Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro is seen during a press conference in Toronto, Dec. 27, 2019.

The Canadian Press

On Wednesday – the same day the Maple Leafs begin their 2021 season and the United States tried to fire its coach – the Blue Jays announced they had re-signed team president Mark Shapiro to a new five-year deal.

In Toronto sports terms, this isn’t burying the news. It’s entombing it in concrete and dumping it into an ocean trench.

I will guarantee you that if (not when) the Toronto Raptors re-sign president Masai Ujiri before his contract expires in July, the team will paint the skies over the city Raptor red. MLSE will treat that news release like it’s the moon landing.

Story continues below advertisement

But Ujiri is a sports figure, not so different in the public mind than the players he manages.

Shapiro is a businessman. He runs a widget factory. The widgets just happen to play baseball.

In baseball terms, Shapiro’s first five years have been a bit of a dud. He was given a great team, turned it into a bad team and recently levelled it off into a decent team.

But in business terms, Shapiro has been a comprehensive success. He’s cut costs, worked a deal for renovated spring training facilities, spearheaded improvements to the existing ballpark and pushed forward the agenda for a new one.

He phased out the stalwarts of the previous regime, first by force (former general manager Alex Anthopoulos) and then gentle suasion (former manager John Gibbons, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, etc.).

He surrounded himself with loyalists and though he tries to avoid answering for or explaining the Jays’ baseball decisions, no serious one gets made without his say-so.

The only thing Shapiro has as yet been unable to achieve as the top baseball executive in Canada is building a top baseball team. He’s a bit like Lee Iacocca, if Chrysler cars cost half as much and ran half as often (which, in fairness, was Iacocca’s MO, too).

Story continues below advertisement

We often talk about the “new” sort of sports executive. In baseball, that means a Red-Sox-era Theo Epstein – a young obsessive with a talent for numbers and algorithms. A wonk.

Shapiro is the old-new executive: not so young and not so wonkish; more of a corporate knife-fighter. The sort of guy who spends his downtime reading motivational books about leadership.

The old-new executive is less concerned with the on-field product than he is with productivity as a general proposition. Things have got to be constantly happening. The real enemy isn’t the New York Yankees. It’s stasis.

Whether that’s redesigning the stadium concourse or signing a wing-dinger of a centre fielder, it’s no-never-mind to him. Both those things look alike on a year-end report. They are signs of improvement.

This is not a knock on the man. It’s a knock on his job description.

Shapiro wasn’t hired to win titles. If that had been the case, he’d have worked harder to maintain and then refurbish the team he inherited. That was easily done. All Shapiro needed to do it was a ton of money.

Story continues below advertisement

Instead, Shapiro was hired to slowly transition the Jays away from being that sort of team. The second year he was in charge, the Jays’ opening-day payroll was north of US$160-million. Next season, it may clock in as low as US$80-million.

You show me an executive who can cut costs in half, and I’ll show you someone the boss loves.

By dangling the possibility – not the likelihood mind you, but the possibility – of a title-contending team at some point in the not-so-distant (as well as not-so-near) future, Shapiro has also managed to stay on the right side of the fanbase. It got wobbly for a couple of years as the Jays divested themselves of their stars, but the crowd has a hard time maintaining focus, even when it is angry.

Shapiro jiu-jitsued that anger by avoiding the mistakes other executives make when their customers start shouting at them. He made no snide comments (or many other sorts, either). He didn’t over-promise (though many of his pronouncements can be mistaken as such). He didn’t panic buy (or do much other buying either).

If you wanted to attack the man, it was impossible to get hold of him. He was always receding.

Shapiro didn’t re-emerge as a public presence until last year, after he’d finally made a few moves.

Story continues below advertisement

By that point, the young talent – Vlad Guerrero Jr. & Friends – was catching some notice. The team made a measured splash on a single free agent, Hyun-Jin Ryu. It squeaked into the final spot in an expanded postseason.

This was not a breakthrough, so much as a reasonable return on investment. Through modest aspiration and judicious spending, the Jays had arrived at a team that could be a small success on the field, and a big one at the annual board meeting. Only one of those things matters to the club’s owner, Rogers Communications.

Imagine selling that corporate pretzel logic to the public? “We want to be the best, and cost is no object! Also, we want to save a bucket load of money! Also, we need to constantly raise ticket prices! For this team we hate spending on!”

A new deal is Shapiro’s reward for making all those contrary ambitions sound complementary. Plus, in terms of budgets slashed, he’s been Rogers’s employee of the month for, like, 60 months running.

That does leave a few small questions – how does any of this top-level executiving add up to a great baseball team? Was that ever the goal? Does anyone in charge even care?

But I’m pretty sure that whatever Rogers plans to pay him, Shapiro’s already earned it, and more besides.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies