TORONTO (Oct. 29) — The departure today of Alex Anthopoulos as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays will come as a shocking development to many across the country. But, the footprints were made last winter, when team owner Rogers Communications elected to replace long–time president Paul Beeston.
What began as a covert operation quickly became public after deputy chairman Edward Rogers reportedly made an off–the–record phone call to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reisndorf, inquiring about the availability of his executive vice–president Kenny Williams. Rogers either didn’t know, or chose to ignore, that Reinsdorf and Beeston have long been inseparable pals. Reinsdorf immediately called Beeston to inform him of the movement underway with Blue Jays ownership. Hall–of–Fame baseball writer Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun was apprised of the situation and broke the story for his readers. Ultimately, Rogers extended Beeston’s contract through the 2015 season and continued its search for a replacement.
Only Edward Rogers can tell us why the company wished to “retire” Beeston, who still looks two decades younger than his 70 years; remains in good health, and is universally respected throughout Major League Baseball. Either a falling out occurred somewhere along the line or the company simply felt it was time for a new voice. Remember, when the Rogers–Reinsdorf fiasco occurred, the Blue Jays were coming off another mediocre season (83–79, 13 games behind first–place Baltimore in the American League East). The Jays’ 21–year playoff famine was the longest of any team in the four major North American sports. That Rogers desired to shake up the operation hardly came as a shock, though many pointed to the company, itself, for years of budget restraint. Only in the winter of 2012 did ownership appear to commit — allowing for such expensive trade additions as R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes; thereby increasing expectation. When the 2013 season became a disaster, Rogers appeared to throw in the towel once again.
Today’s development likely wouldn’t have caused more than a ripple had Anthopoulos not turned around the franchise at the non–waiver trade deadline this summer. Even with his clever acquisitions, last off–season, of Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, Marco Estrada, Chris Colabello and Devon Travis, the Blue Jays were treading water in the final week of July with a 50–51 record, seven lengths behind the A.L. East–leading Yankees. Only when Anthopoulos — still working within his 2015 budget — somehow annexed Troy Tulowitzki, David Price and Ben Revere before the July 31 deadline did the Blue Jays take off… and begin to carry all of Canada on an unforgettable, three–month ride that ended last Friday night, at Kansas City, in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. By then, Anthopoulos had become a God–like figure among Blue Jays fans and trepidation over his future with the club began to take hold.
Theoretically, Rogers could have halted its search for a new president well before Mark Shapiro came aboard, Aug. 31, from the Cleveland Indians. On that morning, the Blue Jays were a remarkable 24–5 in their previous 29 games; had pieced together an 11–game win streak for the second time in 2015, and had overtaken the Yankees for first place in the Division. The Beeston–Anthopoulos combo appeared to be firing on all cylinders. Moreover, why would Rogers choose to hire a president that insisted on usurping baseball authority from its star GM? Prior to agreeing with Shapiro, the company had to know that Anthopoulos would bristle under the new guidelines and surely not sign a contract extension. That is why today’s defection began with that clandestine call, last winter, from Edward Rogers to Jerry Reinsdorf.
This isn’t to condemn Blue Jays ownership, even though it continually drips of the slogan “Rogers Knows Best.” A commitment was made to replace Beeston and it occurred with the appointment of Shapiro. Thanks to Anthopoulos, the new president has an excellent nucleus with which to work and it’s highly premature to suggest Shapiro will foul it up. But, the customer relations element of Rogers — hardly a Rock of Gibraltar to begin with — will take an enormous hit with today’s news. It comes early enough in the off–season that it may be healed by time once the 2016 schedule begins next April. How it effects ticket sales and cable subscriptions remains to be seen… and is obviously not of prime concern to the company.
Whatever the case, stability in Toronto professional sport is forever fleeting.