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SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/Forty Under 40
Published March 20, 2006
By Eric Fisher
• Age: 38
• Titles: Executive vice president and general manager
• Team: Cleveland Indians
• Education: B.A., Princeton University, 1989
• Family: Wife, Lissa Bockrath-Shapiro; son Caden, 3; daughter Sierra, 1
• Career: Started with the Indians in January 1992 as an assistant in baseball operations; was director of player development and assistant GM before being promoted to current position in November 2001.
• Last vacation: Turks and Caicos with family
• Last book read: "In an Uncertain World: Tough Choices from Wall Street to Washington" by Robert Rubin
• Last movie seen: "Match Point"
• Fantasy job: I am living it.
• Executive most admired: John Schuerholz in baseball; my father in life
• Business advice: In all your career decisions, pay the most attention to the people you are surrounding yourself with and the leaders you are choosing to follow — in particular their values and collective vision. This process — more than financial gain, job responsibilities or perceived prestige — will result in happiness and fulfillment.
There is perhaps no job in baseball more thankless than general manager of a struggling, economically constrained franchise. Wins are few and far between, fan and media patience is at a minimum, and resources to change the situation are scarce.
Yet, Cleveland Indians GM Mark Shapiro broke through the low-revenue shackles still surrounding clubs such as Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Colorado, building a 93-win team in 2005 on just a $42 million payroll that shocked the baseball world, and Shapiro is now aiming for greater heights this year.
There was no magic formula, no riding the coattails of a single dominant player, no overarching devotion to statistical formulas in the manner of Oakland's Billy Beane. Just a methodical, four-year plan to rebuild from within following the dismantling of the star-studded rosters led by Albert Belle and Jim Thome that actually is producing results as intended and turning the likes of Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta into household names.
"There are still significant challenges to building a club in this market," Shapiro said of the Indians, whose payroll for 2006 hovers around $50 million with some further room to grow, still well below the MLB average. "There is obviously less margin for error, and it places absolute paramount importance in scouting and decision-making. But our goal is to build a championship-caliber club that is of high character, and I see no reason why it can't be done."
Plenty of teams go through down cycles. But Shapiro's initial roster gutting trumped perhaps even the Florida Marlins' 1998 fire sale, jolting a fan base grown fat off seven rollicking years of postseason-caliber play and dropping more than a million people off annual Jacobs Field attendance figures previously buttressed by a 445-game sellout streak.
Years later, the risk-taking element of Shapiro's personality has yet to wane. Just before spring training this year, Shapiro dealt rising outfielder Coco Crisp to Boston in a seven-player trade that yielded back third baseman prospect Andy Marte, a move that instantly became baseball's most hotly debated trade in years.
"That was a very emotional deal for both fan bases," Shapiro said. "We're still in a situation where a lot of our deals are not going to be easy to digest."
Shapiro also is now without pitcher Kevin Millwood, last year's American League ERA champ who departed for a five-year, $60 million deal with Texas, far more than anything Cleveland offered. But Millwood's agent, Scott Boras, harbors no ill will for Shapiro.
"He's always taken the time to listen to everything we have to say. Our organization obviously puts a lot of emphasis on research and data, and he has always shown us the courtesy to hear us out," Boras said. "Mark's a guy who really puts in the time and does his homework. He's dealing in a fiscally confined environment, but he's definitely more dedicated than most of his counterparts out there."
Shapiro has now been in the job long enough that he is no longer known just as the son of Ron Shapiro, the noted agent best remembered for representing Cal Ripken Jr. But the younger Shapiro said the influence of his father, a highly respected figure known for his non-inflammatory negotiating style, remains strong.
"My dad's role in my baseball career is actually less than most think," Shapiro said, "but his role in the man I am and the leader I am is far more than people think."