1) I was not surprised that Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos turned down their offer of a seemingly very attractive contract extension. The seeds of this debacle were sown many months ago when Edward Rogers (scion of the family that controls Rogers Media, the owner of the Blue Jays) stupidly and inappropriately undermined the heart and soul of the Blue Jays, CEO Paul Beeston, by calling Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, to ask for permission to speak to White Sox vice-president Kenny Williams about replacing Beeston. The thing is, Williams is a dyed-in-the wool baseball guy, not a businessman first. Beeston is a businessman first, and has always relied primarily on his general manager to take care of player personnel. What Rogers overlooked is that Reinsdorf is one of Beeston’s best friends. (In addition to being baseball fraternity brothers, they’re both CPAs.) Reinsdorf did what any good friend would do, he told Beeston about the call. I have to believe that at that point Beeston and Anthopoulos had a little chat about their respective futures. Although Beeston agreed to stay on (his contract expires today), Rogers exacerbated the situation last summer when they hired Cleveland Indians president Mark Shapiro, who takes over on Monday, to replace Beeston. It’s been rumoured that Shapiro, a former GM, made no bones about the fact that he was looking forward to again having the final say in all aspects of player personnel. It’s not much of a stretch to imagine Beeston and Anthopoulos then having another chat and concluding that Alex had just been constructively dismissed. Further evidence of this observation is the fact that Beeston and Anthopoulos then threw caution to the wind, pulled out all the stops, and turned the Blue Jays into a true contender. It seems that there were some intense negotiations early this week to try to square the circle that the inept Rogers created by hiring a president who wants to also effectively be the general manager and trying, belatedly because of his success, to keep a general manager who doesn’t want to be micromanaged. This was doomed to failure because leaving Anthopoulos with his existing autonomy would go against the promise that Rogers must have made to Shapiro not to do so. I’ve never met Alex Anthopoulos, but everything I’ve seen and heard about him points to him being a classy individual. He certainly took the high road in the handling of his departure, a road on which there wasn’t much traffic at the time. But I’ve known Paul Beeston well for almost fifty years and know firsthand that he’s not only a top-notch executive but also the type of person that anyone would want as a friend. Rogers should be ashamed of the way they’ve treated these two fine people. However, I suspect that shame is not an emotion with which Rogers is familiar.
2) I’m not one of the baseball fans complaining about the number and length of video reviews. I don’t think they take up much more time than did the previous arguments between show-boating managers and umpires; and the reviews are much more interesting. I also think that one of the attractions of baseball is the pace of the game, which is such that time can be taken to get calls right. And the solution to players getting called out for losing contact with the bag after sliding into it is not to restrict video reviews; the solution is to stop losing contact with the bag.
3) I sat across from a gentleman by the name of Zeke O’Connor at lunch on Thursday, and it was one of the most enjoyable lunches I can remember. I’d met Zeke a couple of times before, but hadn’t really had a chance to talk with him at length. Zeke grew up in New York City, and graduated from Notre Dame, where he was a football star. He was an end with the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns (where he won an AFC title) and ended his career with the Toronto Argonauts, culminating with a glittering catch in the Argo’s 1952 Grey Cup win. Upon retiring from football he became an executive with Sears and was a CFL colour commentator from 1956 to 1981. He became friends with Sir Edmund Hillary, the first conqueror of Mt. Everest, and was president of the Sir Edmund Hillary Foundation for over thirty years. He’s still a director of the foundation. If that resume isn’t interesting enough, it turns out that Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker) is Zeke’s second cousin. But overshadowing all of this was Zeke’s inspiring vitality, enthusiasm and love of life at almost ninety years old.