Bob Elliott's Baseball: Hard not to cheer for Anthopoulos' Braves

Each year there is a question among Jays fans when their team fails to qualify: Who to cheer for? A lot of Jays fans will remember 2015, the end of the team's post-season drought, and cheer for Alex Anthopoulos, the guy who helped make it happen, and his Atlanta Braves.

Former Blue Jays GM made an impression on a lot of people who only want the best for him

Alex Anthopoulos's Atlanta Braves open the post-season Thursday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. (David Goldman/Associated Press)

There are three key phases in the career of  baseball executive Alex Anthopoulos.

The start:

He left McMaster University to run his father's air conditioning business with his brothers in Montreal. After tiring of that, he turned down a $30,000 job in Toronto to work for Fidelity Canada to work for the Montreal Expos for free.

Eventually, he became the Canadian scouting director for the Expos, evaluating the likes of LHP Adam Loewen  (Surrey, BC), C  Chris Leroux  (Mississauga, Ont.), LHP  David Davidson  (Thorold, Ont.), 3B  Shawn Bowman (Coquitlam, BC), LHP  Aric Van Gaalen (Edmonton, Alta.), RHP  Scott Mathieson (Aldergrove, BC),  LHP  Ryan McGovern (Abbotsford, BC), RHP  James Avery (Moose Jaw, Sask.), C  Chris Robinson (Dorchester, Ont.), 1B  Eric Wolfe (Willowdale, Ont.) and OF  Adam Pernasilici  (Tecumseh, Ont.) at the 2002 World Juniors in Sherbrooke, Que.

The middle:

It was Sept. 30, 2015 and Anthopoulos was seated behind the third-base dugout as the Jays were putting the finishing touches on erasing 22 years of futile chases of October with a 15-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

A chant began along the third-base line at Camden Yards.

"Thank you Alex! Thank you Alex!" chanted Jays fans who had made the trip.

After falling two wins short of the World Series, Anthopoulos decided one month later he did not want to stay and work for Toronto's new regime. The Jays had been eliminated six days earlier by the Kansas City Royals in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. 

And the now:

Anthopoulos now runs the Atlanta Braves, winners of the National League East, who open against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the best-of-five National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on Thursday night. 

After breaking the Jays drought,  Anthopoulos joined GM Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, in the Los Angeles Dodgers front office. The Dodgers played into October, losing to the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series.

Last year the Dodgers dropped the 2017 World Series in six games to the Houston Astros. Between Games 5 and 6 Anthopoulos was interviewed by Terry McGuirk, Hall of Famer Bobby Cox and John Hart. McGuirk hired Anthopoulos as president and general manager on Nov. 13, 2017. 

And now here are the Braves, set to open post-season play for the first time since 2013. That's four post-season appearances in a row. 

We spoke to a few people about Anthopolous on the start, the middle and now of his career.
 
The start:

Antopoulos obtained the phone number for Montreal Expos GM Jim Beattie and called him ... and hung up. He then re-dialed and worked up the courage to ask about employment.

Jim Beattie: "I talked to him briefly, I didn't get a lot of hang-up calls back then. He was willing to work and he worked under P.J. Loyello. I might have helped him get his foot in the door, but the next year Omar Minaya got him into scouting."

Braves assistant GM Perry Minasian, working for the Texas Rangers in 2002, was loaned to the Expos to get through spring training: "Alex and I were interns and roommates in Jupiter, Fla. for the spring. Alex was trying to find a full-time job. I was going to go back to Texas on opening day. I was there to help (GM) Omar Minaya. Omar helped me, so I didn't hesitate when he asked. I soon realized what a quality person Alex is. He was relentless, he worked like no one else I'd ever seen before."

Jays scout Jon Lalonde, former scouting director, hired Anthopoulos from the Expos on Dec. 3, 2003: "Alex was such a likeable guy from the first time we met. His energy was easy to gravitate towards. We had met at scout school in the fall of 2001 — the same week Gord Ash was fired — and we made a connection. We were watching games all the time, instructional and Arizona Fall League games. One night we shared about a $50 cab to go out and see his Expos prospects (Brandon Phillips, Val Pascucci) play our Jays prospects (Gabe Gross, Orlando Hudson, Michael Smith). We were both young and a little bit crazy. We were locked in on our guys — for me it was Gross, a No. 1 pick, a football player at Auburn. I was working inside (at Rogers Centre), Alex was scouting Canada and working for the Expos as a coordinator. I might have spoken to him on the phone a few times. I had not really seen him that often. It wasn't until the summer of 2003 with me becoming scouting director, that we needed a guy. I may have kind of used the fact that the Expos might be leaving and we were a more stable organization as leverage. Alex checked all the boxes. The thing about Alex his energy was infectious."

Former Jays GM, J.P. Ricciardi, now special assistant to New York Mets GM Sandy Alderson: "Jon came to me and said he wanted to bring Alex over as a scouting coordinator. I got to know Alex well. One day (at the end of the 2005 season) I called him down the hall and asked if he thought he could be an assistant GM? Alex said, 'Over time, maybe within a year.' I said, 'Congratulations, you are our new assistant GM.' He did a great job for us and we are great friends. In 2015, we made the World Series. I was hoping that the Jays would make it too."

Paul Beeston, former Jays president: "I remember the first time I met him. It was in the hallway outside my office. I had a 15 to 20-minute conversation with him and walked away thinking to myself, 'Where did he come from?' He asked me how he could be better. We talked about the stock market. He had enthusiasm, but he was not he was not trying to impress. He asked the right questions. He had smarts and intelligence. You rarely see a person with both. I knew I had met someone destined for greatness."

Braves VP of baseball ops Perry Minasian, who Anthopoulos hired as director of pro scouting in 2009, telling him to hire whomever he wanted: "My father always told me, 'You can't beat experience.' A lot of younger guys who I knew on the way up were looking for me to hire them. Here I was interviewing former GMs like Mel Didier, Jim Beattie, Danny Evans and Ed Lynch. Both Paul Beeston and Alex asked, 'Are you sure you want to hire these guys?' No one will out-work Alex. He's intelligent. He can sit in a room with any type of person and connect."
 
Jim Beattie, working as a financial advisor for AllianceBernstein in Boston, when he called Anthopoulos to congratulate him on getting Jays GM job: "Alex got me back into baseball, he said he'd have Perry Minasian call ... that maybe they might have something on the pro side. That was not the best time (2008-09) to be in the financial end."

Blue Jays former VP of business operations Stephen Brooks, CFO Sim International: "In 2009, I was new, maybe three months on the job. We were at Horseshoe Valley for an offsite Blue Jays strategic meeting. This was one of my first interactions with people from baseball operations. Alex drove up with J.P. Ricciardi. I remember J.P. walking in and he had two comments, 'Where the hell are we?' And, 'Alex talked my ear off on the drive up.' From professional and personal experience Alex and I got along great."

The middle:

J.P. Ricciardi: "You don't always know what is going on. But Alex must have been happy with his decision. You have to do what you have to do."

Former Blue Jays GM Hall of Famer Pat Gillick, now senior advisor to the Philadelphia Phillies president and GM, as well as being a minority owner: "I was disappointed when I heard Alex was leaving. I thought he had done a nice job, a good job. I like to see the city do well. As a former GM of the Blue Jays and someone who wants to see the franchise do well, I thought Alex did real well."

Former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, hired a second time by Anthopoulos: "I was very sad when he left. But he had to make what he thought was the best decision for him and his family."

Paul Beeston: "It was time for him to go. It wasn't going to work for him. He had youth on his side. You knew he was going to be okay. Did I want to see him go? No. Did I enjoy working with him? Yes. But there was change at the top."

Stephen Brooks: "I was disappointed when he left. As a business guy and a baseball guy we worked closely and got along. That was one of Paul Beeston's main principals. Alex was a colleague and a friend. Our wives are close."

The now:

J.P. Ricciardi: "When you go to a new place, a lot depends on what you inherit. He has the resources, the money and the farm system. I'm not surprised he hit the ground running. He'll do great. He's in our division. We'll be seeing a lot of each other."

Pat Gillick: "I thought Alex was a good fit for Atlanta, I knew the direction the Braves were going and Alex enjoys development. For him it was a good situation: a team on the upswing."

John Gibbons: "I'm so happy for Alex — not just him, but (ex-Jays) George Poulis (trainer), Mike Frostad (assistant trainer) and Kevin Seitzer (hitting coach). I don't know Brian Snitker real well, but he's a lifer, he's paid his dues — good for him. I always liked Freddie Freeman. Nick Markakis is a throwback. Alex is a winner. I know how great he is, how imaginative he is. The man does not sleep."

Jon Lalonde: "I have not spoken to him in a while. He's a good guy and you hope for the best. He's creative. I knew he'd do what's best for him and his family."

Jim Beattie: "Alex was fortunate to come into it in the situation he was in. Often when you win your first year, a lot of the work was done by your predecessor. I'm sure Alex will try and ride this into more than one year's success."

Perry Minasian, who arrived with the Braves before Anthopoulos: "This is what's great about him ... when we won he was happier for everyone else who have been in the organization the last few years than himself. He has zero ego. One of the cool things is the way he talks about and gives credit to previous administrations (John Schuerholz, Frank Wren, John Hart and John Coppolella).

Stephen Brooks: "He's gone on from his time with the Dodgers to the Braves. He's talented and a bright guy. I like him personally. I'm so pleased he's gone on to be successful. He deserves a World Series."

Paul Beeston: "I probably talked to Alex three times a week. I was very happy that the Braves won it. He has been a part of a postseason team four times in a row. He hasn't won yet, so he'll always have a dream to chase."

Stan Kasten, Dodgers president: "It was a very difficult time for the Braves last October, but Alex was the exact right guy at the right time for them. His personality, and enthusiasm and experience was just what the franchise needed. And the way he has been able to make all of the positives in that organization come together is very impressive. I'm really happy for him."

Bobby Cox: "Alex hit a home run for us this year. I mean he really did. He made some little trades, collected guys here and there. He got us off to a good start and we kept rolling. Alex is so much fun to be around. He's just outstanding individual with great people's skills. He worries about everyone. Pat Gillick, Paul Beeston, and Stan Kasten all gave him high marks. They were right. Alex loves the game and loves to scout. We went out to scout a couple of times in spring training."

Hall of Famer John Schuerholz, vice chairman, Braves: "Alex has had quite a remarkable and immediate impact on our organization in a very short time. His intellect and leadership has set the standard and led the way on a daily basis."

Each year there is a question among Jays fans when their team fails to qualify: Who to cheer for? A lot of Jays fans will remember 2015, the end of the drought, look ahead to the arrival of Vladimir Guerrero, who Anthopoulos signed, and root for the Braves. 

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.