Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Title Inflation News from the Hot Stove League

Even though it’s the off-season, I always keep an eye out for stories about baseball.

It’s winter, and I like having the hot stove league to keep me warm.

With no games to watch, I have been slogging (slugging?) my way through The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr.

This was a hand-off from my brother-in-law, whose book club did The Kid. Rick is not a baseball fan in general, let alone a Ted Williams fan in particular, so this tome was pretty much torture for him.

Although it’s been torture for me, as well, I am a baseball fan in general, a Red Sox fan in particular, and in my first game at Fenway Park – in Teddy Ballgame’s final season – I saw The Kid hit a homerun. So I’m actually finding the book interesting, in a horrifically fascinating kind of way.

After all, it’s not every day that you get to read 800 pages about someone who was a pretty awful person, a colossal boor, a roid-rager without the roids, a rip-roaring misogynist, a miserable husband, a pathetic father (can you imagine anyone calling their daughter the “c” word?)  – and someone who believed that Douglas MacArthur was the greatest person who had ever lived.

I’d say off with his head, and that’s pretty much what happened to Ted when his son decided that there might be a buck to be made post-mortem selling Ted’s DNA or cloning him, and had his severed head and the body from whence the head was severed cryogenically frozen.

Now that I’ve finished up The Immortal Life, I’ve been casting around for baseball news, and came across an article on MLB job-title inflation.

It may not be as exciting as news on what Jon Lester’s going to do next, but I’ll take it – especially as it combines both sports and the workplace.

Since the end of the 2013 season, five of the seven teams that have hired or promoted new people to run their baseball departments have given them lofty titles that don’t include the traditional description of the role: general manager. Three of those teams have, in turn, named that person’s chief underling the general manager, redefining what it means to have that coveted job. (Source: WSJ Online.)

One team even jumped on the C-level bandwagon – remember the good old days when the only C-level was the CEO, and maybe the CFO? Before we had CIO, CTO, CCO, CMO, CISO…? Before every sales person on earth was directed to sell into “the C-suite”, no matter what they were selling? (For some companies, the hope was the person in the C-suite could get bamboozled into buying something that no one who knew anything, and/who would have been the one using the product, wanted, needed or thought was any good.)

Anyway, the Arizona Diamondbacks now have a Chief Baseball Officer.

At this rate, the once all-powerful GM title will soon belong to the intern of the aide to the assistant of the Supreme Baseball Leader.

Being a GM in baseball has always been a pretty meaty post:

…general managers have traditionally been teams’ top decision-makers on baseball matters. They make trades, sign free agents and juggle an ever-evolving roster over the course of the season, all while overseeing the scouting and minor-league development operations that are the lifeblood of many teams’ success.

But just being called GM alone hasn’t been quite enough for a while, and most teams have tagged on some sort of VP (SVP, EVP) designation.

Now, not only are their titles becoming even more prestigious, but they are increasingly devoid of “general manager” altogether. Teams are handing that title to people traditionally known as assistants. The changes may be at least somewhat superficial, but there is a real strategy behind them...

By creating a structure that attracts better candidates for subordinate roles, teams can offer their top baseball decision makers the parts of the general-manager job they like while making it easier for them to delegate other parts. And today more than ever, there is plenty of work to go around.

And I guess there is: analyzing big data, dealing with 24/7 sports press, the care of feeding of a roster of highly paid, often highly strong, athletes.

But whatever’s going on, a GM is no longer a GM.

Which reminds me of a couple of title inflation situations I was involved in.

When you work for a small company, one of the benefits is that it’s easier to get to be a VP. So I got to be a small company VP.

Then we were acquired by a company where the title VP had a lot more meaning.

While the acquisition was in the works, I sent over a copy of the press release on it to the communications department of our new owners. When it came back, I noticed that my title had been changed from VP to Director. (That VP title may have come hard, but it sure went easy.)

Conversely, a few years later I was a director in a far larger company. In the run up to our public offering, VP titles were being handed out like candy. Most of my peers got them, so I started to figure, why not. So I asked the CMO how come I wasn’t a VP. Oh, he told me, if you want I’ll make you a VP.

Then I thought about it for a mo’ and decided that I’d rather have people asking why I wasn’t a VP than asking why I was.

I took a pass, which turned out to be a wise thing to do, as we found out a while later when the company decided it was top heavy and started title-demoting almost all those who had gotten quickie promotions. Definitely a case of easy come, easy go.

Anyway, if the title inflation story isn’t exactly burning hot stove league news, it’s something. And it’s a bit more calming than reading about Ted Williams’ severed head.

1 comment:

Rick T. said...

For the record, I didn't find the Ted Williams book to be torture, despite my complete lack of interest in sports and being raised in a National League town. It is actually very well written and enjoyable, if the reader can forgive the fact that it was a horrible mistake for anyone to write 900+ pages about Ted Williams.

Ted was a very odd and contradictory person, simultaneously a narcissistic jerk and also a generous guy who cared for sick kids and those unlucky in life in other ways. But he never changed; he was that way when he was 20, still that way when he was 80. He went through life never learning a thing.

That is why the book was frustrating - you could open it anywhere, and within a few pages either way you see him being a jerk to some people and a good guy with others; only the dates and names change.

On the positive side, the antics around his death made him contend with the legendary Christa McAuliffe of Challenger disaster fame as a top subject for jokes. My favorite was a New Yorker cartoon at the time, showing a cemetery with tombstones with names--Smith, Jones, etc.--and the name "Williams" on a refrigerator.