And I’m not certain how I feel about it.
On the one hand, Shapiro is a confidant of current Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. In interviews I did with Anthopoulos for my book Full Count, it was clear that just as every general manager has peers he holds close, Anthopoulos felt comfortable bouncing ideas off Shapiro – that he trusted Shapiro. On the other hand, as veteran Cleveland Indians scribe Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com noted recently, word is Shapiro – who was promoted to Indians president in 2009 after nine years as GM to prevent Chris Antonetti from bolting to the St. Louis Cardinals – still wants to have a hand in some baseball matters. He’s 48, after all; not much older than Anthopoulos.
The Indians have done little more than tread water in recent seasons while Shapiro – a favourite of the commissioner’s office – has overseen the business operations of a team that is 29th in the majors in attendance this season in a 20-year-old ballpark. True, Progressive Field is located in an unfortunately decayed, rust-belt downtown – there’s only so much a guy can do – but at first glance Shapiro wouldn’t seem tailor-made for the business issues facing the next president of the Blue Jays, which include a massive refurbishing of the Rogers Centre as well as starting the dialogue on a new downtown ballpark, likely within the next decade. The place is the seventh-oldest park in baseball – sixth, really, since Kauffman Stadium has essentially been rebuilt.
I’ve been clear: If Beeston’s job is to be split into two, then there’s no reason Anthopoulos shouldn’t be given complete control of baseball operations – including contract negotiations and baseball philosophy. He has proven himself to be a prudent financial steward – his deals with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were extremely club-friendly, and Josh Donaldson might be the most cost-effective player the Blue Jays have ever had.
Anthopoulos has addressed mistakes, cleaning up the mess left by his trade with the Miami Marlins. If Shapiro is comfortable with this and will limit himself to stadium operations, then I guess I can be sold on him as a candidate, although I’d prefer somebody with more political and business experience. But right now, I’m not certain why he’d be comfortable with it; and that’s problematic, almost as problematic as the notion of Anthopoulos ceding or sharing baseball authority to Shapiro.
We’re all about Andre De Grasse and Shawnacy Barber on Monday morning, as we should be. There are new clubhouse leaders for Canadian Athlete of the Year – athletes from a sport outside of the media mainstream, which is a bonus in a country that has grown up, accepted its differences and no longer thinks its best athletes all play in the NHL.
But make no mistake: For 99 per cent of the world, the men’s 100-metre race on Sunday in Beijing was all about Usain Bolt, who showed once again why he is the singularly most indispensable athlete in any sport. The IAAF has been under fire after a series of news reports suggesting at best two decades of mishandling failed drug tests or at worst a blatant cover-up and the last thing it needed was its signature event won by a two-time drug cheat like American Justin Gatlin, the runner-up to Bolt whose steady stream of wins in the buildup to the world championships suggested he might be ready to supplant the Jamaican.
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The sad fact of the matter is Bolt and Canadian Donovan Bailey are the only Olympic gold medal-winning sprinters in the past 20 years who have not been tainted by failed drug tests. Bolt is the most famous athlete in the world, by virtue not just of his performances but also the narrative built around him. There is, frankly, no other athlete who is as much of a world citizen and who puts as many smiles on as many faces worldwide. But that also brings a burden, because if Bolt were to ever be stained by a drug scandal, it would be a body blow unlike any seen by any sport. Lance Armstrong’s issues would pale in comparison, since cycling is still seen as an elitist, niche sport.
On a purely competitive standpoint, Bolt has cemented his status as the ultimate big-game performer of the past half-century or so – one of the greatest ever. In the meantime, with Gatlin prevented from what would have been the most unpopular world athletics title in history, Floyd Mayweather stands alone as the most despised and reprehensible current world champion in any sport. Which seems appropriate.
QUIBBLES AND BITS
• The NFL is where stupid happens daily – see Chris Carter – but I’m going to give it up to Jason Pierre-Paul for using a decoy to escape the New York Daily News at a charity event in Sunrise, Fla. The New York Giants defensive end, who had a finger amputated when playing with fireworks, sent a decoy out of the front entrance of the event and escaped through the back. OK, so the decoy had the wrong hand wrapped in toilet paper … but props for trying. That’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime events for a reporter: The story you get is way more interesting and fun than the one you were trying to get.
• The New York Yankees retired Andy Pettitte’s uniform No. 46 on Sunday, which should give everybody pause to stop and think why it is that Pettitte was allowed to slip gracefully into his dotage despite being one of the biggest names in the Mitchell Report and despite being a regular workout partner of Roger Clemens. The answer is simple: Pettitte held a news conference and took responsibility for using human growth hormone, apologizing while making it clear that he used HGH to recover from injury. I remember covering the news conference and all of the Yankees’ big names were there, standing in a row off to the side in support of Pettitte. I understand that Pettitte was lucky in that there were fewer deep legal issues surrounding his use and that he was sincere to the point of being simple during his career; but it was also an example of what happens when someone just ‘fesses up.
• Toronto’s Shawnacy Barber, a 21-year-old dual citizen, cleared 5.90 metres in the men’s pole vault Monday to win Canada’s first world title in track and field since Perdita Felicien’s win in the women’s 100-metres hurdles event. The pole vault has been something of a dinosaur among track and field events since the retirement of the great Sergei Bubka, who between 1984-1994 surpassed his own world record 16 times. Bubka last jumped 6.14 metres on July 31, 1994 … and it wasn’t until Feb. 15, 2014 when France’s Renaud Lavillenie jumped 6.16 to set the new standard. Lavillenie shared the bronze on Monday.
THE END GAME
I’m proud of you, Jays fans. For the most part, you’ve stuck to our deal and allowed all of us to enjoy having David Price pitch for the team without wasting time talking about whether he is going to re-sign with the Blue Jays.
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Well done. Now, let’s make another deal: How about shelving the debate about whether Josh Donaldson is a better MVP candidate than Mike Trout – oh, I don’t know, how about until we see where the teams are in a month’s time? Trout is the best player in baseball, hands down. But that’s not what the award is about. The Angels are going to miss the playoffs – you heard it here, first – and as someone who has actually voted on this award before, trust me: That’s going to impact BBWAA voters.
Jeff Blair is host of The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and Baseball Central, heard on Sportsnet 590/The Fan and seen nationally on Sportsnet from noon-1 p.m. ET. He is also a frequent contributor to Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.