Generally speaking, there are two egotistical practices that truly annoy me -- 1) people that refer to themselves in the third person and 2) incessant name-droppers. That being said, Will Hill is pleased to report he had lunch on Wednesday with new Jays president Paul Beeston and spent some time in the office of the new GM Alex Anthopoulos later in the afternoon.
The interesting thing about these two is that one's presence in the Blue Jays hierarchy these days really has everything to do with the other.
Before he dug into a prime rib sandwich, Beeston looked me in the eye and said, "God's honest truth, Thrill, I didn't decide to take this job until just the last two weeks. And it was all about Alex. This kid, he comes in my office and starts talking baseball and you can't help but get excited."
Beeston maintains his year-long search for his own replacement was diligent, sincere and far-reaching. He thought he had his man some months back in NBA executive Rick Welts. That is until the Phoenix Suns persuaded Welts to stay, promoting him to the role of President and CEO. Even as recently as September, Beeston was still looking at a group of three especially strong candidates from different sporting backgrounds.
Beeston adamantly insists that when former general manager J.P. Ricciardi was let go in early October, he still, as the interim boss, had every intent of passing his presidential duties off to a full-time successor.
He will...only in three (or more) years time now, as opposed to, say, three weeks.
So what changed? Well, you could say the change in personnel that Beeston made changed him personally.
"Tony and Phil and Nadir have all been wonderful to me and asked me to stay on," says Beeston of the Rogers Communications power-troika of Viner (President, Rogers Media), Lind (Vice Chairman) and Mohamed (President and CEO) respectively. "But I didn't decide to take them up on it until after I saw Alex start into the job with his passion, his energy and his enthusiasm."
Beeston says he's been amazed at the quality and quantity of work Anthopoulos has already put in. Bear in mind, this was all prior to Game One of the World Series being played. In other words, the 2009 season isn't yet officially over, but the new GM is already working long into the night making plans for 2010 and beyond.
Exactly how hard has the new GM been working, you ask? Well, when I saw him, Anthopoulos asked me if I wanted a pair of tickets he couldn't use, nodding in the direction of his cluttered desk and saying, "I've got things to do."
The tickets in question -- a pair for the Toronto Raptors season opener against the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James. For a hoops junkie like Anthopoulos, a Royal Visit from King James to the ACC used to be required viewing. But now, the 32-year-old rookie GM clearly views April 2010 as being all too close to steal away, even for a couple of hours, to watch the NBA MVP.
When told of the difference he had made in Beeston's own mindset, Anthopoulos was quick to deflect the attention. "I think it's flattering that he said that about me," began the Montreal native with a shy grin. "But I know that ownership has lobbied him intensely. I know the commissioner [Bud Selig] has too. I think everybody here in the office has. So to sit there and lay it in my lap, isn't fair. I think collectively all of us should be proud that we got him to stay."
Now that he has decided to stay, Beeston is no longer thinking of succession plans, but rather planning for success. "We can be the Boston Red Sox," he declared between bites of his sandwich, presumably referring both to the lofty player payroll and considerable revenue generated by the Blue Jays divisional rival. "There's a real opportunity here. But you have to win."
Later, as we were walking back to the stadium, Beeston turned to me with a story that, truth be known, he's actually told me once before. "Bobby Mattick used to say, 'You know when a scout is really doing his job?'... It's not when he's picking apart all the things a player can't do. It's when he's telling me exactly what he can do."
The lesson from the dearly departed Mattick, a long-time baseball man and one of Beeston's closest friends, was simple. Concentrate on the positive to move forward, as opposed to getting bogged down in the negative.
Beeston has always taken that and so many other life lessons from Mattick to heart. Maybe that's what drew him to Anthopoulos in the first place. Anthopoulos knows his task won't be an easy one and will require a significant effort (certainly significant enough to skip out on NBA royalty and Bosh vs. Shaq). But just listen to any of the interviews he's given. He refuses to get caught up in all of the reasons the Jays could fail. Instead, he's moving forward talking of all the things that should lead them to success.
"Don't tell me what he can't do," repeated Beeston, now looking towards the stadium rising in front of us and perhaps thinking of the job that lay before him as well. "Tell me what he can."