To have Paul Beeston, president and CEO of the Toronto Blue Jays, come and speak at a function is as sought after as a blockbuster trade involving two starting pitchers and an all-star shortstop.
“I haven’t seen the room this buzzing or heard it this loud in a really longtime,” said Heidi Peever Bain, president of the Canadian Club of London, the group hosting the speaking engagement by the Jays royalty, to a crowd of about 250 people at the Hilton Hotel on Monday (Feb. 25).
While Beeston could talk about his time in London earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at Western University, how he was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1998 or even his induction into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, there was only one thing the Welland-born 67 year old wanted to get out.
“Baseball is what we’re going to talk about today,” he said.
And while he could talk about being the first-ever employee of the Jays, his World Series wins in ’92 and ’93 or even his time as the president of Major League Baseball (MLB) from 1997 to 2002, there was something else on Beeston’s mind.
“From ’85 to ’93 (being president of the Jays) was fun. This season has this type of feel,” he said.
The 2012 season was one, “from hell.”
The year was filled with injuries. Starting pitchers Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchinson were all out of the rotation in a span of four days with two of them having to get Tommy John surgery.
Young guns J.P. Arencibia (catcher), Brett Lawrie (third baseman) and Colby Rasmus (centre-fielder) were all sidelined with injuries for weeks at a time, while the team announced all-star Jose Bautista would have season-ending surgery in August.
In October, Jays manager John Ferrell wanted to leave to go work for the Boston Red Sox.
“We had all these things and I said, ‘Who’s in charge of this? I looked in the mirror and said, ‘It’s me,’” Beeston told to a room full of laughter.
With general manager Alex Anthopoulos leading the charge to create a championship team, there was a common statement made by Beeston throughout the offseason.
The first time it was used was when Toronto made a blockbuster trade by acquiring 2011 National League (NL) batting champion Jose Reyes, four-time all-star pitcher Mark Buehrle and 2010 NL earned-run average leader Josh Johnson.
“(Anthopoulos) phoned me saying, ‘What do you think of Johnson, Buehrle and Reyes?’ I said which one and he responded with, ‘All three,’” Beeston said, admitting his original plan was to sign a premier pitcher from free agency, who he didn’t name, until the player re-signed with his original team. “I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ That’s the first, ‘You’re kidding,’ that came out over the course of about a month.”
Beeston put the trade alongside one of the biggest in team history, comparing it to the deal bringing in Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter in 1991 that helped guide Toronto to back-to-back MLB titles.
After signing two-time World Series outfielder Melky Cabrera in November, the next moment Beeston was able to use his new catch phrase was after an addition to the coaching staff in manager John Gibbons, who spent time in Toronto from 2004 to 2008 before being replaced by Cito Gaston.
“(Anthopoulos) walks in and says what about John Gibbons? This is No. 2, ‘You got to be kidding me,’” Beeston said in a manner leaving the audience wondering if the president was eager to grab the manager or frightened of the option. “He had a great relationship with the players, he controlled the bullpen better than anybody that we’ve had and he will work for us and actually take this thing to the level we want with the players we want.”
When last year’s NL CY Young winner R.A. Dickey was a made available in a trade-and-sign deal with the New York Mets the, “You’re kidding me,” moment came again, but just with some slight alterations this time.
“I didn’t actually say it, but it was words to that affect,” Beeston said with a smile so big a knuckleball thrown by just about anybody couldn’t miss his mouth.
Over the course of the offseason Toronto fans have most likely been unknowingly using the Jays’ CEO’s catch phrase with the team going from a season, “In the outhouse to a season in the penthouse.”
If the Jays can make it through October, the “You’re kidding me” moments might even grow in popularity around the team’s clubhouse.
“I was at spring training last weekend and you can just tell by being around the players that they’re convinced,” Beeston said. “It’s one thing for the media to be convinced, it’s one thing for the front office to be convinced, it’s one thing for the owners to be convinced, but it’s an entirely different feeling when the players are convinced.”