How winning it all showed Alex Anthopoulos his work is far from done
T here is a parable about a Chinese farmer — famously told by English writer Alan Watts — that Anthopoulos first came across while watching the ESPN docuseries, Man in the Arena: Tom Brady. In the story, a Chinese farmer loses a horse and is told by neighbours how bad that is. “Maybe,” he responds. The next day, the horse returns alongside seven wild horses. Later, the farmer’s son breaks his leg while trying to tame one of the wild horses. The neighbours come around again and say, “Too bad.” The farmer gives them the same “maybe” and the next day, the son’s injury prevents him from being conscripted to fight in the army. The lesson: When something happens, it usually takes a while before it’s obvious whether it’s good or bad.
In the TV show, Brady, the superstar NFL quarterback, recounts how he relied on it to help gain perspective in the transition from one season to the next. Anthopoulos was so moved while watching the episode that he paused it and went to find his wife and kids. “You guys have to see this,” he told them. “You have to listen to the story and the way Tom Brady tells it.”
Anthopoulos takes obvious pleasure in noting the ways the story relates to his own life. When the Braves lost several players, including star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., to injury last season and stumbled to a miserable first half, it looked pretty bad. But Anthopoulos’s actions — trading for multiple players, including outfielders Eddie Rosario and Jorge Soler — indicated that he wasn’t ready to throw in the towel, that “maybe” the team still had a chance to make some noise. Rosario’s bat eventually caught fire in the NL Championship Series, earning him MVP honours, while the same happened for Soler, who was named World Series MVP. If the team didn’t endure a rash of injuries months earlier that spurred it to acquire these players, then maybe they wouldn’t have won the World Series, Anthopoulos reasons. You just don’t know where the chain will lead.
“I was really sad when I left Toronto,” says Anthopoulos. “I was crushed. It was hard. It was a decision I made, a tough decision, but it’s one I felt I wanted to make. It was important to me. And you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. At the time, it felt really hard. But I went to L.A. and I learned all these great things, and I came to Atlanta [and] we won a World Series.”