With city roots, Shapiro helped nur­ture ALCS teams’ growth

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Schmuck

When t he Toronto Blue Jays open the Amer­i­can League Cham­pi­onship Se­ries against the Cleve­land In­di­ans on Fri­day night, there will be no is­sue of mixed loy­alty for Blue Jays pres­i­dent Mark Shapiro, but it cer­tainly is an emo­tion­ally com­pli­cated situ- ation.

Shapiro, who has roots in Bal­ti­more and grad­u­ated from Gil­man, was the pres­i­dent of the In­di­ans a lit­tle more than a year ago, so his fin­ger­prints are all over the team that just swept past the Bos­ton Red Sox in their AL Di­vi­sion Se­ries. He of­fi­cially be­came pres­i­dent and CEO of the Blue Jays at the end of last sea­son, so the team he over­sees and will be root­ing for was largely in place be­fore he headed north of the bor­der.

He made se­cret, how­ever, his pre­ferred op­po­nent be­fore the In­di­ans’ ALDS against the Red Sox, even though he also has close per­sonal and pro­fes­sional ties to sev­eral mem­bers of the Bos­ton front of­fice and coach­ing staff.

“I’ve got re­la­tion­ships over there with [the Red Sox’s] John Far­rell, Torey Lovullo, Carl Wil­lis and Mike Hazen — all those guys are guys I hired and all

those guys are guys I have deep friend­ships with,” Shapiro said by tele­phone from Toronto on Tues­day. “So it wasn’t per­sonal against the Red Sox, but it was more per­sonal for the In­di­ans.

“You can’t deny the his­tory. … You can’t deny the re­la­tion­ship. Up un­til the mo­ment we play them, all the way through the play­offs, I’d pull for those guys. The re­la­tion­ships are deeper than a nor­mal base­ball friend­ship.”

Head­ing into the play­offs, the Blue Jays were a long-shot ALwild-card team and the In­di­ans weren’t ex­actly a hot pick to roll over a Red Sox team that fea­tured 20-game win­ner Rick Por­cello and $217 mil­lion pitcher David Price at the front of its post­sea­son start­ing ro­ta­tion.

That’s the beauty of base­ball’s four-tiered play­off for­mat. It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict what’s go­ing to hap­pen in the sin­gle-game wild-card show­downs or in the best-of-five di­vi­sion se­ries. The Blue Jays also made quick work of the top-seeded Texas Rangers after hav­ing to bat­tle the Ori­oles into ex­tra in­nings just to stay alive. The best-of-seven ALCS should be a truer test.

Shapiro has been around base­ball so long that even the wild-card round in­volved sen­ti­ment.

He has deep roots in Bal­ti­more, where his fa­ther — at­tor­ney and author Ron Shapiro — rep­re­sented many of the Ori­oles’ great­est play­ers be­fore tak­ing his ne­go­ti­at­ing tech­niques beyond the realm of sports and found­ing the Shapiro Ne­go­ti­a­tions In­sti­tute.

The ALCS will open at Pro­gres­sive Field, which had not yet opened its gates when Shapiro first joined the In­di­ans or­ga­ni­za­tion in 1991. He worked there for two decades, al­ready has been back dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and hasn’t re­ally been gone long enough to get too nostalgic.

“I cer­tainly have a deep his­tory there — a deep and a long one, and a lot of re­ally strong re­la­tion­ships add a dif­fer­ent dy­namic go­ing back in there,” he said. “But … it’s about the play­ers and it’s about what hap­pens on the field, and you just want to win.”

Who will win is very much an open ques­tion. Toronto fea­tures an ex­plo­sive lineup built around reign­ing Most Valu­able Player Josh Don­ald­son, two-time home run champ Jose Bautista and su­per­star slug­ger Ed­win En­car­na­cion. Cleve­land is not in the same class when it comes to name recog­ni­tion or home run fre­quency, but it scored more runs dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son than ev­ery AL team ex­cept Bos­ton.

What the In­di­ans have in abun­dance is team chem­istry, which has al­lowed them to over­come the loss of two im­por­tant mem­bers of their start­ing ro­ta­tion.

“We cer­tainly have a vet­er­an­laden team of guys that have done some in­cred­i­ble things, par­tic­u­larly from an of­fen­sive per­spec­tive,” Shapiro said. “The In­di­ans are a younger team, but there are some vet­eran guys over there that have made a big im­pact, who have come in since I left, like Mike Napoli. Jason Kip­nis has re­ally hit his prime, and ob­vi­ously, [man­ager Terry Fran­cona] makes a big im­pact and a big dif­fer­ence for that team as well.”

If they ap­pear to have got­ten to the ALCS on dif­fer­ent paths, they are sim­i­lar in a cou­ple of im­por­tant ways. The Blue Jays and In­di­ans are first and sec­ond in the league in ERA, re­spec­tively, and rank third and fourth with al­most iden­ti­cal on-base per­cent­ages.

It’s tempt­ing to look at the con­struc­tion Mark Shapiro of the In­di­ans ros­ter and try to di­vine some idea of which di­rec­tion the Blue Jays will go un­der Shapiro. He said it’s dif­fi­cult to draw any con­clu­sions from the big league ros­ters of teams in dif­fer­ent di­vi­sions and in dif­fer­ent eco­nomic cir­cum­stances.

“I think the big­ger thing to look at would be the In­di­ans player de­vel­op­ment and scout­ing and not the ma­jor league team,” he said. “I think the op­er­at­ing parameters that ex­ist for ev­ery team are go­ing to dic­tate how you make de­ci­sions and how you build a team. They are dif­fer­ent here than they are in Cleve­land and ob­vi­ously in the di­vi­sion.

“How­ever, the one thing that is ab­so­lutely cer­tain is, the process for mak­ing a good de­ci­sion is the same … and the fact that if you have a healthy, pro­duc­tive, sus­tained farm sys­tem, you have the best chance pos­si­ble to have a sus­tain­able cham­pi­onship team. The two things you see that would be sim­i­lar would be how we make de­ci­sions, and that we will be re­lent­less in build­ing a pro­duc­tive farm sys­tem.”

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