At press time last week, the news about Alex Anthopoulos leaving the Toronto Blue Jays was just about to break. To say that the announcement caused some discussion in the Toronto sports media, and amongst the general public, would be an understatement.
Looking back at the situation now, it is perhaps easier to see why Anthopoulos decided to move on, and realize that most Blue Jays fans were just hoping that Anthopoulos and news Blue Jays President & CEO Mark Shapiro would work things out. When we re-examine the facts and connect the dots, it seems this was not the hasty decision it seemed to be at the time it was announced.
To summarize what we know:
- Both parties confirmed that the team had offered Anthopoulos a five year extension, to continue as General Manager of the ball club.
- Anthopoulos said that his reason for turning down the offer was that he didn’t see this as “the right fit” for him. He didn’t expand on that comment, other than to repeat it several times in various interviews with the media following the official announcement.
- Edward Rogers, CEO of the Blue Jays parent company Rogers Communications, indicated that the offer made to Anthopoulos was for the same job he had under Paul Beeston, the retiring CEO of the Blue Jays, and there would be no change in the level of autonomy Anthopoulos would be granted under the extension, other than a change in his immediate boss, Shapiro. Shapiro was officially announced as Beeston’s successor on August 31st. Rogers went on to say that the offer included a salary increase and would have provided Anthopoulos with an “opt out clause” after twelve months.
- Anthopoulos has always been very private about all matters, whether they were about his own contract, or about which pieces of the roster needed upgrading or changing.
- Anthopoulos said on Bob McCown’s Prime Time Sports show on FAN 590 1FAN 590 is an all-sports station owned by Rogers on Thursday evening that he had initially turned down the offer on the evening of Monday October 26th, and that for the next two days the Blue Jays and Rogers had come back to him in an attempt to persuade him to change his mind. Anthopoulos stated that he thought about the discussions over those two days, but on the evening of Wednesday October 28th, he advised Rogers that he was standing by his initial decision to walk away. To Anthopoulos credit he took the high road, not once speaking negatively about Rogers, the Blue Jays, or the way he had been treated. He indicated he did not have another opportunity in front of him, and that he would take things day to day and enjoy time with his family.
In view of the Blue Jays success over the final 60 days of the 2015 season and their spirited post-season run, it is easy to sit back and be puzzled by the turn of events. Since both sides confirmed that a five-year deal had been offered, we can take comfort in thinking that was accurate. Anthopoulos said the offer was, “to be the General Manager of the Toronto Blue Jays”. He did not offer to explain if or how the team or Rogers wanted to change his level of authority. Rogers and the team continued to stand by their earlier statement that the offer included no changes to the role that Anthopoulos had been performing for the past six seasons.
How Did We Get Here?
So, where did it break down? Now that the dust has settled somewhat, and again looking back at recent events, it is perhaps easier for fans and the media to pinpoint several situations that might have triggered Anthopoulos’ decision.
Looking at the facts of the past twelve months chronologically, the first hiccup likely came in the fall of 2014, when Rogers made it known within the industry that Beeston would be retiring no later than the end of the 2015 season. Rogers is a communications company, but apparently they forgot to inform Beeston of their decision. Rogers started looking for his successor. They targeted several individuals, all with baseball backgrounds rather than the business background, that Beeston brought to the table. We can only assume that the move to seek a new CEO with a baseball background was likely triggered by the fact that both Beeston and Anthopoulos’ contracts expired at the end of the 2015 season, so everything fitted nicely in terms of the new President and CEO being able to hire “his guy” rather than inheriting Anthopoulos, the Beeston disciple.
Several names were suggested as Beeston’s successor, but the two that were mentioned most prominently were Kenny Williams, President of the Chicago White Sox and Dan Duquette, General Manager of the Baltimore Orioles. As both Williams and Duquette were employed, Rogers needed to obtain permission from the White Sox and Orioles before approaching Williams and Duquette. The first contact was supposedly with the White Sox principal owner Jerry Reinsdorf regarding Williams. What Rogers failed to take into account was that Reinsdorf and Beeston are extremely close friends, so once he was approached; Reinsdorf’s first call was to his buddy Beeston asking him what was going on. Beeston was not pleased, as none of us would be. Then the search turned to Duquette and Orioles owner Peter Angelos requested compensation in an amount that the Blue Jays weren’t prepared to agree to.
— Erika Gilbert (@e_gilbert) February 4, 2015
Once it became public knowledge that Rogers wanted to replace Beeston, it was glossed over and announced that Beeston would retire at the end of the 2015 season. He would be 70 years old at that time and a Blue Jays employee for 40 years. In fact he was the team’s first employee, hired in 1976, a year before the team first took the field. Apart from a few years working in MLB headquarters in New York, Beeston has been a fixture with the Blue Jays for all those years. Even when he worked for MLB, he maintained an office at Rogers Centre (then known as SkyDome).
So the search continued for a new CEO, ending with the Shapiro hire on August 31st. While the official announcement didn’t take place until late August, obviously discussions with Shapiro and the Indians were ongoing well before the hire was announced. In fact, those discussions likely went back to at least the latter part of July, when the Blue Jays were 50-51 and it appeared they were about to enjoy another .500 season. It is very likely that Rogers made it clear to Shapiro that cleaning house would be easy to justify given the team’s on field performance at the time discussions were taking place.
While both sides have denied it, rumours persist that shortly after Shapiro came on board, during a conversation with Anthopoulos, he was critical of the numerous trades Anthopoulos had made at the July 31 deadline, giving up several good prospects in order to obtain Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. Whether Anthopoulos acted on his own in these trades, as was his mandate, or whether he and Beeston had discussed the strategy we will likely never know, but the possibility exists that if both felt their Blue Jays careers were over on October 31st, why not take a gamble and go for it all in 2015? After all, they had nothing to lose. Beeston knew he was going, and Anthopoulos must have felt that he would be gone too if the record didn’t improve, because his biggest supporter was leaving at the end of the year.
After Anthopoulos made his announcement last Thursday, Globe and Mail columnist Cathal Kelly detailed a conversation he had had with Anthopoulos in September when the Blue Jays were in New York for a four game series with the Yankees. Kelly describes the conversation as being very causal, in the visitors’ clubhouse. ”You’re coming back, right?” asked Kelly. “I’m not sure” Anthopoulos responded. Kelly interpreted that as meaning that there had been no discussions about a new contract for Anthopoulos. Anthopoulos indicated he had only met Shapiro in passing, and had no feel for him. Anthopoulos apparently told Kelly that he had no interest in staying if it meant running every move up the ladder and while he was open to collaboration, he did not want to be micro managed. If that is the way the conversation took place, then it is easy to see why Anthopoulos didn’t “see a fit” for himself in the post-Beeston era. Anthopoulos also apparently revealed he had had no discussions with ownership, which Kelly thought was odd. Anthopoulos apparently agreed. Kelly indicates he was asked not to reveal the discussion at the time it occurred, but now that it has come to light, it would seem that Anthopoulos had in fact made up his mind long before the five year contract offer last week.
Shaprio held his first press conference at Rogers Centre on Monday, his first day on the job. He said all the right things, that he wanted Anthopoulos to return and is disappointed Anthopoulos decided to seek other pastures, that he was looking forward to working with a team that not only represented a city but a whole country, that the Blue Jays had a strong management team, and that he hoped all would stay. He danced around a lot of questions. There were lots of definite maybes in his responses. Perhaps we should expect that from any executive. Perhaps we should expect that from anyone in their first day in a new job. But Shapiro did nothing to settle the minds of Blue Jays fans still enjoying the team’s first post season appearance in 22 years. Shapiro did state that in order to provide some stability, he was promoting current Vice-President and Assistant General Manager Tony LaCava to Interim General Manager, and that field manager John Gibbons would return in 2016, but when asked, he made no comment about whether LaCava would be seriously considered for the General Manager’s job on a full time basis.
What Shapiro did was damage control, essentially providing himself with a little more time before having to make a formal statement on where he saw the team going. LaCava was loyal to Anthopoulos so from a continuity standpoint the appointment makes sense. LaCava also worked for the Indians for a year in the early 2000’s when Shapiro was the General Manager in Cleveland, so there is a little history there, but the announcement was clearly not a resounding endorsement. In his November 3rd column, Kelly is suggesting that LaCava shouldn’t run out and get new business cards.
As a Blue Jays fan since day one and a long-time member of a season ticket group, I wasn’t impressed with Shapiro’s first state of the union message. I hope it gets better, but I can see why Anthopoulos made the decision he did. It likely wasn’t just his inter-action with Shapiro, or the lack of it, it was probably what he has seen over the last twelve months, starting with the way the organization treated Beeston, his good friend and mentor and the new direction the Blue Jays appear to be heading.
Ironically on the day Anthopoulos’ decision became public, he was named as the MLB Executive of the Year for 2015. A nice thing to add to your resume in an industry where opportunities arise fairly often, and an industry where hopefully Anthopoulos will find “the right fit” not too far down the road.
Could this have been resolved? Yes, but the circumstances would have had to be different. If Rogers had known the success the team would enjoy on the field after July 31st, they may have handled it differently. Looking back, and using the “if only we knew then what we know now” approach, the best move would have been to promote Anthopoulos to President and CEO 2He holds a degree from a McMaster University, a well-respected Canadian institution and let him run the baseball side. The business, marketing and stadium issues could have fallen under the responsibility of a new hire with those specific skills, reporting to Anthopoulos. What difference does it make if you have a baseball guy reporting to a President with a business background, or a business guy reporting to a President with a baseball background? From my seat, it makes no difference.
Anthopoulos has earned a lot of respect in this city as a result of his work with the Blue Jays this year and his open, friendly manner with everyone he came into contact with. He was always giving of his time while working with the Blue Jays and seems genuinely disappointed that things didn’t work out between the two parties. I think that fans saw him as “one of us”, a baseball fan and a Canadian to boot.
All we can say is good luck Alex and thank you.