The Blue Jays Front Office Paid a Visit to the San Antonio Spurs

Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins
Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

No list of the best run organizations in North American professional sports is complete without the San Antonio Spurs. The five-time NBA champions are famed for their winning culture, their shrewd acquisitions, and their incredible run of success in one of the league’s smallest markets.

True, they’ve been fortunate enough to land a pair of generational talents in the draft, slam dunk number one picks David Robinson and Tim Duncan, but the way they built around those two players — especially Duncan — has been a thing of true beauty. The Spurs have made incredibly smart, under-the-radar pick-ups, like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard, and have made themselves a destination for premier free agents like LaMarcus Aldridge.

If you were looking for a sports franchise to model yourselves after, you could hardly do better than the Spurs. And, holy shit, apparently the Blue Jays think so too!

A reader — Stephen Dame, a former journalist, now a teacher and coach at Royal St. George’s college in Toronto — emailed me on Saturday morning to say that he’d taken a few notes from a Q&A session that Mark Shapiro had just participated in at the 2017 Blue Jays Academy Coaches Clinic. One of the thing Shapiro spoke about was the fact that he, Ross Atkins, Tony LaCava, and John Gibbons had visited Coach Pop, R.C. Buford, and the rest of the Spurs’ front office this winter, basically just to see what they could learn.

Swoon!

Here’s precisely what Stephen says Shapiro told the crowd about their January visit:

“We want to grow and improve, think and ask questions every day. The Spurs are an organization you can learn from.”

“They stressed, don”t focus on results, focus on effort. Focus on learning and getting better every day.”

As a result of the trip, “Our new mantra is ‘get better every day‎.'”

“Get better every day” will replace all quotes and graphics in Dunedin facility. Atkins and Shapiro debated inspirational quotes for walls, but Atkins suggested they just go simple: “Get better every day” will be visible everywhere.‎

Shapiro says the focus remains acquiring and developing talent.‎ San Antonio reinforced that.

And it’s not just player development. “Even interns should come in, not to ‘pay dues,’ but to make us better. We are about ‘getting better every day.'”

If you’re like me you groaned hard at the inspirational quote poster thing. I haven’t worked in a normal office since, like, 2008, but back then I thought that was all a bunch of hokey, misguided nonsense straight from outdated middle management textbooks — I can’t believe that shit still flies!

You’re obviously not going to become the Spurs just by repeating a simple mantra, but presumably there was a little more substance to what was discussed than Shapiro was willing to share here.

And if we look past the corporate-y bullshit, there’s still a whole lot to like about this. The fact that Gibbons was along for the trip — even if it was an easy one for him, given that he lives in San Antonio — would seem to say good things about his relationship with the front office and how they value the manager their predecessor left them. Same goes for Tony LaCava.

And the fact that the Spurs reinforced the need for a commitment to player development — something we’d heard the Jays lacked going back to John Farrell’s infamous first critical comments about the club after his departure to Boston — only underlines what a coup it was for the Jays to have landed former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington to oversee that aspect of their organization. Because, sadly, that’s another well-run franchise the Jays could learn a lot from.

Anyway, I’m not sure what, exactly, a visit to the Spurs will tangibly accomplish, but it sure as hell can’t hurt. This was a good tidbit to hear. (The tidbit I’ll be writing about in the next post, not so much…)