108: Ownership losing Anthopoulos an insult to fans

AFTER AN INCREDIBLE SEASON, FANS DON'T WANT TO SAY GOODBYE TO FORMER GM ALEX ANTHOPOULOS (PHOTO: MICHAEL LEAKE / POSTMEDIA NETWORK)

AFTER AN INCREDIBLE SEASON, FANS DON'T WANT TO SAY GOODBYE TO FORMER GM ALEX ANTHOPOULOS (PHOTO: MICHAEL LEAKE / POSTMEDIA NETWORK)

Nov. 1, 2015

By: Tyler King
Canadian Baseball Network

It was the season baseball fans in this country had been waiting for. 

Truly, it began late in 2014 with the off-season signing of all-star catcher, and Toronto native, Russell Martin. It was followed by the shocking yet glorious trade for third baseman Josh Donaldson.

You could sense it then. The beginning of something big.

It continued to build in April, when the Jays set an MLB record for the most Canadian-born position players in a starting lineup. It’s an achievement that has been largely forgotten amidst all the other memorable moments.

Then the season took off, in the absolute best way, on July 30th when GM Alex Anthopoulos acquired ace pitcher David Price, capping one of the greatest Trade Deadline weeks in the history of the game.

In an instant, it was no longer just good vibes being experienced at the old SkyDome, but some damn good baseball too.

Those good vibes would soon turn euphoric as the Jays clinched their first playoff spot in 22 years on September 25th. It became an all-out party five days later when they won the division.

Postseason baseball - something I, and so many other Toronto fans, had never witnessed.

And four games and seven innings into the long-awaited playoff experience, the greatest baseball season in two decades hit its peak:

A series tied 2-2. A decisive game tied 3-3. Runners on the corners. A 1-1 count. The man who has been the face of the franchise through eight tough years at the plate.

Then the home run. 

The flip of the bat.

A seventh inning to forget for the Texas Rangers. A seventh inning that will never be forgotten for the Blue Jays.

So I guess this is the point where I’m supposed to say that “all good things must come to an end.” And surely it stung when the Jays were eliminated by the Kansas City Royals in what was truly a phenomenal ALCS Game 6.

Usually when the season ends fans are quick to swap their short-sleeved Jays jerseys for the long-sleeve hockey sweaters of the Maple Leafs. But this year was different. Maybe it had to do with the Leafs being awful. Or maybe - likely - the Blue Jays had made their mark and people didn’t want to let go. 

After two decades of mediocrity and disappointment, it looked as if the fans, the city, and the country were back behind the Jays for good. It felt like management had built a team with some integrity, something that felt long-lasting that was so easy to embrace.

So, logically, you have to let Anthopoulos - the guy who orchestrated all these good-times - go. 

Smart.

I’m sorry to state the obvious folks, but baseball is a business. What’s worse, in Toronto the game of baseball belongs to the epitome of business, Rogers Communications Inc.

And it’s very possible that after an incredible 173 game campaign, they just let a bunch of the team’s goodwill walk away.

***

How does that “Hooked on a Feeling” song go? The one Jays fans heard at every home game for the past four months?

“I can’t stop this feeling, deep inside of me - ” 

Pause. We now know that isn’t true. It doesn’t matter how deep or how hooked on a feeling you are, fire the team’s beloved general manager and you can put a stop to that feeling real fast.

(And, of course, that’s precisely what has happened.)

Fans awoke - both literally and figuratively - last Thursday to the news that Anthopoulos would not be returning as the Blue Jays’ general manager. 

The emotional response from everyone was as follows: 

Disbelief. Confusion. Anger. Then more confusion.

Even after the dust settled, fans have continued to stomp their feet and demand answers. But while doing so, I imagine most people (in the back of their minds at least) had to question their own hostility.

I tried to frame the mess this way. Is one playoff appearance in six seasons as the general manger enough to warrant such a brash response from fans?

I came up with this simple answer:

Yes.

Although there is obviously a whole lot more behind the fan disappointment. 

This is, after-all, the man who brought in Price, Troy Tulowitzki, Ben Revere, Mark Lowe, and LaTroy Hawkins. In the span of a week.

It’s the man who traded for a true MVP candidate in Donaldson. 

The man who somehow managed to get rid of the $86 million the club owed Vernon Wells.

Anthopoulos was the one person who finally gave Jose Bautista a true chance, after the Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, New York Mets, and Pittsburgh Pirates all let him go.

He was also the one who was so adamant about changing the uniform and logo away from that god-awful, sparkly drab the team bore throughout the 2000s, and granted them with some of the best-looking threads in the league. 

If you ask me, that’s worth a re-sign right there.

At the end of the day, we may never know why he left. But make no mistake, fans wanted him back.

***

This was a decision AA allegedly made on his own. He claims he had the full support of ownership and incoming president Mark Shapiro, although it still all seems a bit ... incomprehensible. 

“Not the right fit.” That was the vague and somewhat unbelievable reasoning for his departure.

Anthopoulos is a bilingual Canadian who started with the Jays as a scouting coordinator in 2003. 

He met his wife here in Toronto. 

He had a hand in acquiring or drafting every player on this AL East championship roster. And he just enjoyed his greatest year of success.

Not the right fit? I’m not buying it.

I mean, I guess a true baseball mind might have apprehensions working for an ownership group who seems to care as much about the stadium’s internet connection than their on-field product. (No joke.)

“We’re going to continue to invest in this team,” Rogers’ president Ed Rogers told Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi. “The payroll has grown quite a bit the last number of years, we’ve invested a lot in the stadium, we’ve put in a state of the art WiFi which we believe is one of the best, if not the best in all of North America for our fans, and that investment is going to keep going as we go into the future.”

WiFi ... Seriously.

Because that’s what baseball fans in Toronto really care about ...

How about focusing on solving some of the actual problems with the stadium, such as being able to retract the roof in May when it’s 18 degrees outside. Or how about finally figuring out how replace the turf with some REAL GRASS, if for no other reason than we no longer have to talk it.

But despite the corporate disconnect that any general manager might feel, it still seems that something more serious was done or said to Anthopoulos that pushed him away. This seems even more apparent since Rogers leaked (a little too nonchalantly I might add) details about the dollars and terms of the contract he was offered. 

All reports indicate it was financially lucrative and more than fair. And although Rogers also claims that Anthopoulos’ level of control wouldn’t change, they did say that his contract included an opt out after one year in case he and incoming President Mark Shapiro didn’t see eye-to-eye.

So perhaps Rogers did, in fact, try their best to lure him back.

But, here’s the thing - that doesn’t matter.

Who cares if ownership actually did offer him the $10 million over five years that is being reported? Who cares if he was granted the same autonomy that he had under outgoing president, and AA’s personal friend, Paul Beeston.

I don’t care if the contract came with a stint as the country’s Prime Minister and he still turned it down.

Most of all, I don’t care that Rogers ‘did their best’. 

Since when has “well we gave it a good shot,” ever been acceptable in professional sports?

Donaldson said it best when the team was scuffling early in the season, although not for lack of effort:

“This isn’t the try league. It’s the get-it-done league.”

And in the case of Alex Anthopoulos, management didn’t get it done.

If you think I’m being overly unfair and one-sided, allow me to put it this way. What would your reaction have been if instead of announcing the acquisition of Price on July 30th, Anthopoulos stepped on a podium and said, “we tried our best to get a starting pitcher, but couldn’t get anything done”? 

(We all know what Bautista’s reaction would have been.)

And remember how the Jays were the odds-on Vegas favourites to win the World Series in 2013, after Anthopoulos made all those moves to acquire big names like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and R.A. Dickey?

Did any of that matter when the team managed just 74 wins and finished last in the division that year?

Hell no.

Now, two years and one magical season later, Rogers and Shapiro failed to re-sign the guy who finally brought meaningful baseball back to Toronto.

And, I’m sorry, but THAT’S all that matters.

***

Follow Tyler and #Section108 on twitter: @tylerjoseph108