Skip to main content
opinion

Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos celebrates after the Atlanta Braves beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in game six of the 2021 NLCS to advance to the World Series, at Truist Park, Atlanta, Oct. 23, 2021.Brett Davis/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

As his team was about to qualify for the World Series the other night, Atlanta general manager Alex Anthopoulos went to hide in team manager Brian Snitker’s office.

The TV was on, but Anthopoulos couldn’t bring himself to watch it. He began casting his eyes around the room.

“I’ve been in there I don’t know how many times over four years. But he has this book case and I’d never looked at it, like actually looked at it.

“I realized there’s a whole lot of old media guides in it. Why does he have these media guides? Some of them are from 2014, 2015. He didn’t even have the job then. What is this about?

“I sort of sat there contemplating them. Should I get rid of them? Should I rearrange them? Should I go through them? So I found an Atlanta one and flipped through it for a while. That was cool.

“And then we made the World Series.”

Anthopoulos delivers this monologue from Atlanta on Monday, about an hour before he flies to Houston. The World Series starts in Texas on Tuesday.

This is Anthopoulos’s chance to pass beyond bright young thing and become a pillar of the game. Still only 44, he is on the cusp of crossing into Pat Gillick country, to becoming he iconic figure in Canadian baseball.

You haven’t talked to him for a while and you are fondly reminded of the Anthopoulos interviewing style – you ask a single question and he talks so fast for 10 minutes that you’d think he was paid by the word.

In this job, falling in love with the people you cover is frowned upon, but you know how it goes with affairs of the heart. Sometimes you can’t help yourself.

Anthopoulos was one of those guys. Not a straight shooter, exactly. He’d very happily send you down the garden path if the mission required disinformation.

But he’s someone who likes people, likes talking to them and doesn’t have a big-league bone in his body. In a world full of guys who burst into rooms like they’re expecting applause to break out, Anthopoulos was wonderfully normal.

Humility disarms. Balzac said that, but Anthopoulos liked to repeat it. He has a thing for quotes by great minds. If you utter one he likes in his presence, he will stop the conversation so that he can write it down. How can you not love a guy like that?

I’ve phoned him to ask about baseball, but lead with his former bosses in the Rogers family and their mushrooming feud.

“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” Anthopoulos says, loudly and firmly, and for the first time in his life does not continue talking. So we go back to baseball.

But let’s say this about that.

There is something delicious about the fact that Anthopoulos’s greatest professional triumph comes just as the family who owns the Blue Jays starts popping rivets.

He wasn’t exactly enfolded in their warm, billionairey bosom after returning the club to relevance.

Things probably weren’t helped by the fact that ownership tried, and farcically failed, to fire Anthopoulos’s rabbi in the business, Paul Beeston. You remember the story. How ownership principal Edward Rogers phoned around baseball looking for Beeston’s replacement as club president. How one of those phone calls was to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. How Reinsdorf is Beeston’s best pal.

Fine, it’s not butt-dialing out the details of your top-secret conspiracy to the conspiracy’s intended target, though it is funnier.

But back to Atlanta.

After leaving the Jays six years ago under a cloud, Anthopoulos first worked for pin money in Los Angeles. Having gotten some sense of what winning felt like in Toronto, he wanted more of that. Hence, the attraction of taking over a playoff-ready franchise in Georgia.

“But when I got here, I found out there was very much an Atlanta sports narrative,” he says. “The first part of it – no good things can happen here.”

That doesn’t sound familiar at all.

It took him four tries, but he’s managed it. It’s unfair to keep comparing one regime to the other, especially since things are starting to come together with the Jays, but it’s also impossible not to. While one team searches for that secret sauce, the guy who wrote their recipe is cooking elsewhere. They make movies about that kind of thing.

Like most successful people in middle age, Anthopoulos talks about how his priorities have changed. Where once he was focused on the ladder, now he’s all about the view.

For instance, he got home late on Sunday night.

“I don’t know my neighbours well. I’m busy. I travel. I keep odd hours,” Anthopoulos says. “But last night, all up and down the street, everyone had Braves signs, balloons, flags. They even did our mailbox. I said to my wife, ‘Did you see what they did?’ I get chills.”

His brother, Bill, has never seen an Atlanta game.

“He doesn’t like sports,” Anthopoulos said. “He has no interest in sports.”

But he’s coming to Atlanta for the World Series.

“I know it sounds very corny, but this is the impact sports can have. After experiencing Toronto and what winning can do to a community, that changed everything for me.”

He starts down this contemplative path because I’ve read him back one of his own quotes. It’s from a sit-down he did shortly after he got the top job in Toronto, 12 years ago.

“I understand I won’t be in this chair forever, but I will be a fan of this team and I’m going to live in this city,” Anthopoulos said at the time. “So I want to see this team do well.”

Does that still hold?

“Oh man,” Anthopoulos says, sounding a little misty. “Yes. Of course. My wife’s family is still in Toronto. My side is in Montreal. My kids go to camp in Canada. So it’s easy to root for them. Because they’re in the American League.”

Which goes to show you – even the touchy-feely, middle-age nostalgia of a man in his prime has its limits.