Influencers | Mike Girsch

April 2018 View more

Even as a child, Mike Girsch had an analytical mind. That was definitely true when he was thinking about what he wanted to do for a living. The 1994 Benet Academy graduate dreamed of playing shortstop in the major leagues, but his backup plan was to become a general manager.

Girsch’s first goal is a common aim for baseball-loving kids and the second is a bit out there. Neither is realistic for the vast majority of the population.

Yet Girsch made the latter happen. The kid who was unable to land on the freshman baseball team at Benet eventually succeeded through unorthodox means. On June 30, 2017, Girsh was named vice president and general manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, succeeding John Mozeliak, who was promoted to president of baseball operations.

“There’s not a whole lot of people that can say what they dreamed of doing is where they end up,” Girsch says. “Every now and then someone points out that, ‘God, I’d kill for your job.’ That’s not something you normally hear. It reminds you of how lucky you are.”

Luck played only a small role in Girsch’s success. His athletic career was topped by a stint as an offensive lineman on Benet’s 1993 football team, but his academic achievements include a math degree from Notre Dame and an MBA from the University of Chicago. That led to a successful career in the consulting field. But he didn’t want to do that for the rest of his life.

In his spare time, Girsch put together an analysis of how draft picks should be valued in dollars and emailed it to every Major League Baseball team. Only three teams responded, and the Cardinals eventually hired him as director of amateur scouting in 2006.

Girsch was married with 18-month old twins—and the third of his four children was on the way—when he decided to quit his job, take a cut in pay and move to St. Louis. It was a bold move for a former Cubs fan, yet it came as no surprise to those who know him best.

“Mike is a wise soul,” says his younger brother Greg, who is Benet’s varsity assistant baseball coach and director of development. “He’s always been confident in his ability to achieve whatever he set out to achieve. I remember when he got the opportunity, saying, ‘That’s what Mike does.’ We both grew up loving baseball, but he made it into a career. I’m really proud of him.”

Girsch says he would not have done it without the support of his wife, Kelly, a fellow Benet grad. “She was nervous but totally on board with it,” Girsch says. “You can’t be very picky when you’re looking for baseball jobs.

The career change was risky but Girsch’s timing was impeccable. The book Moneyball had been published a few years before, detailing the Oakland A’s use of statistical analysis in evaluating players. That dovetailed with what Girsch wanted to do. He is one of a growing number of baseball executives with a business background.

“In the last 15 years or so, there has been a transition from looking for ex-players to run teams, to more analytical people with academic backgrounds,” Girsch says. “They still prefer that you have some baseball experience, because that helps in relating to players and coaches, but there’s certainly a model for guys who have done consulting.”

Girsch loves crunching numbers, but he is particularly passionate about baseball analysis. Now this numbers guy is in charge of a nine-figure payroll and helping to run one of the most successful franchises in baseball. During Girsch’s career with the Cardinals, which included six years as assistant general manager, the team has played in three World Series, winning two. Yet the long hours and media scrutiny do not bother him.

“People ask me how much I work and it’s a hard question to answer,” Girsch says. “I spend a lot of time at home reading baseball articles. It is what I would be doing in my free time anyway. So is reading Baseball America considered work? It makes it a lot easier to not think of it as work.”

Girsch’s career has been underpinned by the solid work ethic he learned in high school. “Benet is a very good school with a lot of motivated people who push you to not just get by, but to actually work your butt off and learn,” Girsch says. “That’s where it started for me, and I think that [shows] throughout my career. You don’t do the minimum. You better do more than that, or else someone else will pass you by.”

Girsch didn’t let his dream opportunity pass him by. “It certainly worked out,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier.”