Bases empty, two outs, a 3-1 game, #8 hitter up. Nothing comes down to this.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Jays' Managerial Search

Cito Gaston managed his last home game as a Blue Jay two nights ago, and was sent off in style; who was the last manager to receive a portrait of themselves painted by Vernon Wells' dad as a parting gift? But soon Cito's final season will be officially over and it will be time for the Blue Jays to start looking for their next manager.

According to a September 1 report by ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos put together an initial list of some 200 odd names as candidates to replace Gaston next year. This isn't much of a surprise; if we've learned anything during AA's first year as GM, it's that he is an absolute workaholic. The guy was talking trades while on his honeymoon, for god's sake.

The list has been culled to a much more reasonable size by now, of course, and the organization will only interview a handful of top candidates in the search for their Manager of the Future, but that doesn't stop us from profiling some of those initial candidates who didn't make the first cut. Today, Bottom of the Fourth brings you three stories of people who caught Alex Anthopoulos' eye enough to be filed away in his Rolodex.


Yoslan González has apparently been managing in Cuba for more than 30 years. Nothing about his supposed managerial career can be confirmed, however, because of the tedious relationship between Cuba and the United States. Cuban baseball players wishing to play in the major leagues face the ominous task of defecting from their home country, a complicated endeavour that often leaves them penniless and lost when they finally make it out, only to discover, in many cases, they're not good enough for the major leagues.

So it's not surprising that what little is known about González tends to sound a little exaggerated.

"I heard he once managed 60 straight hours," said one scout, "the government ordered a 60 hour baseball game in honour of Castro's 60th birthday (placing the game in 1986). They kept bringing in replacement players every couple hours, but Yoslan stuck it out for the whole game. Some say he made more than 100 pitching changes, and more than half of them were double switches. If that isn't a testament to his managerial abilities, I don't know what is."

More details were provided by Cuban pitcher Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, a nine-year veteran of the major leagues. "My little brother played for Yos. They never lost a game. The other teams pulled all these crazy stunts, because you know in Cuba there no rules man. They put 6 guys in the outfield. They pitched from 45 feet. One time, they steal all the bats from my brother's team 30 minutes before the game. They had to use sticks they found around the ballpark. So Yos get up and he make this speech, man, and he motivate the players so much they hit 8 home runs and won 15-1. But it wasn't the players who hit those home runs with those sticks. It was Yos' speech, man."

Research into the life of this allegedly famous Cuban turned up nothing. No news stories, no birth records. Nada. It's not entirely clear the man even exists. Neither Hernandez nor the aforementioned scout have ever seen him in person. But that doesn't dissuade El Duque of his existence. "Sure, maybe I never seen him. But we have a saying in Cuba. In English it's something like "if someone say something happened, it happened."

"The very fact that so little is known about him is what makes him intriguing," said Anthopoulos. "He could be the Aroldis Chapman of managing. He could come over here and suddenly be managing at 105 MPH. It's always a risk banking on unknown quantities, but it's often a very profitable risk."


Erika Thompson is a partner at a distinguished law firm in downtown Toronto. Erika is a self-made woman; she paid her way through a political science degree, then got a free ride through Osgoode Hall Law School (York University's law school) by virtue of being consistently at the top of her class. She got one of the more prestigious articling positions while a student, and has stayed with the same firm ever since, working her way up the ladder until finally making partner.

In court, Thompson is something to behold. She oozes confidence. She commands a courtroom. When she speaks, people listen. Her name has been brought up numerous times as one of the "rising stars of Canadian law", and she's been mentioned as a possible future Attorney-General.

So it's no surprise that when Alex Anthopoulos encountered Erika Thompson in a Quizno's, he was floored. "She ordered a Pesto Turkey Toasty Torpedo," he said slowly, his eyes glazed over, clearly reminiscing about the incident. "First of all, great sandwich. But the way she said it..." Anthopoulos trailed off and paused for ten seconds before starting again. "Anyone who can order a sandwich like that can manage a baseball team. I don't care what experience she has. She's got it."

When contacted, Thompson was bewildered. "I have no interest in baseball," she said. "I've been to two games in my life, and those were to entertain clients. I hardly play sports. I play squash twice a week, that's it. Growing up, I played piano and went to geography competitions. I didn't play sports. And I've never heard of Alex Anthem... what? Anthopoulos, yeah."

Anthopoulos brushed these comments aside. "She didn't make our first cut for a number of reasons, but if she had, she would have wanted the job like nothing she's ever wanted before. Not even a Pesto Turkey Toasty Torpedo. I would have made her. I'm Alex Anthopoulos, bitch."


When Matt Chapman was a boy, he always wanted a dog. While other kids played on the swings and slides and see-saws, Matt would sit in the grass and watch the dogs frolic about, playing frisbee, chasing other dogs, and barking so exuberantly Matt thought they were laughing, laughing with joy. The joy of the carefree life of being a dog.

When Matt was nine years old he came home from a particularly difficult day of school and immediately burst into tears. "Matt, sweetie, what happened?" cried his mother. Matt told her about scraping his knee at recess while playing baseball, about the other kids teasing him for crying even though it was purely instinctual, he couldn't help it, about how he kept thinking about it in class to the point that he got in trouble for not paying attention and missed afternoon recess, which only made it worse because the other kids thought he was hiding and being a coward and crying more. His mother comforted him as only as a mother can. She dropped everything and made Matt his favourite food, Kraft Dinner with chopped-up hot dogs, purple Kool-aid, and chocolate ice cream for dessert. Matt's mother tried to keep a healthy diet in the house, but she also understood that there was a time and a place to throw all that out the window. Matt loved his mom.

Matt was cheered so much by the delicious dinner that he forgot all about what happened at school. He also didn't even notice that his father hadn't made it home for dinner, which he usually did. So when he heard the familiar sound of the blue Volvo wagon pulling into the driveway around 8 o'clock, he ran out to the front porch to greet his father.

But the moment he stepped outside, Matt once again forgot all about his father, for right there, hanging its head out the passenger window was a beautiful golden retriever. Matt was so excited he froze. He didn't know what to do or say. He just stood there staring, a blank expression on his face.

Matt's father brought the dog up the front walk and knelt down. "Now Matt, I've been thinking for a while about this," he said, "and I think you're old enough to take on the responsibility of caring for this dog. Do you think so?" Matt could hardly contain his enthusiasm. "Of course!" he almost-screamed, and he gave the dog a big hug, which the dog received by slopping a wet tongue all over Matt's face. Matt didn't mind.

Matt and his new best friend were inseparable. They went for a long walk every day, greeting old Mrs. Whitney on her front porch each time they passed. "Why hello there, young Mr. Matthew," Mrs. Whitney would reply, "and say hello to your friend for me too!" Matt always passed her greeting along.

Matt loved to play firefighter. He would pretend he was the hero, saving entire families from their burning house, one body tucked under each arm. And of course he could never save everyone without the help of his trusty firedog.

But Matt's favourite thing was to play catch. He would throw the tennis ball as far as he could, and the dog would run and get it. And they would repeat, over and over. It was impossible to tell who tired of this game first, because it never happened. That was how Matt's dog got the name Fetch. Sometimes Matt wished he could be the one fetching; he longed for that boundless joy he had first seen as a small boy watching other people's dogs at the playground.

As is always the case, Matt and Fetch grew apart as Matt got older. It wasn't for lack of love; Matt just didn't have as much time as he once did. Fetch died when Matt was in his second year away at university. Matt was sad, but he got over it.

But some part of Fetch always stayed inside Matt, and perhaps unconsciously, his life started to emulate the time spent with his dog. First he worked as a tennis ball-boy at small, local tournaments. His superiors noticed his determination and he began to get offers at bigger and bigger tournaments. Eventually he was hired as an official ATP ball-boy, traveling with the tour. He worked tournaments in Toronto, Cincinnati, Dubai, and all four majors. He had made it; he was a professional fetcher. He couldn't bring his dog back, but this was as close as he could get.

However, Matt got sick of traveling. He wanted to go home to Toronto and settle down. Unfortunately, there isn't enough tennis ball-boy work in Toronto to sustain oneself. At some point, a close friend, aware of Matt's situation, mentioned baseball. 81 games a year, plus the occasional freelance tennis work, that would be enough, right? Matt applied for the Blue Jays' 2010 season and easily got the job; he was overqualified, to say the least.

Matt's eagerness and positive attitude made him a favourite among Rogers Centre staff, and as the season went on, word spread higher and wider, until Alex Anthopoulos got wind of the ball-boy who everybody loved. Anthopoulos spent an entire three-day series against the Red Sox sitting in the front row by Matt's post, paying zero attention to the game, just watching Matt.

"He's tireless," said Anthopoulos. "He wants to fetch every foul ball so badly. He's dogged." Anthopoulos said that Matt's determination reminds him of himself, "and that's the kind of person I want managing a baseball team. One who never gives up, no matter what. That kind of attitude rubs off on the players. The best managers lead by example; they don't pressure or threaten their players into playing their hardest every day. They inspire them. Matt has that quality."


None of these people got beyond the initial list of 200 candidates. Various factors can be blamed for this; mostly, though, baseball teams are conservative, and don't like to venture outside the comfort zone of what's normal. While Alex Anthopoulos is a creative and hard-working general manager, his large team of consultants generally vetoes anything a little too creative. So Yoslan González, Erika Thompson and Matt Chapman will have to wait at least a little longer for their first big league managing job.

Sometimes this kind of baseball news can be tiring. The stories are often nothing but reports of teams wining and dining potential managers, reporters trying to enumerate all the possible candidates, maybe assigning scores of likeliness-to-be-hired as a gimmick. Delving into the life of the candidates and really telling their story, on the other hand, humanizes the candidates and brings a spark of interest to this otherwise-tedious search. We hope that these profiles have brought you closer to the game and its people.

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