June 5, 2002: Sports
Sports Web Exclusives! The Varsity Typewriter column
Photo: New Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro 89 (Doug Dukane)
The Cleveland Indians had been the laughingstock of Major League Baseball for nearly five decades and were coming off a 105-loss season when Mark Shapiro 89 decided to bring his Princeton degree and love of the game to the teams front office in 1991.
Actually, the Indians were the only team that responded to the letters the former Tiger offensive lineman sent to all 26 clubs that year, when he decided real estate development had nothing on helping players develop into major leaguers. I saw it as the best way to manifest my passion for sports and business, says Shapiro, the son of a sports agent and lawyer who grew up with major leaguers living in his familys Baltimore home.
Eleven years later, Shapiro is now in his first season as executive vice president and general manager of a team he helped build into a perennial winner, including World Series appearances in 1995 and 1997.
At 34, he is the second-youngest general manager in the major leagues. But his age never deterred the Indians from giving Shapiro big-league responsibilities, even though he also never played or coached baseball, a rarity in the game. Along with the filing and phone work that came with his first job as an assistant of baseball operations, Shapiro also did the financial analysis for contract negotiations.
Many of those contracts would lead the Indians out of their dark days as they began signing their best young players, including Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez, to long-term deals. The contracts allowed the Indians to hold onto players who could have left for more money via free agency and also kept them out of the leagues arbitration process, which allows players to petition for higher salaries. The Indians model has since become standard practice in baseball and is credited for their run of playoff appearances.
In 1994, Shapiro took over as director of player development and was eventually named director of Clevelands minor league system, a position he held for five years. The job called on him to run six minor league clubs, each in a different city and each with a new roster practically every season. I was making thousands of player decisions down there that no one analyzed or reviewed, he recalls fondly.
Those days are long gone for Shapiro, who burst into the Big Show in December with his first transaction: trading away future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar to the New York Mets.
The trade was coupled with talk of payroll cuts, a drop in attendance, and a team in transition, none of which made fans in the sports-crazed city happy. He walked into a hornets nest, says longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer baseball writer Paul Hoynes.
But the team jumped out to a 101 start this season and although they have cooled off, Shapiro now has some fans in his corner. He even gets asked for autographs once in a while. I knew the challenges I had and I was ready to be out front to take the shots, says Shapiro.
The 2002 Princeton womens lacrosse team finished its greatest season ever with a 127 win over Georgetown on May 19 to claim its second NCAA title. The win avenged Princetons only loss of the year, and extended the Tigers win streak to 19 games.
The game was tied 44 at the half before seniors Lauren Simone, the tourney MVP, and Mimi Hammerberg led an eight-goal barrage. Read more about the Tigers charmed season in the July 3 issue of PAW.
At press time, the mens lacrosse squad was a game away from defending its national title after beating George-town in a dramatic 1413 game on May 18. Ryan Boyle 04 scored the game-winner with four seconds remaining. Princeton was set to play Johns Hopkins in the Final Four on May 25.
Tora Harris 02 became the top high jumper in the U.S. this year and second-best in the world at the 2002 outdoor Heptagonal championships on May 12 with a leap of 2.31 meters, a new Heps record. The mens track and field team finished second to Penn and the womens track and field squad placed third.
Hall of Fame Tiger
(Photo: Princeton Athletic Communications/alan w. richards)
Princeton great Cosmo Iacavazzi 65 was selected as a member of the 2002 College Football Hall of Fame class, which also includes former Yale coach Carmen Cozza and famous pros Dan Marino and Reggie White.