HOUSTON — Alex Anthopoulos walked out of Minute Maid Park following the Dodgers’ wild 13-12, 10-inning loss to Houston in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series. Then in the LA baseball operations front office, he had permission from his bosses to go on a mission while his family returned with the team to Los Angeles.
“I walked back to the hotel and I was like cramming for an exam, try to study up on the Braves before my interview,” he said.
He got the job 16 days later as Atlanta’s general manager. This week he’s back at Minute Maid after helping lead the Braves to their first World Series appearance since 1999.
Anthopoulos and Houston general manager James Click took over teams in turmoil. Anthopoulos was hired six weeks after GM John Coppolella was forced to resign when Major League Baseball’s investigation uncovered rules violations committed by the Braves in the international player market. Click was the No. 3 official in the Tampa Bay Rays’ baseball department when he was hired by the Astros in February 2020, three weeks after GM Jeff Luhnow was suspended by MLB and then fired by Houston for his role in the team’s sign-stealing scandal.
And just after getting his new job, Click’s orientation was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. He wasn’t able to have coffee and dinners with staff for a year.
“I was here for four or five weeks before the world shut down,” he said Monday ahead of the World Series opener, which the Braves won 6-2 Tuesday night. “And so I had to try to do as much of it over Zoom and other means as possible, which is challenging. Not being able to observe people at their jobs in their natural environment can make it challenging to get to know everybody.”
Click, a 43-year-old Yale history major, and Anthopoulos, a 44-year-old economics major at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, lead organizations with celebrated managers seeking their first dugout titles: Houston’s 72-year-old Dusty Baker and Atlanta’s 66-year-old Brian Snitker, completing his 45th season in the Braves’ organization.
Both teams won pennants with high but not leading payrolls: Houston was eighth at $188 million as of Aug. 31 and Atlanta 15th at $149 million.
Born in Montreal, Anthopoulos started as an intern with the low-spending Expos in 2000, joined Toronto as scouting coordinator and rose to general manager in 2009. He left in January 2016 to become the Dodgers’ VP of baseball operations under Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, and got the Braves’ job less than two seasons later.
“I’d been in Toronto six years and I thought I was improving as a GM,” he said. “Going to LA, it was like going to grad school for two years. I wish I’d had another year or two because I was learning a ton and I took a ton of what I learned, that I brought it to Atlanta.”
Anthopoulos thinks of the example of Billy Beane, who is starting his 25th year as head of the Oakland Athletics’ baseball operations.
“Never the excuses of, ‘Oh, not having resources or money.’ He always tries to win,” Anthopoulos said. “They don’t do rebuilds. And Farhan will say the same thing: ‘I’m not into three-year plans, five-year plans. I’m just trying to make good decisions and win when we win.’”
As Atlanta approached the All-Star break below .500 following the loss of all three starting outfielders, Anthopolous recalled a conversation he had with Beane in May or June.
“If you’re close, two months is a long time, 60 games is a lot of games, and you just need to be close because a lot of teams are just going to quit, and it’s going to give you an opportunity,” he said Beane told him. “It doesn’t sound that complicated, but it makes sense.”
Atlanta obtained outfielders Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall and Jorge Soler along with reliever Richard Rodríguez in four swaps in the hours before the July 30 trade deadline, adding to the acquisition of outfielder Joc Pederson two weeks earlier.
Rosario, Duvall and Pederson combined to drive in 17 of Atlanta’s 28 runs in its six-game NL Championship Series win over the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers. Rosario was selected MVP.
Anthopoulos behaved quite differently at the 2014 trade deadline.
“I did a poor job of not holding money back in the offseason,” he said. “I made excuses for myself. … Instead of like: How can we? I was just like: Oh, we don’t have any money, I’m not going to trade a bunch of players long-term.”
Click, born in Durham, North Carolina, was a Rays intern in 2005, was hired a year later as coordinator of baseball operations, then promoted to director of baseball research and development, director of baseball operations and made a vice president in 2017.
He engineered the rebuilding of Houston’s bullpen. The Astros acquired left-hander Brooks Raley from Cincinnati in August 2020 and added Kendall Graveman, Phil Maton and Yimi García ahead of this year’s deadline.
Click found the way of doing business in Houston surprisingly different.
“I think the culture of hitting here, the way that the hitters interact with each other, the way that they prepare, was eye-opening to me,” Click said. “But also talking to Brent Strom and the coaches about their philosophy of pitching and how it is similar to Tampa’s and how it’s different was eye-opening. I think you learn more from when you have difference than when you agree.”
Both are of the mindset that aggressiveness pays off. Anthopoulos thought of what happens to a clubhouse if you don’t chase a title.
“You’re out of it the last two months, fantasy football comes up. Guys don’t want to play. All complaining starts, finger pointing,” he said. “It’s miserable. And I lived it. I’ve been there many times.”
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