TORONTO (Oct. 27) — Many in the local media have launched a preemptive strike against Rogers Communications in the event Alex Anthopoulos does not return as general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. This is understandable given the widespread popularity of Anthopoulos and outgoing president Paul Beeston… combined with the apparent mistrust of Rogers and the mystery surrounding incoming president Mark Shapiro. In the end, however, the situation will evolve according to Shapiro’s contract.
If Rogers has accorded its new head honcho final authority on baseball matters, so be it — unless Shapiro (pronounced “Sha–pie–roh”) is willing to re–negotiate such a provision. Otherwise, Anthopoulos has a pair of options: Live with, and work according to, the decision of his employer… or move to another team. The latter would go over like a lead–balloon around here, and justifiably after the splendid work done by Anthopoulos to craft a World Series contender. All I’m saying is that particulars of any alliance between Shapiro and Double–A must be part of the new president’s contract, which goes into effect Saturday — a day after Anthopoulos’s deal expires. So, both parties already know how the situation is likely to evolve.
The guesswork, in the absence of hard information from Shapiro and/or Anthopoulos, belongs to the rest of us. Of course Anthopoulos “deserves” to continue as GM of the Blue Jays, but the business world is rarely dictated by fairness or logic. Most incoming executives like to hire their own people and this has long been an issue with professional teams in our city. The Maple Leafs routinely build from the bottom up, rather than the traditionally–opposite way. Coaches are in place when GM’s are hired; GM’s in place when presidents are hired; presidents in place when CEO’s are hired. Now, the Blue Jays are following suit with an entire baseball operation in place for the incoming president. Like it or not, it is fully Shapiro’s prerogative to either appoint a new GM or to insist that Anthopoulos function under a different set of rules.
To portend disaster for the ball club in the event Anthopoulos goes elsewhere is largely unfair to Rogers and Shapiro. At the moment, it would seem counterproductive, given the Blue Jays’ advancement to the American League Championship Series for the first time in 22 years. Anthopoulos has generated momentum (and profit) for the baseball wing of the Rogers empire. Perhaps the decision–makers at 333 Bloor St. now regret forcing Beeston into “retirement” — which occurred long before Anthopoulos made his franchise–altering moves at the trade deadline. Perhaps not. Whatever the case, Shapiro is the new man in charge and deserves a chance to prove himself — either with Anthopoulos or a GM of his choice.
I vividly remember the angst here in town 30 years ago this week when Bobby Cox decided to leave the Blue Jays and become GM of the Atlanta Braves. Cox had just managed the Jays to their first–ever playoff appearance and even though the club coughed up a 3–1 series lead against Kansas City, he was deemed rather God–like. The Blue Jays (and many observers) felt they had a ready–made replacement in third–base coach Jimy Williams — a brilliant baseball man who couldn’t initially handle the spotlight of being manager. In three seasons under Jimy one–M, the Blue Jays missed the playoffs by 9½ games; choked on a 4½–length lead in the American League East with seven games to play, and missed the playoffs by two. When the club staggered to a 12–24 start in 1989, Williams was dumped in favor of hitting coach Clarence (Cito) Gaston.
History shows it took the Blue Jays seven years and two playoff flops (1989, 1991) to get it right and win consecutive World Series titles under Gaston (in 1992 and 1993). Would the Jays have prevailed more quickly had Cox decided to remain after the 1985 season? That’s a question without an answer. As it turned out, GM Pat Gillick made his over–the–top moves by trading (with San Diego in December 1990) for second–baseman Roberto Alomar and right–fielder Joe Carter; with the New York Mets (in August 1992) for pitcher David Cone, and by signing free agents Dave Winfield and Jack Morris in ’92; Paul Molitor and Dave Stewart in ’93. Clearly, the Jays regressed after Cox left… before taking a number of frontward leaps under Gaston.
But, it required the better part of a decade.
All of which should generate pause right now for Rogers and its incoming baseball president. Though it is often futile to compare eras, momentum was clearly lost when Cox moved on in 1985 and it threatens to recede again if Anthopoulos goes elsewhere. My point is: There is no guarantee the Blue Jays will regress under Shapiro and a new GM. A window of at least one year exists for the current club with respect to such position players as Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Ben Revere, Chris Colabello, Russell Martin and Ryan Goins, with Devon Travis also in the mix. Pitching will need to be upgraded with the likely departures of David Price, Mark Buehrle and LaTroy Hawkins. Anthopoulos has proven adept at filling holes — big and small. Overwhelmingly, baseball fans here wish for him to continue his good work.
The future, however, is already cast in stone as part of Shapiro’s agreement with Rogers.
We’ll soon discover how much spin–off it entails.
LEAFS CANNOT BE OUT–WORKED: Part of the futility Mike Babcock will experience in his first year as coach of the Maple Leafs involves the ebb–and–flow of the long National Hockey League season. No club — Stanley Cup contender or bottom–feeder — brings its stuff every night of the year. The talent–starved Leafs have generally performed with vigor in the early weeks of the schedule, but the club did not compete well against Arizona on Monday… until it was too late (falling behind 4–1 and losing 4–3). And, defeat is a virtual certainty any time this Toronto team chooses to show up without its work–boots.
The dilemma for Babcock is how to respond as the season progresses. A horse–trainer can push a good thoroughbred to the limit and get results. Not so with a mule. Predictably, Babcock skated the Leafs hard earlier today after the Arizona dud, but countering with a practice–from–Hell on every–such occasion will finish this team before December. Mike will also discover there is something about a weeknight home game against an uncommon opponent that the Leafs cannot conquer. He is likely to find neither a cause nor a cure, both of which have eluded Toronto coaches for the past 50 years. On a Saturday night in Montreal — before a nationwide TV audience — a bad Maple Leafs team will find the energy to unleash 52 shots. On a quiet Monday at Air Canada Centre, against a Pacific Division foe, that drive will be missing.
Perhaps Mike possesses the magic, midweek formula.
None of of Peter Horachek, Randy Carlyle, Ron Wilson, Paul Maurice, Pat Quinn, Mike Murphy, Nick Beverley, Pat Burns, Tom Watt, Doug Carpenter, George Armstrong, John Brophy, Mike Nykoluk, Joe Crozier, Floyd Smith, Roger Neilson, Red Kelly or John McLellan were able to find it in the post–1967 era.
The Leafs have begun the season with a 1–5–2 mark in their first eight games and it’s inexplicable how certain numbers endure. The hockey savant in me remembers the 1976–77 Maple Leafs compiling an identical record out of the gate. That club — led by future Hall–of–Famers Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Borje Salming — had a much–loftier expectation than the current group and it solved the early–season dilemma by summoning a goalie from the minors. Mike Palmateer was called up from Oklahoma City of the Central Hockey League to replace Wayne Thomas for the Maple Leafs ninth game and he quickly righted the listing ship. The acrobatic Palmateer went on to become — in my view — second only to Curtis Joseph among No. 1 Leaf netminders since the ’67 Stanley Cup triumph.