Sunday, January 18, 2015

Calming the Savage Beest

There is no doubting his popularity, that’s for sure. Paul Beeston, beaming and chomping a cigar, is a defining image for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball club. And maybe that’s part of the problem.

Beeston rose through the ranks and his status as Galactic Blue Jays ambassador to the world is well-earned, as is the respect and appreciation for his role in making the Blue Jays the team to play for in the late 1980s and early 90s.

The problem, of course, is we’re now into 2015. And while Beeston wasn’t around for the entire generation of on-field futility, his greatest triumph as a front office guy is now old enough to drink.

Perhaps having a club president serve as the face of your franchise isn’t a good thing? Particularly when that franchise is setting all-time records for futility. Fans (of a certain demographic) love his approachability at season ticket holder events, almost as much as they love casting aspersions on the nebulous corporate owners. In this part of the world, there isn’t an easier or wider target for scorn and derision than Rogers. Beeston is the Good Guy caught between both worlds, we assume. But is that an accurate reflection of his loyalties?

It’s not unfair to say Beeston dances between the raindrops, revered for the success he enjoyed with Pat Gillick at his side. Successes he hasn’t repeated since Gillick’s departure. Gillick’s resume, meanwhile, sparkles with every stop he makes en route to retirement.

By popping up on friendly sports radio drive-time programs, Beeston inserts himself squarely in the baseball conversation. What he says carries weight with the fans. This is either a feature or a flaw, depending on your perspective. “Under promise and then overdeliver” doesn’t seem part of the Beeston ethos. His business is one built on hope, where ad space and season tickets are emotional buys bought before inevitable letdown. The money is counted and then it’s on to the next five year plan, the next natural grass halo to dangle before the unsated masses.

From the sounds of things, backroom politics caught up with Bulletproof Beeston before his team’s inept performance ever could. Always the likable underdog, it looks like Beeston falls victim to power plays in the C-suite rather than a team that failed to surpass the ever-lowering bar for playoff performance in Major League Baseball.

It isn’t consumer confidence or institutional rot seeping through the organization that ushers him out, it looks like the son of a statue desperate for a project upon which he can graft his name. Beeston’s portrayed as the victim because he surely doesn’t want to go. The man who tapped himself when tasked with finding a new CEO knows a good gig when he sees one. Not many people can add “folk hero” to their resume without bothering to acquire an email address.

The “cult of the executive” is the new hotness in professional sports. Clubs like the Dodgers and Cubs layer proven front office types and they increase their odds of finding the smartest guy in the room by filling the room with extremely smart guys. They build analytics departments and invest in their process, believing their ingenuity can insulate them against the volatility of round balls hitting round bats.

Fans fall under the same spell. Their in-house ninja knows best (until he doesn’t) and without a great GM or CEO master puppeteer, the team is doomed. And yet Beeston persists. The charming throwback without socks remains adored by fans, thanks in no small part to his willingness to share information with senior members of the pressbox (or, more accurately, those who abandoned the pressbox long ago.)

Above all else, the adulation for Beeston among fans feels misplaced. Not unearned but an inefficient use of resources and strangely at odds with the desire to see, above all else, a winner on the field.

But when the faces change as often as the modern baseball roster turns over, perhaps there is something timeless about the Dudley Moore look alike in the front office. The iconoclast who keeps both feet definitely in a different time. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the past, it’s just that the only reasons for celebration remain there.

Ugly as this ouster might be, perhaps it’s time for some change atop the Toronto Blue Jays. As the National Post’s Scott Stinson noted this week, “precisely no one figured that the Jays’ problems were a result of the guy in the president’s office.” Until the dream of a new Front Office Messiah looms and, in the mind of message board denizens, the new guy is the one to set the club straight. And so on into infinity.

For all his glad-handing abilities, his winning personality and success in the increasingly distant past, Beeston can’t outrun the Rogers name. Tongues cluck and cries to “do right” by Beeston will get loud until this soap opera concludes. But the truth is, the team won’t be worse off without him. But how could it?

1 comment:

  1. Regarding Beeston's "successes ha(v)n't repeated since Gillick's departure", I think it's worth noting that the Blue Jays success hasn't repeated since Labatt's departure. In his Hall of Fame induction speech, I seem to remember Pat Gillick crediting Labatt's and their steady-but-hands-off ownership as being one of the keys to the Blue Jays great run during his tenure.

    Paul Beeston's post-Gillick Blue Jays period could have benefitted from that kind of ownership. I'm talking about you, Rogers. I don't think Labatt's would have i) promised, then withdrew funding for in-season player upgrades (in 2014), ii) renamed the stadium in their name, iii) erected a statue of their corporate founder in front of said vanity plate stadium.


Send forth the witticisms from on high