, winning right away gets more weight than restocking the farm system. In other cases success over the longer term may receive more emphasis. Moreover, in some eras the competition may be unusually weak or strong, making the job either more or less challenging.

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Originally published: January 12, 2015. Last Updated: January 12, 2015.