Catching up with Mark Shapiro
During the Indians’ series in Toronto, Cleveland reporters sat down with Blue Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro, who spent 24 years in the Tribe’s front office before taking the job north of the border. During a 20-minute discussion, Shapiro discussed the move to Toronto, the Indians’ success, and seeing the celebration in Cleveland for the Cavs’ NBA championship, among other topics. Here is the full transcript.
What have the last few months been like for you here?
Shapiro: I think in a lot of ways, what I had hoped from the perspective of the job has definitely energized me, has been invigorating. The new challenge of kind of looking at things through a totally different lens. Reframing all the things I’ve experienced and learned, but reframing all those things in a different place, with a different set of challenges. The technical aspects of doing the job is still the same. So, I’m familiar with the cycle, but the surroundings are all different, the people are all different, the circumstances are very different. So, those things kind of shock you and wake you up a little bit. There wasn’t any lack of happiness. Obviously, I love the people in Cleveland. I love the organization and will always feel an intense amount of both pride and attachment to the organization and the people and the city. But, at a certain point in life, I kind of felt like I needed a jolt. Some of that was to be a little less comfortable, too. I think being less comfortable sometimes creates a little more growth.
How much are you following the Indians?
Shapiro: I would be lying if I said I wasn’t following closely. The first place I look after walking through all of our system and our games is the Indians. I feel deeply invested in the people there, more than anything. [Chris Antonetti] is a guy that I worked with for decades. Up and down the system, from Johnny Goryl to Carter Hawkins was an intern. The organization is full of people that I’ve watched grow and become leaders. So, I have great respect and appreciate for them. And I’m going to always pull for them, always. Except for the seven or eight times we play them. That’s it.
What’d you think when you saw the celebration in Cleveland for the Cavs’ title?
Shapiro: That was surreal. I think it’s a direct reflection of the passion of the fans there. It was strange to see. It’s a downtown that has a couple hundred thousand people in it, usually. So, to see 1.3 million people in it was bizarre.
What’s it like working with a much larger payroll?
Shapiro: I think the payroll piece has not really factored in yet, but the support piece has been [eye-opening]. The point of differentiation for me that was most obvious was Game 2 [of the regular season]. Everybody here was telling me, ‘You need to see Opening Day here.’ I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ve been through that. Opening Day is a celebration in Cleveland.’ And then Game 2, because it’s 37 degrees out and there’s 10,000 people in the stands. Well, we were close to sold out Game 2 here, and Game 3. And then, the other one was the Raptors had a big playoff game and they were 200 yards away and there was not only 20,000 people in the arena there, there was 3,000 people outside the arena and we had 35,000 here. The depth of the market, I think, has been what has been more of a difference to me. As far as the money goes, we have our own set of differences here. We have the exchange rate that diminishes a lot of it. There’s other challenges. Obviously, in our division, it’s not that different from the Indians. We play against teams that have, not double our resources, but close to double our resources. So, there’s still a significant challenge. Not to ever complain, because I think the upside of this market is just remarkable. If you could build a sustainable winner here, it’s just the number of population, the fact that we’re the team for the entire country, the density near the ballpark of the population, it’s just remarkable.
Are you looking to do renovations at Rogers Centre like you did Cleveland?
Shapiro: Yeah, this is a 30-year-old building, much like we had in Cleveland. It’s got to be adapted for the modern generation of fans. Unlike in Cleveland, I’m deeply involved in doing the same thing on the baseball side, so we’re balancing a lot. We have [Andrew Miller] here who went through that [with Progressive Field]. We also have a Spring Training challenge here we’re trying to work through. So, we’ve got to major projects: Spring Training and a ballpark renovation here. The Dunedin lease has one year left. We’re trying to get something done there. … There’s a real sense of appreciation for how Dunedin feels about the team. The one thing I cannot accept would be the split facility. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to move everybody to one place. Seeing that has made clear to me that that’s a bad arrangement. You want to have an organization that’s aligned, where the big leagues is attached to the Minor Leagues. Well right now it’s like two separate worlds.
How’s it been working with Ross Atkins here now?
Shapiro: It’s natural for me with Ross. It’s just a different relationship and he’s in a different place in his career than Chris is in his. Chris is a mature executive — one of the best in the game. I think it got to a point for me with Chris where the best thing I could do was get out of his way and just kind of be there for him, both to make sure he had the advocate he needed to get decisions made and, if he ever wanted kind of a grayhair to bounce ideas off of, or a different perspective, that I was there for him. Ross is still developing as a general manager. First year doing the job. He hasn’t even been through a cycle yet, so I can play a very different role with him. The task is a big one, because I think a player development system and scouting system, all those things, need to be shaped. So, I can roll up my sleeves and get my hands in on the baseball side, which is something that I had missed. I’m excited to be back involved in it. That’s my foundation. I do enjoy the president’s job. I enjoy the Major League side. In this job, I’m representing ownership. [Indians owner Paul Dolan] will tell you, I sit with him in the meeting of 30. That’s pretty cool. I like the committees I’m on. I’ve been added to some other committees. I’m enjoying that opportunity. I’m still one of the younger guys in the room, which is a good thing. I still enjoy that, but I also enjoy being hands on on the baseball side. That’s the biggest lever of the business. It always will be.
What was it like to have the Jose Bautista contract situation come up like it did?
Shapiro: I was telling guys,’ Listen, I’ve been through players in walk years before.’ We had that with a lot of different players in Cleveland. Every player is his own person. Every player is an individual. You’ve got to deal with every situation. But, Spring Training is a time where the focal point goes on contracts, because the games don’t count and you have to write every single day, and there’s not many things to write about. You can’t write about guys losing weight every day, so inevitably it turns to contracts. You had to expect that coming in, that we were going to have a lot of focus there. We have eight free agents at the end of the year. It’s a remarkable situation. It’s a situation that I didn’t walk into blindly. We knew. There’s challenges here. Solving those challenges, if it’s not fun to you, if you don’t enjoy that, you’re probably in the wrong business.
Has the fan reception been better since you first took over?
Shapiro: I think there was no games being played. Everything ended. People were kind of like shocked at how it ended and I was the only one standing. So, I got a lot of that directed at me. Other than the fact that that wasn’t what you expect when you make a decision to leave a place and come someplace, again, I’ve been through plenty of criticism over a career. You’ve been there, man. I mean, Robbie Alomar. I’ve been through trading Colon. I’ve been through that stuff before. It’s just, I didn’t expect it this time. So, it was a little weird. And, the second we started playing in Spring Training, the focus went back on the team and playing baseball. The front office guy shouldn’t be a focal point. That was kind of my point coming in here. It shouldn’t be about a front office guy. If you’re running an organization well, it’s not about one guy — ever. One guy doesn’t make decisions. One guy shouldn’t be the lightning rod. It should be about an organization.
Is there a sense of pride in watching how the Indians roster has developed this year?
Shapiro: Yeah, it’s an affirmation in doing business the right way and kind of picking players not just for their talent, but also for their character. Again, it’s an affirmation of having a good process and a good system. I’m excited for all those things, because those are things I believe deeply in. They’re the things that aligned me with Chris and Mike Chernoff and with Ross and with Carter Hawkins and with the whole organization. They were things we aligned behind. So, while it’ll be a very different situation here, and we’ll do things somewhat differently, the values will stay the same here, clearly.
Are you completely moved in to Toronto?
Shapiro: No, we can’t get into our house here yet. I haven’t been in Cleveland in over a month, since that day [we came to see the renovations]. And I’m not going to be there until the All-Star break, and that’s going to be to pack. So, I’m only going to be there twice more. Even then, I’ll visit frequently. My kids are going to want to visit frequently. … [My family is] still kind of living two different lives. You know I’m a family guy, so until my family’s here, it’s not really going to feel like home.
How has the media treated you? Have you been accepted or still viewed as an outsider?
Shapiro: I don’t really focus any energy on that. I can’t really tell you. You’d have to ask them. It feels comfortable to me, but nothing’s going to feel as comfortable as when you spend 24 years in a place. I don’t know how it possibly could. It feels as comfortable as eight months can feel. That’s because I think just the business is one I’m comfortable in. There are places and times. Spring Training felt completely natural. Going to owners meetings feelings completely natural. The mechanics of watching a game, except for the fact that I wasn’t freezing in April and May and we didn’t have any delays, it feels natural. I may be the only person that in April and May was like, ‘Yes. Close it. Astroturf? No problem.’ I was applauding.
What’s been the feedback on the dirt infield?
Shapiro: All good. I think it’s taken our grounds crew a little bit of time to get used to keeping it moist and how to break it up a little bit. But, yeah, it’s been all positive. We’re still studying [natural grass]. The turf here actually plays fairly natural. Except for seeing the specks of dirt, or rubber, you won’t be watching and go, ‘That doesn’t look right.’
What do you think about the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement talks?
Shapiro: Listen, anytime you care deeply about the game, and it comes to a moment to talk about kind of how the pie is split, you just hope that all the major stakeholders recognize how great the game is and how good things are going. The role I can play in that, I will do my best to kind of ensure that we work to satisfy both teams, but negotiations are tough. There’s always lots of posturing that goes on along the way, but I think it’s a moment in time where everybody recognizes that there’s good things happening and good progress being made.