Sports general managers are simply car salesmen – at the rink or ballpark or stadium or arena. Most are talkers. They want your trust. And they continually urge you to have interest in something that you perhaps don’t care about. The difference is that GMs don’t sell cars…they sell hope. Hope to the fans of their team. And, how long they can peddle that hope, directly determines how long they’ll stay in the job.
The romance between fans and a team’s GM will continue as long as there’s belief in the present and future. When that dies – time to bring in a new GM. This occurred to me when I was thinking about Toronto Blue Jays’ relatively new GM Alex Anthopoulos. There is renewed excitement and energy surrounding the Jays’ future, and that’s because of Anthopoulos. He’s the quiet type. Born in Montreal. Worked for the Jays since 2003. Doesn’t say much. Just goes about the business of building the club. He’s the guy that shows you the car, then quietly walks away to do more work. I like that. His predecessor, J.P. Riccardi, was the exact opposite.
J.P. never shut his yap. This is borne out by the fact that he is now an ESPN baseball analyst. Riccardi ran the Jays for eight long seasons. Always talking. Saying very little. Except when he told everyone that pitcher B.J. Ryan had a bad back. As it turned out, Ryan had an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Riccardi later said, “They’re not lies if we know the truth.”
See, Riccardi was the worst kind of car salesman. You’re trying to test-drive and his gums are a-flappin’. He never shut up (did I mention that earlier?) and Riccardi and the truth did not cross paths much. Once passionate Jays’ fans figured this out, he was done.
GMs come in all shapes and sizes and personality type. Detroit Red Wings’ GM Ken Holland is the silent type. But he has done a great job of showing Wings’ fans that he is always looking forward. Hope springs eternal in Hockeytown. Leafs’ GM Brian Burke is the surly kind of “Take it, or leave it” salesman. He doesn’t have time to waste with you. He’s got other work to do. So far, that’s working in T.O.
I’ve decided that the perfect GM gig to have is one where fans don’t know a lot about the game, so you can sell them hope for a long, long, long time. Nashville Predators’ GM David Poile has the perfect gig. So does Rick Dudley with the Atlanta Thrashers. Don Waddell held that Atlanta gig for twelve years. Waddell is the kind of salesman who’s not sure where they store the cars exactly, but he’ll get back to you.
And, if you can somehow figure out how to be coach and GM, like Glen Sather did in Edmonton for years, you’ve got it made! If the team sucks, fire the coach – and you’ve still got a job! Great gig. New coach sucks? Go back behind the bench! Pure gold!
So, take a look at your team’s general manager. Are you still hopeful that he can do the job? Can he still be the guy to lead your team out of the wilderness? Or did he fall asleep at his desk while the showroom was loading the newest models? Which reminds me, what is Senators’ GM Bryan Murray going to do with Jason Spezza?