C/O John Lott
One alum's journey to winning a World Series
The year was 1996 and McMaster students were arriving on campus. For some, it wasn’t just their first time at McMaster, but also in Hamilton. This was the case for a first year economics major making the trip from Montreal. This was the story of Alex Anthopoulos.
“I remember having left Montreal [with] my father and brother . . . Waking up in Hedden Hall the morning after I got dropped off, I didn’t know a soul. I remember calling home and I had a lump in my throat,” said Anthopoulos.
The experience of leaving home can be stressful, but it’s what follows that makes all the difference.
Anthopoulos remembers his time at McMaster fondly. School, his experiences and his friends had long-lasting effects on his life.
“Definitely the best, both academic and social, experience of my life,” said Anthopoulos. “My best friends in the world are friends I made at Mac and the life experiences and everything I went through, I would never change it for the world.”
It was during his time at McMaster that Anthopoulos would enter the baseball world. He loved sports, specifically baseball, but never expected to work in the sport. He recalled frequently discussing the possibility, but never made a move on it until a friend of his just couldn’t take it any longer.
“One of my good friends to this day, Rich Martinelli, went to Mac with me [and we] roomed together. He was the one who I would just annoy, [telling] him about how I just wanted to get into baseball, [and] kept talking about it. He finally snapped on me one day and said ‘I’m sick of hearing you talk about it, I want you to do something about it,’” explained Anthopoulos.
After that conversation in his third year, it was exactly what he decided to do, reaching out to the Blue Jays and Expos in search of an opportunity. Although it wasn’t exactly what he expected, he found his way in.
“The Expos said, ‘we don’t have an internship in baseball operations, but we have something where you can basically open the players mail, coordinate it, work with them, work in the clubhouse, those types of things.’ It was a non-paying job, but I just wanted to get my foot in the door,” said Anthopoulos.
As minimal as the role seemed, it would play a big part in the advancement of his career. He always eyed scouting and felt he had an opportunity at hand. He would complete his mail duties during the day and spend his nights working on scouting.
“At night when I was done and the games were starting, I would go sit in the seats and write scouting reports. I knew I was capable of more than doing player mail, but that was a way to get my foot in the door. I got paid in experience,” explained Anthopoulos.
This is where things began to take off. The organization took notice of his skills and determination and had him travel to Florida to work as an international scout. After a year and a half, he would become a scouting coordinator. Two years later, he took on a scouting coordinator position from the Blue Jays and would get his big break after another two years.
“I got offered [the] assistant [general manager] position, did that for four [years] and then the GM position came up. A lot of it was right place, right time — no doubt about that. I think the key was that I really enjoyed what I was doing . . . I couldn’t wait to get into the office,” said Anthopoulos.
He discussed many late nights at home, watching VHS tapes and DVDs of draft videos. He worked so hard not just to get ahead, but because he was genuinely interested and loved what he did, calling it “a real labour of love.” He was just glad to do something he loved.
For those wanting to follow in his footsteps, he emphasized the importance of having a true passion for the job, suggesting that it’s a requirement for the line of work.
“Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, meaning you absolutely adore it,” explained Anthopoulos. “The sacrifices, socially, time commitments, things like that — it’s really a way of life. . . I’ve told people before that have interned with us — there’s nothing wrong with just being a sports fan and having another career.”
Anthopoulos was always very passionate and never stopped working on his way to the top. After being named the Blue Jays GM in 2009, he spent six more seasons with the organization. In his final year with the team in 2015, they won the division and made the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Anthopoulos gained a reputation as a top-tier GM that season and was named the Major League Baseball Executive of the Year following a flurry of moves to bring the team into contention. With a 53-51 record at the trade deadline, Anthopoulos pulled off one of the “best-ever” trade deadlines, acquiring five time all-star and Cy Young winner David Price, and five time all-star, Troy Tulowitzki, along with several other pieces.
In 2021, Anthopoulos found himself in a similar situation with the Braves sitting third in the division with a 51-54 record, and batting injuries.
Over the course of the season the Braves would see Canadian ace Mike Soroka retear his achilles, perennial MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. tear his ACL, and two time all-star Marcell Ozuna break his hand while also being arrested on domestic violence charges. All three would miss the remainder of the season.
Leading up to the trade deadline, Anthopoulos rebuilt the Braves outfield entirely, trading for Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler, all of whom were huge contributors in the title run. Rosario was named NLCS MVP and Soler was named WS MVP.
“We still had a chance to get in the playoffs . . . Your job as a GM is to try to get your team in. If you get your team in, anything can happen. Our runs allowed, our runs scored, we had scored a lot more runs than we had allowed, it just wasn’t resulting in wins. We thought we were capable of a lot more,” said Anthopoulos.
Anthopoulos surely made the most of this opportunity, never giving up after many had written his team off.
“Our run differential was like plus 100 and something and we were a game under .500, we should’ve been so much better — it just ended up showing up over six months. It wasn’t a tough call. Selling just didn’t make any sense,” explained Anthopoulos.
A few months later, he would be proven correct, as it was the Atlanta Braves celebrating with the World Series trophy during their parade.
It was a long journey for Anthopoulos to become the first Canadian GM to ever win the World Series and it was a journey that all started at McMaster University.