Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos defends his club

TORONTO — The Globe and Mail

Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos talks on his cell phone during baseball spring training in Dunedin, FL, on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alex Anthopoulos has been around long enough to understand the piling on and pot-shots that have been directed at his Toronto Blue Jays as they stumble through what has been a ghastly 2012 major-league baseball season.

The team’s losing record justifies it.

What bothers the Blue Jays general manager is the timing of some of the recent criticisms, coming as they have following the revelation – and ultimate suspension – of Blue Jays shortstop Yunel Escobar after he displayed a homophobic message on his eye black during a recent game.

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The subsequent outrage and intense media coverage the matter has generated is warranted, the GM will acknowledge.

But for some to seize the opportunity to cite this as an example of a Blue Jays clubhouse that is running amok is just a reckless charge, according to Anthopoulos.

“If people are tying to spin this into something else, I think it’s a shame,” Anthopoulos said during a telephone interview from New York on Wednesday where the Blue Jays were playing the Yankees.

Anthopoulos said this is a matter involving a player who committed an irresponsible act and is now paying the price. He said it is about the lack of education surrounding issues of sexual equality that is prevalent not only in baseball but in society in general.

“I think that’s what this whole thing should bring to the forefront,” Anthopoulos said. “We shouldn’t start deviating from it and look at that example and start talking about clubhouse culture and things like that.”

Former Blue Jay catcher and current Sportsnet baseball analyst Gregg Zaun, for one, has used the Escobar controversy as a stepping stone to savage the team, proclaiming on the radio Tuesday night that the atmosphere within the team’s clubhouse is “consequence free.”

Zaun went on to say that if you are a prospect of a “certain stature” there is no pressure to have to perform well. Zaun also ripped third baseman Brett Lawrie for his continued base-running mistakes and took a shot at Anthopoulos for not being a baseball guy.

“He’s a sabermetrician, a bean counter,” Zaun said.

Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays president and chief executive officer, said he was aware of what Zaun said but would not comment. “He’s entitled to his opinion,” Beeston said.

Beeston said it has been one of those years where it seems that whatever can go wrong has – from injuries, to the mechanical failure of the retractable roof at Rogers Centre, to this latest mess involving Escobar.

“I don’t want to call it the season from hell … but it’s been a tough three months,” Beeston said.

Beeston said he was happy with the work of both Anthopoulos and Blue Jays manager John Farrell under such trying circumstances.

“I think they’ve learned from it,” he said. “I think they can build on it and it will be terrific for both their careers going forward.”

Anthopoulos said mistakes the players make on the field, such as Lawrie’s base-running gaffes, are not just swept under the rug. They are dealt with, usually in private.

“He’s a young player and he makes mistakes,” Anthopoulos said, referring to Lawrie specifically. “Everyone has their own way of doing things. Some people have been addressed, spoken to behind closed doors. He’s going to get better.

“Our style is not to go and do things through the media when it comes to the ballplayers. If somebody else has some other style they think is right they can do that when they run their own club.”

Anthopoulos, now in his third season as the team’s GM, said not coming from a playing background is not relevant to doing his job well.

“You can point to a lot of successful executives and managers who have been in the playoffs and the World Series and they haven’t been players,” Anthopoulos said.

When it comes down to it, Anthopoulos said he will be judged on wins and losses. So far, things are not looking so good.

THE SEASON THE JAYS WOULD JUST AS SOON FORGET

April 21 – The season is just three weeks old when closer Sergio Santos lands on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. Surgery is eventually called for, ending his season.

June 12 – Starting pitcher Brandon Morrow goes down with an oblique muscle strain that sidelines him for over two months.

June 13 – Starting pitcher Kyle Drabek exits in the fifth inning after hearing something go pop in his right elbow. His season is through with torn ligaments.

June 15 – The week from hell continues as starter Drew Hutchison suffers an elbow injury in the first inning – also torn ligaments – ending his season.

June 22 – Starter Ricky Romero gets the win in a 15-5 Blue Jays victory over Miami. It has been all downhill for the team’s supposed ace since then, losing 13 consecutive decisions heading into Wednesday night’s start in New York against the Yankees.

July 16 – Team slugger Jose Bautista wrenches his left wrist while swinging in a game against the Yankees and is sidelined for over a month. Upon his return, Bautista plays in two games before the wrist starts to hurt him again. Surgery is called for, ending his season.

July 25 – Starting catcher J.P. Arencibia breaks a bone in his left hand after it was struck by a foul ball, sidelining him for over a month.

Aug. 3 – Third baseman Brett Lawrie injures his oblique muscle, keeping him out for over a month.

Sept. 4 – When it rains, it pours. The retractable roof at Rogers Centre gets stuck partially open, allowing the rain to pour through on fans during a game against Baltimore.

Sept. 15 – Shortstop Yunel Escobar plays a game against Boston with an homophobic message written in Spanish on his eye black.

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