In 2015, the Jays almost made it. Being a World Series team, for the first time in 22 years, was inches away. And with the new season of games in full swing, we’re crossing our proverbial
fingers we’ll see that same Blue Jay magic—and more—in the months to come.
Eyes will particularly be on the new leader at the helm, Mark Shapiro, who officially joined the Toronto Blue Jays as president and chief executive officer two months before the New Year.
Shapiro arrived at a pivotal time for the franchise, which will be celebrating its 40 th anniversary this season. And many are eager to find out what direction he’ll take as the Jays’ CEO.
One thing is abundantly clear: He wants to win. “Clearly, winning has to be the primary area of focus,” Shapiro says. “A relentless, obsessive commitment to building a winning team.”
How he’ll do that is a multi-step process, one that he has apparently been thinking much about.
“It’s where you look at structuring and integrating sports science, sports psychology and strength and conditioning,” he says.
“I’m so excited to kind of build out and integrate those areas a little bit… and hopefully build out the analytics program to new heights.”
Naturally, it’ll also come down to performance and success on the field. Contrary to what some might believe, it’s more layered than the necessary synergy and skill.
“Building a team isn’t just collecting talent,” he adds. “It’s about players that are committed, that are willing to take risks and commit to something bigger than themselves. Accountability is going
to be extremely important.”
He also says he wants to “build a business organization that obsesses about fan experience at every interaction and every touch point.”
Next on his list, the Roger’s Centre is in dire need of a reno, one that may cost in upwards of $400 million.
Shapiro, like anyone’s who’s experienced the dome, has been a fan of the awe-inspiring structure since his first exposure to a Jay’s game just after he polished off his history degree at Princeton in
1989. “My memory was seeing this building and just being blown away at what an incredible engineering marvel it is.
And the Roger’s Centre isn’t the only spot that needs an upgrade. The team’s spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, is widely considered to be the worst in Major League Baseball.
Shapiro has to choose between a reno or moving the Jays to a new facility when the team’s lease expires in 2017.
To make matters worse, team cornerstones José Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion became free agents. And the Blue Jays’ stock of minor-league prospects was depleted by last year’s trade deadline frenzy.
Still, there’s every reason to believe he’ll hit it out of the park with each and every pitch, given that he’s spent an entire lifetime surrounded by the game, its players, its strategy, and its details.
Shapiro invested nearly a quarter-century with the Cleveland Indians, having worked his way up from player development to team president. It was there that the Sporting News named Shapiro Executive of the Year in 2005 and 2007.
His managerial style hasn’t changed all that much, he maintains. “If you have a moral compass
explains.and a set of well defined values, those are going to be the determination of how you lead,” he
“I think you want to create a values-driven culture… you identify those attributes and players that
you recruit, you acquire, and that you actively seek to establish that as a culture.”
Those values may have been groomed very early on, in fact, since baseball and Shapiro go farther back than the Indians. Way back. Son of Baltimore attorney and sports agent, Ronald M. Shapiro, the game was ingrained at a very early age.
“Baseball was a part of the fabric of my childhood growing up. It was a connection and a bond for me, with my dad. It’s hard to separate out baseball from my childhood,” he continues.
“Whether it was stickball, wiffleball, little league or playing catch in the street. Maybe it was the fact that my dad, at some point in my adolescence, started representing major league players and
they started being part of my life. Baseball, informally or formally, was always a part of my life.”
Among his baseball heroes growing up was Baltimore Orioles’ Brooks Robinson, for “consistency, the way he treated people, and his artistic style of play.” Ball player Al Rosen, who played for the Cleveland Indians from 1947 to 1956, was also a role model.
And so, while baseball has always been a part of him, another thing that has been a constant, contrary to popular belief, was his name.
There’s been no shortage of times he’s been asked why he pronounces his name as Sha-PIE- roh,
instead of the usual Sha-PEER-oh. For the record—and he wants to set the record straight to quell
those silly rumours—his name has always been that way.
The story is familiar to many: Immigrants coming through Ellis Island, a name change, and an obligatory mispronunciation that stuck. Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, lay claim to the “only places in the world you’ll hear ShapIro spelled Shapiro, and you’ll hear Shapiro spelled Schapiro,” he says.
To be sure, fans are less concerned about the name as they are about the game. And if he could impart one message to his skeptical fan-base it would be that he’s here to win.
“My favorite Blue Jays stories are waiting to be written,” Shapiro says.
Dave Gordon has penned more than a thousand articles, and more than five hundred editorials, on every topic imaginable. He writes regularly on domestic and international politics, current events, culture, relationship issues, and much more.
He has spent time in the newsrooms of the Toronto Sun, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Baltimore Sun, National Post and eye Weekly.