McMaster grad Alex Anthopoulos’ moves as Atlanta GM lead to National League pennant

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Published October 24, 2021 at 9:50 am

Alex Anthopoulos, general manager of the Atlanta MLB team, is a McMaster University alumnus. Atlanta has advanced to baseball's World Series.

Alex Anthopoulos, the made-in-Canada baseball executive who attended university in Hamilton, is now a pennant-winning general manager.

The Atlanta baseball team, which the McMaster University alumnus began reshaping after he hired on as GM in November 2017, won the National League pennant on Saturday. They ousted the favoured Los Angeles Dodgers with a 4-2 win to clinch a six-game series victory.

Atlanta will face the Houston Astros as it competes in it the club’s first World Series since 1999.

Anthopoulos, 44, had been close twice to being a GM of a World Series participant. Atlanta fell one win short in 2020, as the Dodgers surmounted 0-2 and 1-3 series deficits in the National League Championship Series (NLCS) and went on to win the World Series. And, of course, in 2015, the Toronto Blue Jays — bolstered by Anthopoulos’s additions, such as league MVP Josh Donaldson and lefthanded ace David Price — came within two wins short of making the World Series. Toronto lost out against the eventual World Series-winning Kansas City Royals.

That 2015 Blue Jays team started a streak for Anthopoulos. The last seven teams he has worked for, including the 2016-17 Dodgers and Atlanta since 2018, have all won division titles.

At McMaster, Anthopoulos earned a degree in economics and worked for his hometown Montreal Expos in the summers. He started out as a volunteer who sorted fan mail. A CBC profile written in October 2018 by Bob Elliott, the dean of Canadian baseball writers, said Anthopoulos had to work up the courage to cold-call Expos general manager Jim Beattie about employment in a more direct baseball role.

Anthopoulos scouted for Montreal for a few years. He was hired in a similar role by the Blue Jays in December 2003, a year before Major League Baseball moved the Expos to Washington.

Within two years, he was Toronto’s assistant general manager, and moved up to the big job in 2009. One living legacy of his Toronto tenure is the signing of a 16-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as an international free agent in 2015. The Blue Jays invested a US$3.9-million signing bonus in Guerrero. (Players from outside of the United States and Canada are not part of the MLB draft.)

Guerrero, of course, broke out this season for the Blue Jays. He hit 48 home runs, the most ever by a MLB player aged 22 or younger. He led MLB in runs scored, and was one of just two batters in the entire sport to on-base above .400 and slug above .600.

Shrewd moves

Content warning: this section contains a description of alleged intimate-partner violence.

Economics involves lessons about risk-reward and how small moves can add up to a big change. Those principles that Anthopoulos might well have soaked up as a McMaster student came to the fore for Atlanta this season.

Atlanta lost Calgary-born starting pitcher Mike Soroka before the season when he needed a second surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon.

Silver Slugger-winning corner outfielder Marcell Ozuna was injured on May 25 when hurt two fingers while sliding into third base at Fenway Park in Boston. That might have been his last appearance with Atlanta.

Five days later,  Ozuna was arrested and charged with aggravated assault by strangulation and battery after allegedly assaulting his spouse, Genesis Guzman. He is now on a restricted list under MLB’s and the players’ association’s joint domestic-violence policy.

In July, star Atlanta rightfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. suffered a season-ending knee injury. Around that point, Atlanta had a losing record. The analytics site FanGraphs gave the team only an 8 per cent chance of making the MLB playoffs.

Anthopoulos, somewhat like he did in Toronto in 2015, refused to fold his hand. He overhauled Atlanta’s outfield, airlifting in veteran bats Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.

Atlanta went on to win a weak NL East division with an 88-73 record. They had three fewer wins than the Blue Jays (91-71) managed in the hypercompetitive AL East. (Atlanta was 31-37 against teams that had a winning record, while the Blue Jays were 48-44.)

In the playoffs, though, Atlanta defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 in the division series round, before downing the Dodgers in the NLCS. Atlanta started the series with home-field advantage since they won their division, while the 106-win Dodgers were a wild-card team out of the NL West.

Be that as it may, Atlanta advancing to the World Series is a major chapter in Anthopoulos’ sporting life, that included being formally educated in Hamilton.

The World Series, a best-of-seven, begins Tuesday. Houston will host games 1 and 2, with the second contest set for Wednesday (Oct. 27). Following a travel day, Atlanta will host games 3, 4 and 5, if necessary, from Oct. 29 to 31.

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