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Former Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos could yet become Toronto’s Babe Ruth figure – the move the Jays screwed up so badly that they’ll be karmically haunted by it for years. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)
Former Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos could yet become Toronto’s Babe Ruth figure – the move the Jays screwed up so badly that they’ll be karmically haunted by it for years. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)

Kelly: Anthopoulos’s alleged Dodgers deal raises more queries than answers Add to ...

Asked a few weeks ago what had changed since he’d left the Toronto Blue Jays, former general manager Alex Anthopoulos said, “I sleep through the night now.”

He sounded surprised as he said it, as if it had never occurred to him that such a thing was possible.

He seemed less tightly wound (which is to say, still more tightly wound than the rest of us). This was a long way from the guy who spent key moments during the 2015 playoff run hiding at the back of the Rogers Centre press box because he couldn’t bear to watch the game.

“I know it won’t change anything. I know that,” Anthopoulos said desperately during one of those retreats. “But I still cant do it.”

In that instant, you could not imagine Rogers Media ever willingly letting this guy go. But, man, that company just can’t help itself. As Tommy Lasorda would say, these guys couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a (expletive) boat.

Anthopoulos left because he didn’t want to be micromanaged by incoming team president Mark Shapiro. Shapiro made a show of wanting him to stay, but clearly the relationship was broken from the outset.

The average fan favoured Anthopoulos because he was the proved commodity. The few that found their way onto Shapiro’s side of things – most of them corporation truthers transparently invested in the new regime’s success – had to believe that Anthopoulos had gone too far and demanded too much control.

That narrative is about to be comprehensively contradicted by Anthopoulos’s next move. According to a major-league source, he is close to joining the Los Angeles Dodgers’ head office. The deal’s not quite sealed, but could be finished as early as this week.

It’s not clear what Anthopoulos’s title will be, but he’ll be some sort of assistant to L.A. general manager Farhan Zaidi. Zaidi is very like Anthopoulos – a born-in-Canada wonk who has a reputation as bright and conciliatory.

Anthopoulos is baseball’s current executive of the year, as chosen by his peers. He had plenty of job offers, in and out of the game. He could’ve retreated to a media gig, taken a raise and waited for a top job to open up. Instead, he chose to take a complementary rather than leadership role. Does that sound to you like a guy who can’t let go?

He’d always said he didn’t need to be in charge, but just wanted to be somewhere he enjoyed the work. Here’s the proof.

It raises a question – how hard did Mark Shapiro have to come at Anthopoulos to persuade him to quit a team he’d built?

Even in the way he’s chosen to leave, and without saying a cross word in public, Anthopoulos is hammering home the notion that Shapiro is a professional villain incapable of compromise. It doesn’t need to be true. It just has to seem that way.

Here’s what we’re left with: Anthopoulos was not good enough for a troublesome mid-market team in his own country that he’d turned from a reliable loser into one of the most powerful clubs in baseball. However, he is good enough for the highest-payroll team in the sport, one that’s made the playoffs five out of the past eight years, a team that already has four former general managers on staff. Armed with all that brainpower, they had to have Anthopoulos as well. That they would consider introducing him into that mix is the most powerful character reference I can think of.

Shapiro’s biggest PR problem is that he could not explain why Anthopoulos chose to leave. More importantly, he didn’t try to explain why he wanted him gone in the first place. Going back through the record, it was made to seem as if the pair of them never actually talked, except to say goodbye. A president – any sort of president – has no more basic function than organizing and communicating a vision.

Aside from a wispy commitment to winning, what is the Jays’ vision right now? What was it in relation to Anthopoulos? Going into a pivotal year with their playoff window tightening and a bunch of very big decisions looming, what are they willing to promise?

I have no idea. They haven’t bothered to say. There’s been plenty of talk, amounting to absolutely nothing. As best I can tell, Shapiro’s mission statement is “Here’s hoping!”

It made no sense two months ago. It makes less and less sense by the day.

This whole story is a stupid generator – as it continues to spin out, its potential for making people look stupid grows exponentially.

From the Jays perspective, it could’ve been worse. Had Anthopoulos chosen Boston or New York – two teams you know would’ve loved to have him, if only to unsettle a rival – he’d have been like an anchor around Toronto’s neck for years. We’d never have heard the end of it.

But even 4,000 kilometres and a whole league away, the comparisons will be inevitable, at least in the short term. Every deal that L.A. does will provoke a miniature round of “What if Toronto had done that?” If the Jays flag at any point, everyone will be scrolling down for the National League West standings. God help Shapiro if the Dodgers make the postseason and Toronto doesn’t. I have only one piece of concrete advice for him – stop talking about the dollar. You’re building a ball club with it. We have to live on it. Save your tears for someone who cares.

This could still turn out for the best for all parties. If Toronto wins this year, Shapiro will be forgiven. Anthopoulos may get a few years of professional languor and decent sleep, but he’ll get a GM’s job again. In time, everyone involved might look back on this episode wryly.

But if it doesn’t end up that way, Anthopoulos could yet become Toronto’s Babe Ruth figure – the move the Jays screwed up so badly that they’ll be karmically haunted by it for years.

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