By the end of his introductory half-hour as the new Toronto Blue Jays president and CEO, small cracks were beginning to appear in Mark Shapiro's foundation of relentless positivity.
Thrown his hundredth question about exactly how hard and at what height and distance outgoing general manager Alex Anthopoulos had been flung out the door, Shapiro bristled ever so slightly.
"I don't think it's instructive," he said. "We've talked about moving forward."
Well, "we" hadn't talked about anything. Shapiro was the one hoping to wave his Day-Glo baton and get the crowd moving quickly past the four-car pile-up Rogers has made of its primary sports asset over the last week. In that regard, he had some success.
But Shapiro's emergence – like Orson Welles popping up in the Vienna sewers just before the story begins to really turn dark – gives a strong impression of where the Jays are headed next. This team will be even more corporate, even more process-driven, even more bottom-line. If you've been paying attention over the last 20 years, that isn't good news.
Forget the wild October thrills of watching a huge risk pay off. From now on, the Jays are going to be run like a small-town Wal-Mart – crushing the competition on a spreadsheet, if not the field. Because on a spreadsheet, there is no competition.
Where Anthopoulos and outgoing president Paul Beeston gave off the soft, warm glow of guys who lucked into their jobs and never forgot it, Shapiro looks and sounds like he was built in the baseball department of General Dynamics. His polish is so high, it's hard to get a good look at him.
Clearly, he came prepared. Those who expected an obvious tyrant were disappointed. Shapiro isn't the villain who pushed Anthopoulos out. He's the technocrat who told him the truth – that his time in charge was over. That didn't stop him from nudging Anthopoulos with the bus as he left, but only enough to cause light bruising.
Was he surprised by how angry fans were when Anthopoulos walked?
"I think that the root of that reaction is precisely the reason I want to be here. It's the passion of the fan base," Shapiro said. "I felt that was a natural reaction, not an unexpected one. [Anthopoulos's] decision was unexpected to me. But the reaction, not so much."
You have to admire people who pull so easily from the Sun Tzu, crisis-PR playbook: Make your weaknesses your strengths.
Here's that scenario in your life: "Hey, remember that time you punched me in the face? That's what I like about you – your passion. I was a little surprised you weren't happy that I got you fired. But the punch? Absolutely in keeping with your wonderful, passionate character. Let's hope we can both move forward."
Shapiro talked for a good while. He didn't say anything substantive. Or unsubstantive. It was hard to tell.
Is the payroll going up, down or in stasis? Maybe! Will free-agent starter David Price be offered the sort of deal he might actually accept, or are seven-year contract offers a good idea to begin with? Maybe! "We will have an obsessive focus on winning and building a strong farm system," Shapiro summarized. It's close to impossibly difficult to do both things at the same time. As Anthopoulos proved at this year's trade deadline, you build the latter to buy the former.
Did Shapiro approve of that strategy? Yes! Also, no.
"[Alex and I] had a discussion on risk-reward. We had a discussion on short-term benefit, which I applauded. I did tell him, again, when you're sitting there across the aisle from those things, you may have wondered about [the deals]. But man, you were right. What an incredible trade," Shapiro said. "And that discussion turned towards, okay, how do we manage against the long-term reality of those decisions?"
If this is the way the guy talks behind closed-doors as well, you're beginning to get the sense of why someone would pass up millions of dollars to be rid of him.
Everything was framed in buzzy, unindictable phrases. One of the joys of this job is rarely being subjected to the dreariness of corporate doublespeak. It feels like a small part of that joy has been stolen going forward.
Shapiro's first act was to extend a short length of hangman's noose for everyone who remains. Assistant GM Tony LaCava is elevated to interim GM. LaCava will not want to get business cards made. Shapiro made it clear that the interim is exceedingly "interim." Manager John Gibbons will also return. When he gets back to town, it'll be hard to get much done with the loud ticking of that Doomsday Clock they'll have installed in his office.
Those two serve a double purpose – they slow the "In order to save the village, it became necessary to destroy the village" narrative; and they make nice, soft bodies to lie on top of when the land mines start going off.
Whatever thoughts Shapiro had about recrafting the Blue Jays organization in his own image, they've been put on hold. He has now acquired the same thing rehiring Anthopoulos as a well-remunerated assistant would've bought him – time. Only much less of it.
Over 24 years in the Cleveland Indians organization – from an intern to the GM to the president – Shapiro has proved he knows how to navigate the perils of high office. The trick is being just mediocre and obscure enough to avoid being fired.
In 2007, he got his team to within one win of a World Series appearance. He steered them back into the playoffs for a single game in 2013. But his main claim in Ohio was managing an orderly decline from the great, aspirational Cleveland teams of the mid-1990s to something that would cost his new owner less money.
As Shapiro was getting a treatment unheard of in these parts – an introduction to the press gallery by the heretofore anonymous Rogers Media boss Rick Brace – you could feel the sands shifting in that direction here as well. The victory-or-death final chapter of the Beeston/Anthopoulos era is over. While everybody was spread out on the couch with a post-postseason hangover, the suits were at their desks reassuming control.
It doesn't mean the Jays can't win going forward. What it means is we've returned to a reality where that is just one of many business goals, and not the most important one.
Leaving Cleveland is no small thing for Mark Shapiro.
The 48-year-old native of Cambridge, Mass., was deeply imbedded in the city and its Major League Baseball franchise.
He joined the Indians in 1991 and worked in player-development and minor-league management jobs before being hired as the Indians' general manager in 2001 and president in 2010.
He was twice named Major League Baseball's executive of the year by the Sporting News, in 2005 and 2007, seasons in which the Indians won 93 and 96 games, respectively.
Three of his teams made the playoffs; none made it to the World Series.
One of his tasks in Toronto will be to update the 26-year-old Rogers Centre.
He and his wife Lissa Bockrath-Shapiro, an artist, have two children.
As the Blue Jays vice-president of baseball operations and assistant general manager under the departed Alex Anthopoulos, Tony LaCava had a hand in building the current team, as well as stocking the minor-league system with talent.
As interim general manager, LaCava, 54, appeases Anthopoulos fans and provides his new boss with some organizational continuity as the franchise adapts to top-level management change.
Despite some lean early seasons, John Gibbons, 53, has compiled a winning record (555-541) in his two stints as manager of the Blue Jays.
Thanks to Shapiro's endorsement yesterday, the Texan will be under contract with the club at least through 2017.