Q&A: Mark Shapiro ’89, former Princeton offensive lineman and MLB front office executive
With the baseball postseason approaching, the Daily Princetonian thought it might be interesting to look at one of Princeton’s own who is currently influencing the big leagues. We interviewed Mark Shapiro ’89, a former Princeton football player, former general manager and president of the Cleveland Indians, and soon-to-be president of the Toronto Blue Jays. We spoke to him about his career in baseball, what he learned as a student-athlete at Princeton and what he looks for when acquiring MLB players.
Daily Princetonian: When did you realize you were suited for a job in a front office team as opposed to continuing as a player?
Mark Shapiro: Continuing as a player was really an alternative for me because my baseball career ended in high school and football career ended during college, and probably earlier than that [during college], to be honest. It’s one of those things where you realize you have a passion for the game of baseball, you have an interest in business and you find leaders that commit to developing you and fuel your passion.
DP: You’ve had a long-standing love of baseball, going back to high school. What prompted you to pursue a front office position in baseball rather than football, and did you explore any front office possibilities in football first?
MS: No — although I played football in college, baseball was deeper ingrained. The sport was one my dad had a tremendous passion for, and my love of the game and childhood memories with him revolve around watching and playing or attending games with him. Through that and through my dad’s involvement from the other side of the game, as an agent, I was able to meet a lot of players and club executives. It seemed like a natural extension of those interests.
DP: Your dad was a big agent and sparked your interest in baseball. What made you decide not to pursue that path of player interaction like he had?
MS: It was less a decision on my part, and more a mandatory encouragement on his part. He didn’t really feel that the agent side was going to make me fulfilled. He thought much of that job was around having to recruit and pursue players, and he knew my interest was in leading and creating systems, and managing people. He felt that baseball, in general, was something he was extremely excited about me pursuing, but on the agent side, it was an area where he wasn’t going to assist at all.
DP: What lessons do you take as a student athlete from Princeton that you use at your time with the Indians?
MS: In every part of my life, I have drawn on determination, perseverance, resolve and grit. Football, for me, at Princeton did not go how I expected. I had to deal with a lot of challenges and a lot of disappointment along the way. Yet I persevered and found the value and the opportunity to learn and grow and develop within that adversity. Those are the primary lessons that I’ve carried with me and everything I’ve done professionally. They’re attributes I look for in the people that I surround myself with, whether they’re on the field or off the field.
DP: Speaking of being able to deal with adversity: a) How does that help you deal with your time with the Indians (some seasons go up and down) and b) How much does it play into what you look for when you’re looking to draft or trade for players in the MLB?
MS: I would say this — throughout 25 years of building teams and acquiring talent and developing talent, whether that be talent on the field or talent in the office, there are traits and attributes you grow to look for. Certain traits and attributes are baselines. Certainly talent is among them. The game being extremely important to them, pride [are among them], dependability and reliability, but the separator for me is always that accountability, that taking ownership of one situation or circumstance and not making excuses. I think that plays directly into that singular question: does someone look at adversity as a setback, a flaw, a weakness exposed, or do they look at it as an opportunity to grow and develop and learn. Are they fueled by their challenges or are they diminished by their challenges?
Those are things I’ve looked for definitely in players [and] in executives. Championship organizations have people who think that way. If you want to overcome objective expectations … you better have an organization full of people who are fueled by the desire to contribute [and] do better than the expected reality.