Superstars in Sport Management History

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For someone going into a sport management degree, one of the highest aspirations for a career in professional sports is to become a general manager.

While players and coaches are on display for the cameras during games, general managers are watching from a distance, waiting to see if the final buzzer proves their worth or edges them closer to working on their resume. They put teams together and use all of their faculties to make the right decisions.

General managers play a key role in professional sports, and as demonstrated by the three legendary figures below, they are often the force behind some of the greatest stories in sports history.

Billy Beane

As a baseball player, Beane didn’t amount to the expectations that scouts had for him. But as an executive for the Oakland Athletics, he can be truly said to have changed the game.

Under the mentorship of the previous general manager, Beane scouted players that went largely overlooked and undervalued by other teams in the league. He sought them out on the basis of statistical analysis of their game activity, known as sabermetrics. His team’s success—reaching the playoffs in four consecutive years, becoming the first ever in the American League to win 20 consecutive games—has influenced other managers to adopt his approach to teambuilding.

Beane compares his scouting approach to playing the stock market:

“Anyone in the game with a 401(k) has a choice. They can choose a fund manager who manages their retirement by gut instinct, or one who chooses by research and analysis. I know which way I’d choose.”

Even those who don’t consider themselves sports fans are now familiar with Beane’s legendary status, thanks to the 2011 film Moneyball.

Theo Epstein

As the youngest GM in baseball history, Epstein had much to prove. This he did in short order; at age 30, he lead the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series championship in 86 years (one of the longest gaps between championships for any Major League team). Three years later, Epstein and the Sox did it all over again. The secret of Epstein’s success was fairly simple; as he told the Boston Globe, “This is a job you have to give your whole heart and soul to.” He now serves as President of Baseball Operations for the club.

Pat Gillick

Gillick’s own career as a sports player follows quite a different trajectory: his skills as a left-handed pitcher won the College World Series for the University of Southern California. Born the son of a minor league player, Gillick lived and breathed baseball throughout his life.

Even more impressive than his win/loss record of 45-32 as a minor league pitcher was his track record as a manager. His leadership brought the Toronto Blue Jays five division titles from 1985 to 1993, as well as the club’s first World Series championship.

Next, Gillick took control of the Seattle Mariners in an uncertain season right after Ken Griffey, Jr.’s departure from the team. Under his management, the Mariners soon found themselves in back-to-back playoff appearances, and tied the MLB record set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs for most wins in a single season.

Finally, Gillick took over the Philadelphia Phillies, leading them to a 2008 World Championship title. At that point, Gillick retired, only to be named “King of Baseball” in recognition of his dedication and service to the sport. A year later, he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.