- - Sunday, October 23, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

John Thompson is looking forward to the start of this World Series Tuesday night.

First, the Cleveland Indians were one of the Hall of Fame coach’s favorite baseball teams growing up. “I was a big fan of Larry Doby,” Coach Thompson said. “My father used to take me to Griffith Stadium to see the IndiansDoby, Luke Easter, Early Wynn.”

Second, he knows somebody in the Indians organization —  the architect who helped bring about the revival of baseball in Cleveland and the Indians’ first American League pennant since 1997 — team president Chris Antonetti.

Antonetti, 42, was the student manager for the 1996 Georgetown men’s basketball team that featured Allen Iverson, Othella Harrington and Jerome Williams. That squad was ranked fourth in the nation and went 29-8, losing to No. 1 seed Massachusetts in the East Regional Final.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Chris is in this position,” Coach Thompson said. “He was dependable as hell. We made a lot of demands of our basketball managers, and he was one of the better ones. And you needed a thick skin to do that job with what we put them through. You knew you could count on Chris.”

Williams echoed Coach Thompson’s comments about the demands of being the men’s basketball manager during his time there, and how it would prepare you for a career in sports management.

“Georgetown managers have a high level of responsibility, and you have to development good management skills to do the job well,” Williams said. “You are in between the players and the coaches, you have to be able to navigate those areas at a school like Georgetown and handle different personalities. I’m very happy for what Chris has been able to do with the Indians. I’m not surprised at what he has accomplished.”

Williams, though, has one particular memory of Antonetti, who used to referee team scrimmages. “Chris wasn’t going to give you any calls in practice,” he said. “He made it tougher for the players. We weren’t looking for calls in a real game because we weren’t getting them in practice.”

Antonetti worked his way up through the Indians organization since he came there in 1999, promoted to general manager in 2010 and president of baseball operations last year. He got his start in major league baseball working for the Washington Nationals organization — when it was the Montreal Expos. He began as an intern, selling ice cream at minor league games and gathering reports and information about Expos minor league players.

It was Georgetown, though — and the lessons learned from Coach Thompson — that Antonetti credits with the foundation he used to build his career.

“I grew up in a relatively small town in Orange, Connecticut,” Antonetti said in an mlb.com interview. “It was a small suburb. To go to school at the nation’s capital was very culturally enriching for me. And add to that, to be immersed with a group of people (on the basketball team) with very different backgrounds, it was a great experience to gain a different perspective and to interact with those guys in an intimate setting for so long.

John Thompson is a very different person in private than in public,” he said. “I learned so much from him. He spent as much time or more time talking about life decisions than he did basketball. Basketball was secondary. Life skills and the importance of boys growing into men and those responsibilities was the focus of it.”

Working with Mark Shapiro, the former Cleveland team president who left last year to run the Toronto Blue Jays — and who Antonetti wound up facing in the American League Championship Series — Antonetti built this pennant-winning squad through a series of trades and draft picks, topping it off by hiring Terry Francona as manager in October 2012.

Antonetti knew Francona well. They worked together in 2001 when, after being fired as the Philadelphia Phillies manager, Francona worked with the Indians front office as an advisor before being hired as the Boston Red Sox manager, where Francona won two World Series titles.

The Indians took a step forward by winning a wild card position in 2013, and now they have the chance to win their first World Series title since 1948 — a team that included Coach Thompson’s favorite player, Larry Doby.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes and Google Play.

 


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