UMass Alum, Indians GM Chris Antonetti Feature Story - UMass Athletics

UMass Alum, Indians GM Chris Antonetti Feature Story

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The Cleveland Plain-Dealer has a feature on new Cleveland Indians general manager and UMass sports management program alum Chris Antonetti. The Connecticut native started his climb into the upper ranks of Major League Baseball as an unpaid intern for the Montreal Expos. Read the full story which has quotes and information from UMass' Glenn Wong and more.

Here's a snipet.

When Dave Littlefield and Neal Huntington, former UMass sports management grads running the Montreal Expos farm system at the time, told Wong they were looking for an intern, he recommended Antonetti for his work ethic and people skills.

New Cleveland Indians GM Chris Antonetti has a record of developing talent, including his own

Published: Friday, October 29, 2010, 4:15 AM     Updated: Friday, October 29, 2010, 7:11 AM
Bill Lubinger, The Plain Dealer Bill Lubinger, The Plain Dealer 
Chris Antonetti.JPGView full sizeChris Antonetti, the new general manager of the Cleveland Indians, started his climb into the upper ranks of Major League Baseball as an unpaid intern for the Montreal Expos.
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The Indians suffered back-to-back 90-loss seasons. The team drew the fewest fans in the Major Leagues and sports a lineup of question marks.

It's within that backdrop that the Indians hand over the baseball side of the business to new General Manager Chris Antonetti, who, down to the same black Clarks loafers, corporate speak and bottled water by his side, presents a public persona similar to that of friend, mentor and the man he succeeds -- Mark Shapiro.

"He's 4 inches taller [and] wearing a tie," joked Antonetti, 36, when asked during a recent postseason session with reporters how they're different.

It's a fair question. Size and fashion aside, Indians fans won't detect a huge shift in philosophy from the GM's office.

The organization, admired leaguewide despite the team's recent record and fan perception, is built on continuity and promoting from within. Antonetti, with the Indians since 1999, is an extended branch of the John Hart tree.

The club is careful to speak in a unified voice on trades, free agent signings and other major decisions. But that doesn't mean meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Unassuming and understated, Antonetti works behind the scenes and prefers it that way.

That doesn't mean he's an unknown. He has been on the "short list" for several GM jobs.

His promotion, announced before this season and made official after it, was as much a retention move as anything.

How close did the Indians come to losing him?

"Very close," Shapiro said. "Multiple teams asked."

Within roughly the last five years, Antonetti's name has surfaced for GM openings in Boston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

"The last time," Shapiro said, "he agonized over the decision."

Antonetti and Shapiro didn't want to discuss it, but the opportunity that gave Antonetti so much angst was a pitch by the St. Louis Cardinals after the 2007 season to become GM of one of the most solid, fan-crazy franchises in baseball.

Antonetti wound up withdrawing his name as the Indians signed him through 2011 and all but assured him as Shapiro's successor.

Not that it would have kept Antonetti from taking the job, but it probably didn't hurt the Indians' chances of keeping him that his wife is from here.

Antonetti and the former Sarah Nottingham met through mutual friend Ross Atkins, the Indians' farm director, in a scenario that can only be described as real-life chick flick.

After an Internet start-up she worked for in Atlanta had failed, Nottingham, a Hathaway Brown graduate, returned to Cleveland and joined Atkins for a networking lunch. Atkins returned to the office afterward and declared, "Hey, I met your future wife."

"And I said, 'Hey, what do you mean?' And he said, 'She's the perfect person for you,' " said Antonetti, who remembers thinking nothing of it because he and Sarah were dating other people at the time.

But a month-and-a-half later, Atkins was running late for another lunch with Nottingham because of a dental appointment. Atkins called Antonetti, asking if he would keep her company in the lobby of the Indians business offices at Progressive Field until he got there.

"The time flew," recalled Antonetti, who said each of their relationships had broken off by then. "That 15 minutes felt like 30 seconds to me. I didn't want it to end."

They were married in 2003 at St. Ann Church in Cleveland Heights. The reception was held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, where her father, John Nottingham, principal of the noted product design and development firm Nottingham-Spirk, has been a long-time supporter.

Mario and Ann Antonetti, who still call their second oldest "Christopher," raised four sons in Orange, Conn. The upper-middle-class bedroom community of about 13,000 people is a few miles from the Yale campus in New Haven.

Ann was a French teacher who put her career aside for PTO meetings, Boy Scout den-mothering and shuttling the boys to their activities.

Their home is still the place to be on Christmas Eve, with friends, neighbors and family stopping by throughout the night for Ann's traditional Italian seven-fish dinners.

Mario is a consulting engineer who still makes the long daily commute to New York and back.

When the boys were young, he would wake at 4 a.m. so he could work a full day and return in time for their practices, ball games and family dinner. He also managed and expanded the car-wash business his father-in-law opened in 1956, now called Four Brothers.

The Antonetti boys worked there through high school, collecting money, getting cars on the line and wiping them down. In some family businesses, the owner's kids get to slide. The Antonettis say their sons were their best employees, that they set the standard.

"All the boys have the same work ethic," Mario Antonetti said. "All of them."

And all four are accomplished Georgetown graduates. Marc, the oldest, and David, son No. 3, are doctors. The youngest, Michael, runs Four Brothers.

And for Chris, who earned a scholarship his senior year as a student manager for coach John Thompson's storied Hoyas basketball team led by Allen Iverson, it has been a life of baseball.

He grew up a fan of the Yankees, who had a minor league team in nearby West Haven, and of their steady, clutch-hitting first-baseman Don Mattingly.

Antonetti, who collected baseball cards and had as many as 50 ballcaps (the Indians weren't one of them), hung a poster of Mattingly in his bedroom. He even tried to bat left-handed like him.

In another of life's quirky twists, Mattingly got his first managing gig, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, around the time Antonetti's promotion to Indians GM officially kicked in. When the Indians were interviewing candidates to replace manager Eric Wedge, the Indians chatted with Mattingly by phone and wanted to talk further, but never did. Antonetti said Mattingly came highly recommended, that it wasn't necessarily his idea to put his favorite boyhood player in charge of the team.

Antonetti would join the other fans behind the New Haven dugout for players to sign his blue and orange Snoopy autograph book, but he and Mattingly have never met. In their new positions, their paths will likely cross.

"I'll share that with him when I do," he said.

Most boys face the painful reality that their athletic talent can't keep up with their dreams. By 15, Antonetti, who played second base and pitched a little, was through playing baseball.

At Amity Regional High School, Antonetti played soccer and four years of tennis. He was also involved in Youth in Government, worked as a yearbook business manager and was a member of the National Honor Society.

In 2008, he was inducted into the school's Hall of Honor for accomplished alums but had to skip the ceremony because of spring training.

"These were very hard-working, grounded kids," said longtime Amity Athletic Director Paul Mengold, describing the four Antonetti boys. "Unlike some students here, even if they could afford to ride up in a BMW or Mercedes, they wouldn't."

Showy and pretentious, no. Competitive? Especially with each other, whether it was hoops in the driveway or a game of backyard football.

antonetti senior picture.JPGView full sizeChris Antonetti is a 1992 graduate of Amity Regional High School in Woodbridge, Conn.

His older brother Marc still talks about the time their football game erupted into a four-way dispute, which wasn't unusual.

The four brothers agreed to divide the backyard into quadrants, so each could have his own turf. Chris immediately staked his claim on the "quadrant" smack in the middle of the yard, essentially forcing his brothers to cave in to him.

"Chris was always the great negotiator," said Marc, a bariatric surgeon in South Carolina who served as an Air Force surgeon in Iraq. "He could talk his way in or out of anything since he was 6 years old."

It's a skill that served him well at the University of Massachusetts, where Antonetti piggybacked a business degree from Georgetown with a master's in sports management.

UMass law professor Glenn Wong was still handling salary arbitration cases for the Boston Red Sox at the time. He would hire his top two or three students to help research and prepare cases.

Antonetti wasn't one of them. So he paid Wong a visit, offering to do the work for free.

"It's not too often that kids come in and argue their case," said Wong, who relented.

Salary arbitration cases, heard to decide disputes over the fair value of a player still under contract, are based on statistical comparisons. Antonetti would offer suggestions on which data to use and how to use it, and in a manner that didn't offend his colleagues.

"As soon as I took him on," Wong said, "I saw immediately how good he was and how interested he was in that work."

When Dave Littlefield and Neal Huntington, former UMass sports management grads running the Montreal Expos farm system at the time, told Wong they were looking for an intern, he recommended Antonetti for his work ethic and people skills.

The Expos' internship was unpaid, but Antonetti had experience in being resourceful. When he worked summers back home at the private Woodbridge Club, cleaning and painting, maintaining the clay courts and giving tennis lessons, he bought a racquet stringer to make extra money.

With the Expos minor league operations in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1997, Antonetti had to room with one of the players at a Holiday Inn Express, the team hotel.

To make a few bucks, he parked cars before games, earned $20 per game as official scorer and walked the stands with an ice-cream bag slung around his neck, earning an hourly wage plus 25 cents per Drumstick.

"I didn't sell very many," he said. "Florida League crowds weren't that big."

"I remember feeling twinges of guilt," said Huntington, now GM of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

antonetti acta.JPGView full sizeNew GM Chris Antonetti, right, with manager Manny Acta.

Sports internships quickly weed out the weak, entitled and uncommitted. One day you're sweating buckets in the summer heat as team mascot and juggling menial tasks as office gopher the next.

Or you're delivering a baby. Well, almost.

Littlefield was in Pawtucket, R.I., watching Carl Pavano pitch a rehab assignment, when his wife called from their home in Jupiter, Fla. It was about 8 p.m. She was 81/2 months pregnant with their second child and needed medical attention, stat.

Littlefield called the unpaid intern.

"So Chris drove over to my apartment, grabbed my wife and child and took them to the hospital and everything was good," said Littlefield, now a special assistant to the GM of the Chicago Cubs. "My wife will never forget that one, nor will I. Every time she sees him she reminds him of that."

Even before going beyond the call of duty, Littlefield and Huntington said Antonetti quickly proved himself as highly intelligent, articulate, energetic and receptive to anything they could throw at him. He demonstrated not just an ability to attack and solve problems, but also to relate to people.

"He actually surpassed someone who was a full-time employee in terms of earning trust and earning bigger responsibilities," Huntington said.

The housing arrangements weren't an issue. Antonetti didn't spend much time in his room.

"While I was filing and copying and running people to the airport," he said, "there was plenty of opportunity to learn from good baseball people."

Duly impressed, the Expos hired Antonetti as an assistant director of player development.

In 1999, when Huntington was the Indians' farm director, he recommended Antonetti to Hart and Shapiro for an opening in baseball operations. When the Expos denied the Indians permission to approach Antonetti about the job, he had to quit to interview for it. It was risky. He was one of three candidates.

"Those decisions were easier at that point because I was only responsible for me," said Antonetti, who has two young daughters.

Their pictures plaster his office, in frames behind his desk, on a coffee mug, on his screensaver. For the seven weeks of spring training, Sarah and the girls join him in Goodyear, Ariz., where they have a second home.

He has been with the Indians ever since, climbing from an assistant in baseball operations to the team's director of Major League operations to assistant GM by 2002, building a reputation in contract negotiations and statistical analysis.

A spiral bound notebook, titled "Championship Standards Analysis," sits on his desk, which faces a Toshiba flat-screen TV tuned to ESPN and bookshelves lined with Baseball Prospectus books and a copy of "Spanish for Dummies."

On one wall is a dry-erase board with each of the Major League rosters; on another, a smaller board with the names of all current free agents.

Shapiro credits Antonetti, perhaps more than anyone, for adding a level of research and objective analysis to the team's major personnel decisions.

Video: Chris Antonetti joins the Cleveland Indians.

Shapiro, who was simultaneously promoted to team president after the season, acknowledges that second baseman Roberto Alomar was traded in 2001 without any clear strategy. It was Antonetti who explained how they could have done a better job of targeting players they got in return.

"I crave information. I try not to make emotional decisions," Antonetti said.

He's the brains behind the team's DiamondView program, a complex, custom-designed personnel analysis for which clubs -- only half in jest -- have actually offered to pay cash or trade players.

Antonetti leans toward the analytical. Numbers tend to win out over gut feel.

But baseball, despite its ugly business side, is still a game. Its stock in trade is people, not widgets. Those who know him best say Antonetti gets that, although most will never see it.

When the Indians dealt Cy Young winner Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, then All-Star catcher Victor Martinez to Boston midway through the 2009 season in cost-cutting moves, fans went ballistic.

Shapiro and Antonetti pulled Martinez into the clubhouse manager's office and sat down next to him. They explained why they thought the trade had to be made. They reflected on how much he meant to the club, professionally and personally. Martinez had been in the Indians' system since he was a skinny kid who spoke little English.

Martinez was shaken. So were they. Antonetti described it as "gut-wrenching."

"It was an emotional day," he said.

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