Shapiro salutes Indians in bittersweet moment

Blue Jays exec congratulates club he left 11 months ago

October 20th, 2016

TORONTO -- Mark Shapiro choked back tears as he searched for words. He wanted to say this just right, and he didn't want anyone to misconstrue his swirl of emotions.

Shapiro had just come from the visitors' clubhouse at Rogers Centre, where some of his closest friends were celebrating the Cleveland Indians winning the American League pennant.

For the past 11 months, Shapiro has been the president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays. This is the team he's completely invested in. On that, there's no conflict. He wants to be clear about that.

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"When the first pitch was thrown, I wanted to win," Shapiro said. "I wasn't conflicted in the least."

Until last November, though, the Indians had been Shapiro's team. He'd served the franchise in a variety of roles for 24 seasons, including the last five as team president.

Shapiro's fingerprints are all over the Indians, not just in the personnel, but in the franchise's structure and style of doing business. The Tribe is respected throughout baseball for doing things a certain way. For hiring talented people. For empowering them and trusting them.

This was Shapiro's legacy with the franchise, and on Wednesday evening, the Indians accomplished the very thing he had been focused on for most of his adult life.

After beating Shapiro's new team, 3-0, in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series, Cleveland is going to the World Series for the first time since 1997.

Shapiro, bitterly disappointed, eventually made his way down a hallway to the Tribe's clubhouse and stepped inside to congratulate the Indians. This is what baseball people almost always do after a postseason series.

This walk, though, was different. In that celebration, Shapiro found people he hired, admired and respected, from team president Chris Antonetti to manager Terry Francona to dozens of others.

Antonetti, who was promoted after Shapiro's departure, thanked his former boss. The hug they shared was symbolic of their years together and how hard they'd worked for a moment like this one.

"There is no classier person than Mark," Antonetti said. "I know it's really difficult for him in the moment because the team he works for ultimately didn't come out on the right end for him.

"But I encouraged him to really look around the room and think about the impact on every single person that was here and his efforts throughout the entirety of his time here and the impact he's made on the organization and the people.

"We wouldn't be standing here if it weren't for Mark's efforts. I'm incredibly grateful to have worked alongside him for as long as we did, and his impact will be here for a long time."

Afterward, Shapiro tried to sort through everything he was feeling.

"That room is full of people I've known for 25 years," he said, voice cracking. "It's the relationships in this game. Anyone who has been in this game knows it's all about the people. It's really hard to articulate."

Shapiro was awash in memories, thinking of Indians owner Paul Dolan among others.

"For the owners, their steadfast belief," Shapiro said. "That doesn't always happen in this game. I'm incredibly happy for Chris, who I love and respect. And Tito. And people like [coaches] Sandy Alomar and Mike Sarbaugh. It's a special thing for them."

Now, about what else Shapiro was feeling. He'd just witnessed another booming crowd at the Rogers Centre. Shapiro has watched the Blue Jays make a second straight postseason appearance, win the AL Wild Card Game and sweep the Rangers in the AL Division Series. Toronto led the AL in attendance, and when more than 10 million people tuned in to watch its Wild Card Game victory over Baltimore, Shapiro was overwhelmed.

"I've experienced the depth and passion and what it truly means to represent a country and not just one city," Shapiro said. "That's easy to hear from someplace else, but until you're here and feel the depth of that passion and see how remarkable it is. What you feel overall is a responsibility."